LA CAÑADA — It was a physical affair when the La Cañada High boys' soccer team took on Monrovia Friday afternoon.
With both teams still very much in the running for the Rio Hondo League championship and having tied in their first meeting of the season, the Spartans and Wildcats had plenty to play for, leading to some chippy moments.
Clinging to a one-goal lead at halftime, La Cañada scored seconds into the second stanza, survived a Monrovia blitz late in the contest and held on for a 2-1 victory at home.
"I was expecting a tough battle just like that from them," said La Cañada Coach Bruno Costa, whose team tied Monrovia, 2-2, on a late goal Jan. 13. "Both of us are playing for league and it's been a battle round after round.
"We knew this was a critical game for us and we expected them to come out and be very strong. They have some outstanding players and we knew it wasn't going to be an easy one for us."
The win puts the Spartans (9-4-5, 6-0-2 in league for 20 points), ranked No. 5 in CIF Southern Section Division VI, in the driver's seat to capture their first league championship in five seasons. South Pasadena trails the Spartans with 15 points and two matches left.
Monrovia (12-7-4, 4-2-1 for 13 points), tied for 10th in Division V, remains in second place and will play three games next week to conclude the regular season. Last season, the Wildcats won the league crown and the Spartans were second.
"Winning the league is something that we do talk about," La Cañada sophomore Jake Tolkin said. "That has been our goal all season. We just have to work hard these last two games to make that happen."
It was Tolkin who scored the eventual winning goal. After the first half ended with the Spartans holding a 1-0 advantage, Tolkin gave La Cañada some breathing room with a goal nine seconds into the second. Sophomore Brandon Manoukian passed the ball up to Tolkin on the left side. Tolkin carried the ball in deep, maneuvered past a Monrovia defender and fired a shot past the outstretched hands of the goalkeeper.
"I was so scared when I was taking the ball up and it was the most pressure that I've ever felt," Tolkin said. "I could hear all the fans and I could feel someone at my back and I just wanted to get a shot off and luckily it rolled past the goaltender."
La Cañada built a 1-0 lead in the 16th minute on a goal from senior Sam Adida. On a corner from senior Trevar Bambanian, the ball sailed to the Monrovia goalmouth where Adida was positioned and headed the ball in.
Trailing, 2-0, Monrovia cut the advantage in half with a goal in the 62nd minute by junior Edson Pulido on a free kick from 21 yards out.
Monrovia had several scoring chances in the final minutes of the contest, but La Cañada freshman goalkeeper Jorge Landa came up with some big saves to preserve the win.
"Getting that goal early like that in the second half was so important because it gave us a little cushion," Costa said.