LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — When the final whistle blew, without hesitation, St. Francis High soccer Coach Glen Appels told his team, “Go out there with your heads up.”
Damaging and disappointing as Friday night’s 4-1 Mission League loss to visiting Loyola was, Appels was still well aware that much is still to be decided in the ultra-competitive league.
Still, it was difficult even for the veteran coach to hide the sting incurred by a three-goal loss to the rival Cubs.
“It was gonna be important for multiple reasons anyway,” said Appels in regards to his team’s regular-season finale against Crespi on Monday taking on added importance. “This one’s disappointing because it was a big game, it’s always disappointing when you do poorly in a big game.”
With the loss, St. Francis (13-4-4, 7-2-2 in league, 16 points) still holds its spot in first place in league, but its positioning is a bit deceiving. Third-place Harvard-Westlake (5-1-4, 14 points) still has two games left, as its Friday match with Crespi (5-1-3, 13 points), which has three matches remaining, was postponed. Loyola (14-4-6, 6-1-3, 15 points) also has two matches left.
It marks a season sweep for the Cubs in the rivalry, as they won, 3-1, in the teams’ first meeting. The Golden Knights have relinquished just four goals in the rest of league play. In the first meeting, Loyola went up early, as well, forcing St. Francis to battle back from behind.
“I think the most disappointing thing is it looked a lot like the last game,” Appels said.
Realizing it couldn’t let Loyola get out to a fast start as it did in the previous encounter, St. Francis allowed the same thing to happen.
The Cubs went up 1-0 in the 10th minute when Nick Daegele headed in a ball that had pinballed around the box after a corner kick. Loyola went up 2-0 just 10 minutes later when St. Francis, once again, was unable to clear the box. This time, Mauricio Alfonso headed in a pass off a throw-in.
In the 25th minute, St. Francis finally countered, with Jake LaPorte letting loose on a laser of a free kick that was saved, but not corralled. David Rios sprinted into the picture and booted in a goal.
But with all the momentum that St. Francis had taken, it very quickly was lost as Alfonso scored on a seemingly impossible shot, blasting a free kick from roughly 50 yards away into the low left corner of the net. It came just two minutes after Rios’ goal.
“It was a terrific shot,” Appels said. “But if the ball doesn’t take that skip, [goalie] Blake [Dawn] saves it.”
After Loyola’s third score, St. Francis took control.
Joel Ingram has a splendid look at an exposed net up close, but his shot ran just left of the frame.
In the second half, Eric Verso put a free kick on frame that was nicely saved, but led to two St. Francis shots off rebounds, both of which were saved by Loyola defenders.
A low shot by GP Gonzalez was stopped by another terrific save, which led to three consecutive corner kicks, and still nothing in the way of a goal was to be found for St. Francis.
“We had a lot of pressure,” Appels said. “We just couldn’t take advantage of our opportunities.”
Aaron Brown scored midway through the second half for Loyola’s final score.
Brown was a prime example of the Cubs’ speed up top, which plagued St. Francis, throughout.
In addition, as the game was played under a pouring rain, which created a moat of sorts around much of the field, keeping any kind of fluid passing game going was difficult.
“The difference [playing a game under those conditions] is athleticism shows up more,” Appels said. “We’re a team that likes to move the ball around more.”
For defending league champion St. Francis, keeping hold of first place is still a possibility, but a win against Crespi, when the teams play Monday at 5 p.m. at Friedman Field, is seemingly a must.
The teams tied in their first match at Crespi.