Goals were hard to come by for the La Cañada High boys' soccer team in its first league game of the season against Temple City.
When the first and only goal of the game did come, it was scored off the back of a Rams defender.
"Sometimes you have to win ugly on a difficult field against a difficult, tough opposition," La Cañada Coach Barry Ritson said.
A sloppy Temple City field and a strong defensive effort made it impossible for the Spartans to pour on the goals Friday. However, they managed to get one, getting out of Temple City with a 1-0 victory.
La Cañada's (13-0-2, 1-0 in league) lone goal came in the 85th minute, off Matt Canatta's foot and the back of Michael Collins, a Temple City (4-5, 0-1) defender.
Canatta ran the ball into the box with a defender alongside him. Andy May, the Rams' goalie, rushed towards Canatta as he chipped it over his head. Collins jumped, attempting to head the ball out to safety while jockeying with a Spartans' forward. But the ball bounced off his back and into his own net.
"I just chipped it over the goalie and hoped it would glide in the goal; if not, there's a man there to hit it in. Either way I knew it was going in," Canatta said.
After the goal Canatta fell to the floor and threw his arms in the air in celebration as his teammates mobbed him. A few feet away, Collins was lying in his own net with his hands over his head.
"It's part of the game and it happens. It was just an unlucky flip of the coin right there," said May, who did a solid job neutralizing the Spartans' offense for most of the game.
He kept the ball away from La Cañada's high-powered offense by pouncing on any attempt that came into the box.
"He was very aggressive, did a great job attacking the ball and we didn't do good enough getting second balls," Ritson said. "I'll take 1-0 win here on a tough field against a tough team in the first league game of the season."
Canatta filled the role of "super sub" Friday, starting the game on the bench. Ritson hoped to give him a rest, but it soon became clear that wasn't going to be possible as the Spartans had trouble getting their offense on track in the first half.
The Spartans got an instant shot of life when Canatta entered the game to start the second half. He tested May right off the bat, forcing him to make a fingertip save — the closest call of the game to that point.
The game looked like it was destined to end in a tie as the Spartans came up empty on several late scoring opportunities. Armand Bagramyan fired a shot off the top of the Temple City crossbar in the 66th minute. Brian Blumenfeld broke toward the goal and lobbed the ball over May, who was racing towards him, but the ball sailed just over the goal and out of play at the 72-minute mark.
La Cañada finally had a reason to cheer in the 80th minute when Bagramyan sent a beautiful cross into the box that Blumenfeld knocked into the goal. The cheers quickly transformed into the familiar groans heard throughout the game as the referee raised his flag, signaling Blumenfeld was offside.
"It wasn't the greatest result, but the boys worked hard, put a lot of effort in, and sooner or later, if you keep working hard, you're going to get your goal," Ritson said.