ANAHEIM — When the Corona del Mar High boys' soccer team showed up at Anaheim, the uneven field, with patches of grass, looked like the one the Sea Kings play on at home. Anaheim Coach Joe Chavez learned his team wasn't the only one in Orange County that plays on a poor field.
"We're used to this," CdM Coach George Larsen told Chavez, who said he began to think, "Oh gosh! It might play in their favor."
While the Sea Kings played on the road in the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division 3 playoffs on Tuesday, they were 3 minutes away from getting the type of result they do at home. The Sea Kings never dropped a home match this season.
The field at Anaheim might have been comparable to CdM's, but the Sea Kings weren't the hosts. They were the visitors and they found out how tough it is to close out an away postseason match.
Anaheim's Eric Juarez tied the match in the 78th minute with a header off a corner kick, forcing overtime. The Sea Kings heard from Juarez once more, as his golden goal in the 87th minute lifted Anaheim to a 2-1 upset win and to the quarterfinals for the first time in five seasons.
Juarez's second goal also came off a corner kick and it ended CdM's season in the second round for the third straight season. The Sea Kings (15-4-4) suffered their first setback since Dec. 27.
They went unbeaten during their Pacific Coast League title run. This wasn't how it was supposed to end, not for 25 seniors on a CdM team entering the playoffs ranked No. 7 in the CIF Southern Section Division 3 poll.
As Juarez and his Anaheim teammates celebrated a come-from-behind victory, the Sea Kings collapsed on the field. They looked on in disbelief. What did them in were two corner kicks, the first by Francisco Santana, and the second by Eliot Carillo.
Juarez knocked in Santana's with his head, and Carillo's, he put it away with his left foot. As Chavez put it, Juarez always seems to find the ball on corner kicks, and most of the time, he finishes.
"We never lost hope," said Juarez, who mostly played midfield against CdM. "Teamwork got us to the quarters."
Juarez helped Anaheim (12-6-7), the second-place team from the Orange League, advance to Thursday's quarterfinal at Arcadia (12-9-4), an at-large entry from the Pacific League. The senior took advantage of the Sea Kings' glaring weakness.
"It's been kind of our Achilles heel, something that we've had trouble with this season," Larsen said of defending the corner kick. "I lost count on how many corners they got [after they hit the dozen mark].
"They kept applying pressure. They were able to draw a ton of corners throughout the course of the game. Those corners were a byproduct of them being real crafty on the ball."
Most of the chances led to nothing for Anaheim because of CdM goalkeeper Tommy Casey. The senior stopped the Colonists from possibly every angle, at point blank, even on screens, and he made save after save, finishing with 10.
Casey kept the Sea Kings ahead after senior Max Premer's goal in the 14th minute. When Casey was out of position, there was his defense to protect him.
The defense added senior Liam Stimpson, normally a midfielder, to outside back in the second half to shore things up. Stimpson's size helped slow down Anaheim's quick attack.
When he had to, Stimpson even sacrificed his body late in regulation, dropping to block a possible goal. But the rebound inside the box went to Santana, who took one more shot, trying to squeeze the ball into a tight window near the left post. Jay Damon, the backbone of CdM's defense, deflected the ball out, setting up a corner kick for the Colonists.
Santana, a sophomore, took the corner and sent it toward Juarez, positioned in the middle. The Sea Kings lost track of Juarez and he hurt them.
"Up until that point, a few minutes before that, we had been really managing the game well," said Larsen, who also dropped senior John O'Connor from forward to midfield to minimize the Colonists' scoring chances. "We were down in their corners. We looked poised and composed and we were doing the right things to close the game out. They were able to put that last surge in and get the corner, and they were able to convert.
"Soccer is a game of probabilities and percentages, and if you give up that many corners, you're asking for trouble."