Case delivers for Corona del Mar

IRVINE — One midfielder's butt hurt. Another's knee felt tight. The goalkeeper missed two days of school because of the flu.

The Corona del Mar High boys' soccer team went into its first Pacific Coast League road match not at 100%. Coach George Larsen sat out midfielder Grady Howe for the entire match and keeper Connor Gaal for the first half.

Mason Case started against Irvine and Larsen is glad the junior gave it a go Wednesday. Two days off from training benefitted Case.

The knee not only looked good enough for Case to play, but also to finish two scoring chances. He scored two goals in the first 40 minutes, and that is all the Sea Kings needed to beat the Vaqueros, 2-1, and stay unbeaten through 14 matches.

Case was the difference maker for the Sea Kings (9-0-5, 2-0-0 in league), ranked No. 3 in the state by ESPN RISE. The Sea Kings will not be able to rely on Case on Friday, when CdM plays host to Woodbridge (11-3-3, 2-0-0) in a league showdown.

Case and Jack Gorab are leaving the team Friday morning to attend a camp at Duke University over the weekend. Larsen said it is an opportunity both players cannot pass up.

The Sea Kings are getting used to not being at full strength. They just continue to battle, and for the most part, they finish on top. No team has been able to defeat CdM in its last 29 matches dating back to last season.

Irvine (5-8-1, 0-2-0) put up a fight and Larsen expected one out of a side coached by Alex Zotinca, who has played for Major League Soccer's Chivas USA. The Vaqueros played a physical brand of soccer and it worked to slow down the more organized Sea Kings.

Fifteen minutes into the match, Irvine had no answer to some beautiful ball movement by CdM. Two beautiful passes set up Case's first goal.

While attacking from the left side, Nick Curci sent a pass toward the other side, where Miguel Delgado was all alone. Delgado quickly crossed the ball over to Case deep inside in the box.

Case leaped and headed the ball over the outstretched gloves of the keeper and into the back of the net to give the Sea Kings a 1-0 lead. The celebration quickly ended.

A minute later, Irvine answered. Joseph Depew beat the Sea Kings' weak-side defense, as he flew forward, with his head finding a nice cross that he put away to even the match.

In a tight match, Larsen went to his bench. He called on someone he has not been able to all season because of a leg injury.

"Marlon, get up," Larsen ordered Marlon Massinelli, who looked surprised. He did not even have a jersey on.

Someone handed the junior his identical twin brother's No. 01 jersey. Marcel was not using it since he started at keeper with Gaal out.

Marlon slipped out of a grey shirt and into the game jersey. Six minutes after entering, CdM produced another scoring opportunity.

From 15 yards out, Gorab flicked the ball to a running Case. The ball found his feet and he dribbled in from the left side, before beating the keeper to the far post. The Sea Kings went up, 2-1, in the 30th minute. The momentum continued for CdM. Gaal began to warm up on the sideline after telling Larsen he wanted to play keeper in the second half.

Larsen was of course thrilled to have Gaal back, even if he was still sick.

"Connor's like a security blanket," Larsen said. "When he's in there in the second half, and you have a lead, you just feel it's going to be really, really hard for the other team to get back on you."

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