The Costa Mesa High and Estancia boys’ soccer programs did not have a whole lot to write home about when it came to their records during the nonleague season.
Yet neither head coach of the in-city rivals felt particularly concerned about that development, despite the pressure that it put on their teams to perform in Orange Coast League competition.
Eagles coach Robert Castellano had addressed his team after its final match of the Hawks Invitational — a 1-0 loss to Edison on Dec. 27 — telling his players that if they could play with the CIF Southern Section Division 1 semifinalist Chargers, they could play with anyone.
Meanwhile, Mustangs coach Jimmy Matthews saw no reason to fret when his team was held scoreless for five consecutive matches in late December.
In the first meeting of the Battle for the Bell, both teams continued to show their coaches that they intend to be contenders late into the season.
A second-half goal from Marco Castrejon helped Costa Mesa stay unbeaten in the Orange Coast League, as the host Mustangs secured a 1-1 tie against Estancia on Wednesday night.
“I’ll take the point,” Matthews said. “We’re unbeaten in [the league] season so far. We had a bit of a rocky preseason, but everything has come together now, and we have had three fantastic games.”
Asked about the five shutout losses that his team endured heading into league play, Matthews said that the lack of scoring was a result of experimentation.
“It was fine,” Matthews added. “We played against some good teams, and we were trying some new systems out, so I wasn’t too bothered about the scoring drought in the preseason.
“We’re definitely creating a lot more opportunities.”
Costa Mesa (3-7-5, 1-0-2 in league; five points) proved dangerous on set pieces in the second half. Castrejon took free kicks three minutes apart. He put the first one on frame from the top left corner of the box, and Cesar Pedroza came up with a leaping save.
Castrejon got another opportunity on a 35-yard free kick in the 48th minute. The senior midfielder bent the ball over the defensive wall and inside the lower left corner of the goal for the tying marker.
Alan Morales was also a force in the midfield for Costa Mesa, displaying a connection with forward Ethan Ervey to get the ball wide on the attack.
The Mustangs have scored five goals in three league matches, which Castrejon attributed to being moved up in the team’s formation.
“We made some changes, moved some defenders into the midfield,” Castrejon said. “I was able to go up more, so Alan [and I] have more freedom to go up.”
Costa Mesa goalkeeper Walter Olmedo had three saves, including one that preserved the draw in the 62nd minute. Ludwin Romero played a ball through to Richard Cervantes. He tried to make a move around Olmedo, who dove to his right and got a hand on the ball. Left back Jackson Galitski came across to clear the ball away.
“A massive hand,” Matthews said of Olmedo’s save. “Unbelievable goalkeeping, and then Jackson Galitski cleared it up. My heart rate was going very fast when that happened.”
Estancia (2-10-4, 1-1-1; four points) scored its goal in the sixth minute. Marcos Arreola retrieved a throw-in to the right of the goal, and he played the ball across to Esteban Esquivel for the finish.
Arreola was able to penetrate the box again in the 19th minute, but his pass did not find the feet of Alessandro Madrigal.
“Marcos is our best player,” Castellano said. “He came back right before Christmas break, and these last three games in league, we’re starting to turn the corner. Marcos is a big part of that.
“I felt that he was [drawing] a lot of attention in the first half, and they didn’t have a solution for him.”
The Eagles have started Pedroza, a freshman, in goal during their first three league contests. He finished with four saves.
Senior center back Chris Ayala also stood out for Estancia, getting in passing lanes to deny the Mustangs a potential final touch in the box. He did not begin the season on varsity last year, but he now recognizes a need to step up as a leader on the team.
“My responsibility is getting [my teammates] up, telling them what to do,” Ayala said. “Sometimes, since they’re really young, our team, we’ve got to tell them what to do, get them up. Sometimes, if they do something bad, they get down, and they don’t believe in themselves anymore, so we’ve got to tell them to get up and keep playing.”
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