SOUTH PASADENA — While the scoreboard may have read 0-0 when 80 minutes were up, the cheers from the South Pasadena High boys' soccer team and fans signified the game was a victory for the Tigers.
Both South Pas and La Cañada High came into Thursday afternoon's Rio Hondo League finale looking for some more clarity on who the league champion was. A victory would give the winning side sole possession of the title, while a tie meant both teams would share it – sort of.
“For four years, we've been getting destroyed by La Cañada and to finally beat them is amazing. It's a tie, but it feels like a win to me. We were able to beat them for the first time since I've ever been here,” said South Pasadena center back Charlie Slocum, referencing the Tigers' 2-1 win at La Cañada on Jan. 23.
The Tigers will enter the CIF Southern Section Division V playoffs at the No. 1 team out of league with a head-to-head advantage over the Spartans, who came into the game ranked No. 1 in the division. When it comes to the league banners, both sides will be co-champions as they're even in points with 17 each.
It gives South Pasadena (14-1-3, 7-0-3 in league) its first taste of the league title since 1997.
“It was many years ago,” South Pasadena Coach Juan Zurita said of the last time the Tigers were champions. “We're always very close, second or third. I'm pretty proud of my team.”
While South Pas was the only team celebrating, La Cañada Coach Alex Harrison didn't show any frustration with the draw.
“It was a good result,” he said. “It was such an intense game I feel like it was a good result for us; I mean, it's a good result for them, too. It's just a frantic game, frantic pace, any time you have a 0-0 like that it's nothing to hang your head about.”
Neither side came into the game looking for just one point. South Pasadena dominated the scoring chances in the first half but never pulled back, despite La Cañada controlling possession in the final 40 minutes.
In the end, the Tigers outshot the Spartans, 13-6, and held the advantage in corner kicks, 12-4.
La Cañada wasn't able to create much offensively without its star forward and leading goal scorer Armand Bagramyan, who received two yellow cards Tuesday, until the second half.
“They still played solid without [Bagramyan],” Slocum said. “I mean, with him it would've definitely been a different game, we would've had to adjust to him being there.”
Harrison moved Armaan Zare to center forward, Austin Gartside to attacking midfielder and Aidan Tourani to center back without Bagramyan.
“It was just a little bit of nerves in the beginning,” Harrison said. “It's hard to play with guys out of position, but I thought they did all right.”
Both teams came up empty on shots against defenseless goalies in the second half.
South Pasadena, which is tied for the No. 9 ranking in Division V, nearly broke through on a corner kick in the 46th minute. The set piece led to a shot from South Pas' Cuauhtemoc Garcia-Rodriguez that was field blocked by a La Cañada defender. The shot got the Spartans goalie to fall on the ground on an attempted kick save and the deflection went to the Tigers' Clem Witherall, whose open shot at goal was wide left.
Filip Franke nearly put the Spartans (18-3-3, 8-1-1) ahead in the 61st minute. Tourani sparked the opportunity when he sent a great ball to Zare, who laid a ball in the box to Franke. South Pasadena goalie Christopher Mejia ran out of the net to grab the ball, but Franke got there first and poked it out of his reach to the left. Franke controlled it and ran around the keeper before letting loose an off-balance and off-target shot.
“I guess it didn't want to come for either side, which is good for us,” Zurita said. “I mean, I want to see goals but it didn't happen.”
The game remained scoreless thanks to La Cañada goalie Graham Labran-Boyd. The junior stopped two point-blank shots from South Pas' Daniel Zurita and Corey Keenan in the fourth and ninth minute, respectively, and later punched away what would have been an own goal at the 19-minute mark.
Harrison felt it could be a confident boost for his team to know it can hang with a top-ranked team in its division without Bagramyan heading into the postseason.
“[South Pas] is a good team, tied for No. 9 in CIF, so if we can play a team without Armand it's nice. You throw out the guy who's scored 42 goals for you and it makes it a little easier when you have him back.”