Soccer does not always reward the seemingly more dominant team, and it did not in the CIF Southern Section Division 5 girls’ soccer championship match on Friday night at Garden Grove High.
That is just fine with the Los Amigos High team, which to a player, will attest that they did what they had to do to come out on top. The Lobos’ defense kept the game scoreless for all of regulation and overtime, and the possibility of penalty kicks at the end provided a pathway to victory.
Los Amigos won the penalty-kick shootout 4-1 against Pasadena Westridge, as the Lobos secured the first CIF title in program history.
The Lobos (18-3-2) did not miss in the shootout. Judith Callesnoriega, Vidalia Abarca, Vanessa Sanchez, and Tiffany Rodriguez scored in penalty kicks.
“It was our first final, and this was our first [championship] win,” Lobos coach Cassidy Abad said. “To bring this to Los [Amigos] and now have this title to us, I think, is an amazing thing for our program.”
The deck appeared to be stacked against the Lobos, especially when starting goalkeeper Andrea Mendoza-Reyes went down with an apparent left ankle injury in the 29th minute.
Los Amigos had already declared its intention to commit to the defensive side of the field by putting Abarca, a Cal State San Bernardino-committed forward, who scored 37 goals this season, back as its final defender.
Then midfielder Mya Rodriguez joined her defensively as the backup goalkeeper.
Rodriguez said that she had played goalkeeper as a freshman and a sophomore, but it was done out of necessity. She performed admirably in her return to the net, taking an aggressive stance in coming off her line with the Tigers (11-6-5) frequently putting balls into the box.
“I didn’t want them to score that easily,” Rodriguez said. “I didn’t want them to win. I wanted it for us.”
Rodriguez did not have to make a save in penalty kicks, but she stopped four shots in the second half and overtime.
Throughout the contest, Westridge was dangerous in the final third. Attacking midfielder N’Dea Piliavin-Godwin and forward Kaitlin Zareno made a number of plays to beat defenders in the open field.
The one player that no one seemed to be able to get past was Abarca, who cleared the ball out of harm’s way on countless occasions. In the 60th minute, she broke up a cross on a two-on-one breakaway.
“We know that Vidalia can produce goals on some really hard teams,” Abad said. “The question is, ‘Could she have produced more than what she could have stopped?’
“That was our strategy going in. We needed to adjust. We went in planning to play defensively, , trying to determine the speed of their players, and quickly, they proved that they were extremely fast.”
A nervous moment occurred for the Lobos in the 68th minute. Los Amigos hoped to capitalize on a rare scoring opportunity when it received a 23-yard free kick. Abarca took the kick. After a shot by Jennifer Rincon was blocked, Abarca had to sprint back on defense.
The ball found its way to Westridge forward Sophia Makarem, and Abarca was late on her sliding tackle. She was issued a yellow card and had to leave the field for that moment.
Westridge was unable to do much with the ensuing free kick, and when Abarca returned, the back line settled in to get the game to overtime.
“I feel like I did want to, at times, go up and play forward, but obviously, I did what’s best for the team,” Abarca said. “That was to overall stay in the defense. We did what we had to do back there.”
After her unselfish effort on defense, Abarca said that her team got the result it deserved. Los Amigos reached its first final this year after being eliminated in the semifinals last season.
“It feels amazing, especially as a senior, knowing that we did it,” Abarca said. “Anything is possible, and over our four years, we’ve been working for this.