PARAMOUNT — A special guest hopped on the Corona del Mar High bus before the Sea Kings traveled to their next boys' soccer match on Tuesday.
Jack McBean was a familiar face to those onboard. He used to ride with many of the same players to matches before he left the team in December to join the U.S. under-17 national team.
McBean just got in the night before from Jamaica, where the 16-year-old helped the Americans to the CONCACAF title on Sunday.
Coach George Larsen said the Sea Kings could have used McBean to get to the CIF Southern Section Division III championship match.
McBean, no longer eligible to play in high school after he signed a professional contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy in January, just watched from the sideline. Being there reminded him of last season, when he helped the Sea Kings win the Division IV title.
Unlike last season, CdM was not going to make an appearance in the section finale this time around. The Sea Kings lost to fourth-seeded Paramount, 2-1, ending their shot at winning a second straight section title.
It was going to take everything the Sea Kings had to knock off the defending Division III champion Pirates. Larsen said they just did not have it.
"For whatever reason, we really struggled to have good energy around the field. It's normally not something we struggle with," Larsen said. "It might have come down to the fact that we do have a lot of new faces in here and the inexperience really caught up to us."
What CdM (16-3-7) lacked, Paramount (17-2-6) used, as the Pirates' experience helped them return to the big stage.
Paramount Coach Rafa Villasenor called the matchup, which featured the CIF Southern California Regional Division I champion Pirates and Division II champion Sea Kings, the ultimate battle.
The Pirates were fortunate to have Antonio Salgado, who set up the match's first goal on a corner kick and scored the last one on a set piece. The most important one, a header in the 64th minute, turned out to be the game-winning goal.
The senior striker had an identical twin brother on the field, but Salgado clearly stood out.
"It means a lot," Salgado said of being able to defend the Pirates' title against Fontana on Friday or Saturday. "We've battled through. Every time we gather up as a family. We play as teammates and communicate [well]. We do everything we can to get a [win]."
Larsen said the effort the Sea Kings gave was not enough to get past Paramount.
The usually soft-spoken coach chewed the team out during halftime, minutes after Brian Ford gave CdM life. The UC Davis-bound senior created the Sea Kings' best scoring chance after defender Timmy Osorio took down Ford in the box.
Ford earned a penalty kick and he converted, tying the match at 1-1 in the 36th minute.
"Only one guy is playing," Larsen told the players sitting around before pointing toward Ford during the break. "Give him some help. He's playing like it's his last game."
Ford played determined to keep the Sea Kings' season alive. When Larsen moved the midfielder up top in the first half, Ford used his speed and aggressiveness to spark the offense.
Larsen decided to drop Ford back and he went back to his top scorer, Mason Case, at striker at the start of the second half. Larsen said he wanted to give Case another shot to produce and allow Ford to solidify the middle.
The Sea Kings were already hurting at striker as Connor Roche was out.
The 6-foot sophomore injured his knee in CdM's 1-0 win at Santa Maria in the quarterfinals. Case was the one who got the Sea Kings through Santa Maria last week, recording his second game-winner in the postseason.
But the Pirates slowed Case down, taking the junior out of the match.
"He hasn't practiced in between games for a long time," said Larsen, adding that Case's back and hips have been bugging him. "I don't know if his health affected [him]. When Mason's going, he's a handful. He just definitely wasn't himself [Tuesday]."
The Sea Kings just were not the same dominant team that lost McBean and Matt Francini in December to club teams, and Reed Williams, one of six starters from last season, to graduation.
McBean said at times that he wished he were out there to help. When it was over, the Sea Kings walked toward the bus disappointed.
McBean stayed back. He said he joins his new team, the Galaxy, Wednesday in San Diego.