IRVINE — The Corona del Mar High boys' soccer team usually loads up a school bus unlike many programs. Thirty-one players are on the team this season.
With no school on Friday because of finals week, the players didn't meet on campus to take the bus for an evening match at Irvine. Coach George Larsen allowed his players to go on their own, in separate cars.
Once they arrived for the away match, it didn't take long for the senior-laden Sea Kings to unite on the field. The Sea Kings came together, thanks to midfielder Liam Stimpson, one of 25 seniors on the team.
Stimpson recorded a goal and assisted on another, and CdM remained unbeaten in Pacific Coast League play by blanking the Vaqueros, 2-0.
Stimpson assisted on the first goal and recorded the second goal, keeping CdM in first place in league. The Sea Kings (4-0-2 in league) are one point ahead of University (4-1-1) with four league contests left.
The Sea Kings play host to University next week, which is an immense one for CdM. The next two matches are against Woodbridge and University, the only two squads CdM has failed to beat in league.
"The last time against Woodbridge, we were pretty unfortunate," Stimpson said. "We played well. We had enough of chances to win the game, but we came out with a 2-2 tie. We just got to clean it up defensively, put our chances away, and we should get the win, but it will be a tough match."
Stimpson and the Sea Kings expect a challenge at home on Wednesday from Woodbridge, the defending league champion, more so than they got from Irvine (0-5-1).
In the first match of the second part of league, the Vaqueros never really threatened CdM. The little chances they put together, the Sea Kings' back line, with Jesse DiGiovanni, Daniel McCabe, Max Premer and Brandon Huang, won balls. The Sea Kings weren't even at full strength on defense as starters Jay Damon (mononucleosis) and Nate Pozin (knee) sat out.
Compared to Irvine, CdM, which improved to 10-3-4 overall and is ranked No. 6 in the CIF Southern Section Division 3 poll, looked more than healthy. Coach Gary Berry said his Irvine team played without seven players due to illnesses and injuries. The Vaqueros suited up 13 players, and with just two substitutes, CdM attacked offensively and wore down Irvine.
The pressure finally paid off for CdM a minute after Larsen went to his bench late in the first half. Sorob Wadood entered as a forward in CdM's three-forward system, and Stimpson quickly found him deep in the box.
Stimpson dribbled in from the left and up the goal line, before using his left foot to play the ball to a wide-open Wadood. The fresh-legged player found the back of the net, giving CdM a 1-0 lead in the 35th minute.
When time expired in the first half, CdM goalkeeper Tommy Casey jogged back to the sideline, complaining about the cold. He didn't have to stand around in the second half. He took seat on the bench as Larsen went with Stonor Boyse at keeper at the start of the second half.
Seven minutes into the second half, Stimpson produced his first goal in league. Jake Kim sent a beautiful cross and Stimpson volleyed it in with his right foot.
The Sea Kings kept coming at Irvine in the second half, looking to score. The last time these two teams played three weeks ago, only forward John O'Connor scored, on a penalty kick.
O'Connor had a couple of chances to add to his team-best 10 goals, but Irvine goalkeeper Daniel Bjurmen stopped him each time. On one of O'Connor's shots, Bjurmen almost did the splits, helping him make a kick save.
The move earned Bjurmen a shot to strike the ball as a field player. Larsen also brought back Casey, moving him up top. Casey almost scored a goal late.
"The original plan this year was Tommy was going to play forward for us and help out," said Larsen, who moved Casey to keeper after last season's starter, Gavin Allen, dealt with a number of injuries, including a season-ending broken hand. "You can see Tommy's quite capable [of playing forward]. He's athletic."
With a roster the size of CdM's, Larsen can turn to almost any player and there isn't much of a drop off in talent.