On the surface, Corona del Mar High's 3-0 win in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 3 boys' soccer playoffs looks like an easy win.
It was far from that on Thursday.
Glendale, traveling a long distance for the second time in three days during the postseason, made it hard on the Sea Kings through most of the match, until the hosts scored two late goals. A goal on a penalty kick and one on a 35-yard free kick doomed Glendale's chances of coming back again in the playoffs.
"I'm not that pleased with the overall play," CdM Coach George Larsen said. "I was pleased with the effort. We competed really hard. We struggled in stretches. [The Nitros] were good. They exposed us a little bit for not quite being as sharp as we wanted to be."
The Sea Kings performed at their best at the start and at the end, proving to be enough for the Pacific Coast League champions to meet Anaheim (11-5-6) in the second round on Tuesday. A coin flip on Friday decides who plays host to the match. Anaheim, the Orange League runner-up, defeated Kennedy, 3-2, in overtime on Thursday.
Jake Kim helped CdM (15-3-4) move on by producing his first goal in the first two minutes and his second goal in the final two minutes.
Kim, a senior forward, created most of CdM's scoring chances. He put away his first one after a scrum in the box, where goalkeeper Ervin Vartoomian stopped the first two initial shots. With the inside part of his right foot, Kim, from four yards out, tapped the ball in to put CdM up.
The first 5 minutes belonged to the Sea Kings, and in the fifth minute, Kim almost scored again. From the right, he dribbled in, before blasting a shot right at Vartoomian, who defended the near post.
Vartoomian, who finished with eight saves, kept it close for the Nitros, in hopes of trying to rally for the second time in the playoffs and force a second straight overtime. The Nitros, a fourth-place team from the Pacific League, went to Vista Murrieta on Tuesday and pulled out a 3-2 win in the wild-card round.
Corona del Mar's back line, featuring Jay Damon and Daniel McCabe, never allowed Glendale (10-11-2) to even things up, improving the Sea Kings' record to 6-0-1 at home.
Goalkeeper Tommy Casey stopped the Nitros' best effort, a 15-yard shot by Avo Haroutunyan in the 10th minute. Casey dove and pushed the ball to his right and out of danger. That save, one of a handful by Casey on the afternoon, is why Larsen said he let Casey, who usually splits time with Stonor Boyse, play the entire match.
While Glendale controlled the midfield for a majority of the first half, forcing CdM to switch from a 4-3-3 formation to a 4-4-2, the Sea Kings settled in. Adding an extra midfielder led to a couple of CdM scoring chances, with Evan Schwartz finding Kim on the right side in the 23rd minute, and Liam Stimpson doing the same thing a couple of minutes later.
Vartoomian prevented Kim from finding the back of the net, each time knocking the shot out of play, setting up corner kicks for CdM. Stimpson delivered a couple of corner kicks toward Max Premer's head, but none posed much of a threat.
The time CdM got Vartoomian out of position late in the first half Kyle Martin missed an opportunity to give the Sea Kings a two-goal lead. With a loose ball near the goal line, Glendale defender Benito Fausto got to it and dribbled out.
The Nitros' defense wasn't so fortunate in the 78th minute. They pulled Kim down in the box after he took a shot and got his own rebound. Kim got up to take the penalty kick and beat Vartoomian to his right.
"While our team game wasn't as good as we'd want it to be, where we're not moving the ball the way we'd like to, Jake kind of put the team on his back," said Larsen, who saw someone other than Kim record the third goal.
Vartoomian, in stoppage time, couldn't get to John O'Connor's shot, coming on a free kick from 35 yards out. O'Connor wasn't even supposed to take the free kick. Camden Blower, a late substitute, lined up to take it, but he took too long and he earned a yellow card for the delay.
As Blower walked off the field, O'Connor made the most of his chance. His spectacular shot found the upper-left corner of the net, giving him 12 goals and giving his team what looked to be a nice and comfortable 3-0 win.
"The game didn't play out that way," said Larsen, even though his team outshot Glendale by a three-to-one margin. "It was a lot harder and it was a lot of tighter up until the end.
"Any time you can get the first game out of the way you can build some more confidence from it."