NEWHALL — After the Glendale High boys’ soccer team opened Pacific League play with a scoreless tie against Crescenta Valley, first-year Coach Tulio Marroquin emphasized that his team still had plenty of work to do, with a need for consistent play at the forefront.
After beginning the Hart Tournament on Friday with additional struggles, it was clear Marroquin was, indeed, correct.
But on Monday, the suddenly resurgent Nitros found themselves on the right track, having garnered one of the program’s biggest victories in recent memory, as Glendale defeated previously unbeaten Knight, 2-1, to win the Hart Tournament championship at Hart High.
“It’s a pretty big thing,” said Glendale’s Haykaz Sargsyan, who scored the first goal. “We haven’t had this feeling for a long time.”
Sargsyan and his teammates were able to hoist the tournament trophy after fending off a Knight team (7-1-1) that had already defeated them on Friday.
Glendale (3-3-3) began the tournament by going 0-1-1 on the first day, including a 3-1 loss to the Hawks. But Monday was a completely different match for a variety of reasons.
“For sure, it was the defense, everybody doing their jobs,” said Glendale assistant, Vahan Khodanian, the program’s junior varsity coach, who was filling in for Marroquin, who had a previous commitment.
Added Sargsyan: “We were sort of fatigued and we started out weak [on Friday].”
Knight took a 2-0 lead in Friday’s match, but Glendale reversed that fortune on Monday in the championship match.
“We got ourselves together,” said Sargsyan of the Nitros winning three straight en route to the tournament championship.
In a relatively evenly played opening half on Monday, Sargsyan got the Nitros on the board with a beautiful free kick that curved just inside the near post from 30 yards out.
The score came in the 20th minute and was followed seven minutes later by another conversion on a free kick. Artin Anderiasian booted a shot inside the near post from just 10 yards outside of the net, popping it up over the defensive wall and by a goaltender who didn’t even move on a play that appeared to be a complete defensive breakdown by the Hawks.
For the Nitros, though, it was evidence that practice is finally starting to pay off on set pieces.
“They make all the free kicks in practice, but in the game, they always blast it over [the net],” Khodanian said. “That is one thing that we did change.”
Shortly after taking a 2-0 lead, Glendale watched as Knight looked to implode, with teammates bickering among themselves.
That all changed at the outset of the second half, as the Nitros were on their heels throughout, thanks to equal parts Knight coming out fired up and Glendale taking a more defensive approach.
For the most part, Glendale goalie Victor Barba didn’t have to do a whole lot, making just three saves on the day, but all three were clutch.
The biggest likely came when he skied in the air to knock away a 50-50 ball only to have a rebound shot come right back at him, forcing him to go low for a save. He’d make another splendid save when he dove far side to save a low free kick from going in.
“We do count on him a lot,” said Sargsyan of Barba, who’s battling an anterior cruciate ligament injury that will likely require surgery in January. “He’s doing it for us, he’s coming up big.”
He wasn’t without his slip ups, though, as he played a bounce badly and a Hawks ball went over his head before teammate Rolman Piche ran onto the scene from out of nowhere, diving headfirst to head the shot offline.
Barba didn’t get any help in the 73rd minute, however, as he picked another 50-50 ball out of the air, but was bumped from behind by a teammate and lost possession.
Knight’s Emilio Carranza booted in the loose ball to cut the lead to 2-1.
A boisterous Knight faithful exploded as the tables had no doubt turned, with Glendale seemingly becoming the squad that had lost its head. Three Nitros received yellow cards in the second half, but the defense and Barba held true.
It wasn’t without some added dramatics, though, as Glendale withstood two close-up free kicks and two corner kicks after the Knight goal.
The final corner saw the Hawks even bring their goalie up into the box, but Glendale’s Kevin Martinez deflected a final shot attempt with his body before clearing the ball just before the whistle blew to signal the Nitros’ championship win.
“It’s huge,” Sargsyan said.
Then again, there’s still progress that needs to be made.
“We still need work,” read a text from Marroquin to Khodadian shortly after the victory.