It isn’t often that a tie equals a win, but such was the case for the La Cañada High boys’ soccer team at Thursday afternoon’s Rio Hondo League finale.
The Spartans needed no worse than a tie versus visiting South Pasadena on senior day to clinch the program’s first Rio Hondo League championship since the 2012-13 season and did so via a 0-0 stalemate.
With the tie, CIF Southern Section No. 7-ranked La Cañada concluded the regular season with a 10-4-6 record and a 7-0-3 mark in league for 24 points. That’s two points better than South Pasadena and Monrovia, who finished with identical 7-2-1 league marks.
The title also clinched a six-for-six run in winter sports league championships for La Cañada, which claimed crowns in boys’ and girls’ basketball and soccer, along with boys’ wrestling and girls’ water polo.
“There wasn’t any specific magic for us, but a combination of things,” La Cañada first-year Coach Bruno Costa said. “We have an outstanding group of families behind these players, an administration that gives us so much support and a school of talented players. They put a lot of work into this and never saw this year as a rebuilding year.”
La Cañada entered the season finale up two points on South Pasadena, which could have snatched an outright crown with a victory.
Though a tie was all the Spartans needed, it wasn’t what the team was searching for.
La Cañada outshot South Pasadena, 10-4, and attempted all but one of the match’s final six shots.
It appeared the Spartans took a 1-0 lead when Luke Bonham connected on a goal in the 74th minute.
As the senior midfielder was celebrating, the official ruled that Bonham had pushed off, which negated the goal.
“I thought I had it,” Bonham said. “The goal for us is winning, because we’re going to CIF. So, you can’t go for a tie.”
Three minutes later, Spartans junior William Chant had a breakaway try from 12 yards clank off the left post and then batted away by a Tigers defender.
As for South Pasadena, the Tigers’ only legitimate chance came on a sidewinding 30-yard blast from Ryan Wong that required some backpedaling and an eventual leaping save from Spartans goalie Jorge Landa (four saves).
“Obviously, there’s a lot of history at this school and we’ve had a few years where we didn’t win the championship,” La Cañada senior fullback Jack Meeker said. “Bringing the championship back home, it’s great.”
It was a first half of slim chances as the teams combined for four shots.
Perhaps the best attempt for either took place in the 10th minute when a brilliant through ball from Spartans junior halfback Armen Eyssakhanian found Bonham in stride.
The senior one-timed a 15-yard shot that was denied via a diving save from South Pasadena goalie Kevin Foster (four saves).
Two minutes later, Spartans senior Sam Adida headed a pass off a throw-in from Meeker wide left of goal from 10 yards.
“We didn’t score, but today was the first stepping stone for us,” Adida said. “It’s the first title we’re hoping for, but not the biggest.”
South Pasadena’s lone shot happened in the 22nd minute when junior forward Jack Renken ripped a 30-yard free kick into the arms of a diving Landa.
“We came up so short of winning a league championship my sophomore and junior years,” La Cañada senior Armand Manoukian said. “This senior class didn’t want to walk away without a league championship.”
The win was also special for senior Seve Rodriguez, who competes in cross-country, track and field and soccer, but who hadn’t won a league title in any sport over three-plus years until Thursday afternoon.
“I thought we’ve had some talented teams over the years, but none played as hard as this one,” Rodriguez said. “For me, personally, it feels great to win a league title, to get at least one.”