Three Strikes by Birmingham's Moreno Put Sylmar Out

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Relentless pressure led to three goals by striker Joel Moreno and gave Birmingham High a 4-0 first-round boys' soccer playoff victory over Sylmar on Friday.

The Braves (11-2-2) didn't score until midway through the first half, but after that they ran away with the City Section match, scoring four goals for the fifth time in six matches and toying with a beleaguered Sylmar defense.

By the end, the Spartans (6-6-5) were so thoroughly frustrated that four of them received yellow-card warnings for arguing with the referees.

"We try to stay right on teams and pressure the ball and it's working," said Birmingham's Basil Grant, who played in goal for three quarters of the match and made five saves before moving up to forward. "Once their defense gets the ball, we usually make them kick it away and then beat them to it."

Birmingham put the heat on with outside midfielders Andre Vorster and Elvin Cruz and forwards Moreno and Edwin Esperanza. Center midfielders Jaime Tinajero and Gabriel Ortega (one goal, two assists) distributed the ball smoothly once the Braves gained possession.

Ortega got the assist on Birmingham's first goal, 28 minutes into the match, when he crossed the ball from the left side of the penalty area and Moreno dived to head it into the goal from 10 yards.

Birmingham struck again in the 36th minute after Cruz took a corner kick to the left of the Sylmar goal. The high, floating kick dropped into a crowd in front of the net, where Spartans' goalie Juan Magana muffed an attempt to punch it away and Moreno drilled a shot just under the crossbar.

"Bad game, no?" Magana said as he walked off the field at halftime, throwing his gloves against a chain-link fence in disgust. "I'm just too nervous!"

Although Magana stopped a number of point-blank shots, his discomfort wasn't eased by Birmingham's third score, which came in the 53rd minute.

Ortega controlled the ball on the Sylmar goal line, 15 yards from the right post. He lobbed a soft feed in front of the net, where Moreno scored on a flawless bicycle kick with his back to Magana, flipping almost completely upside down.

"I've tried that seven or eight times this season and scored twice," said Moreno, a 5-foot-9, 147-pound senior who grew up in Mexico City and patterns himself after the star of his homeland's World Cup team. "I try to play like Hugo Sanchez because he can score a goal with any part of his body."

Ortega scored Birmingham's final goal on a penalty kick in the 65th minute.

"Our mission was to push them with the (midfielders) and let the guys up front dribble," said Birmingham Coach Jose Freire, who has won only two playoff matches despite leading the Braves to the playoffs in five times in seven years. "We didn't play that well in the beginning but (Moreno) was opportunistic. He's a goal-hawk."

Birmingham plays Poly (9-4-4) on Wednesday in the second round.

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