Behind a brilliant performance from center midfielder David Estrada, the Poly High boys’ soccer team defeated Birmingham, 1-0, Friday in a City Section quarterfinal at Poly.
Estrada, a senior who made the transition from playing forward as a junior to working in the midfield this season, was magnificent, winning loose balls and controlling play.
Three minutes after halftime, Estrada hit forward Jose Gomez in stride with a vertical pass.
Gomez burst down the center of the Birmingham penalty area a step ahead of a defender and slotted the ball past charging goalkeeper John Wall for his 13th goal.
“We couldn’t control [Estrada],” said Birmingham center midfielder John Ortega, who was shoulder-to-shoulder with the Poly standout all afternoon. “I didn’t think their attack was that good except for him.”
Poly, seeded third, advances to host 10th-seeded Bell in a semifinal on Tuesday.
The Parrots (13-1-3) hoped to face defending champion Belmont, which eliminated Poly in last year’s quarterfinals. But the Sentinels lost to Bell, 2-0, on Friday.
In the other semifinal Tuesday, fourth-seeded El Camino Real will host eighth-seeded Reseda.
Birmingham was outplayed in the first half and was outshot, 4-2, in the first 40 minutes with its shots coming on free kicks.
But the 11th-seeded Braves (13-2-5) sprang to life after the Poly goal, committing nearly all their players to the attack and pinning the Parrots in their own end for 15 minutes.
“We just knew that this was the end of the season if we lost,” Ortega said. “We started putting more people on them offensively and ignoring our defense.”
Birmingham could well have tied the match but squandered several prime opportunities on free kicks from the top of the Parrot penalty area. Scoring was a season-long concern for the Braves.
“We just couldn’t finish--again,” Ortega said. “A couple of us are sick and weren’t at full strength but we should have been able to put it in.”
Birmingham was bolstered by the play of Wall, its goalkeeper, who made six saves and patrolled his box with authority.
Several times, Wall dived to snare crossing passes and he did not bobble any balls he handled.
“John kept us in the game,” Ortega said. “It wouldn’t have been that close without him.”
For Poly, forwards Gomez, Juan Vega and Peewee Rosas turned midfielders’ passes into offensive threats and goalkeeper Eduardo Mesta made four saves to backstop the defense.
“We have a great team, a team that hustles the whole game,” Estrada said. “That’s what I love about these guys, their intensity never lets down.”
Ortega tried a laid-back approach against Estrada.
“He was able to change directions really well,” Ortega said. “I was trying not to let him blow by me, but that gave him a little more time to make his passes.
The Poly-Birmingham matchup was only assured Friday morning, when the City Section upheld the Braves’ appeal of their 2-1 overtime second-round loss to Roosevelt.
With that game tied, 1-1, in the second half, the Roosevelt coach was red-carded. Section rules state that a team forfeits a game when its coach is ejected and Birmingham Coach Jose Freire ordered his team onto its bus.
After 10 minutes, the referees ordered the Braves back onto the field, where they lost under protest.
“I knew to continue the game was wrong, but I was worried that [the City Section] might not think two wrongs made a right if we didn’t go back,” Freire said. “It’s the playoffs, I figured maybe we’d win and it wouldn’t matter.”