LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — Despite the fact it was a consolation-bracket semifinal, Saturday night’s Ralph Brandt Tournament contest between St. Francis High and El Camino Real — a matchup of reigning CIF Southern California Regional champions — was a marquee matchup on paper.
The game wasn’t played on paper, but rather on the soaking wet turf of Friedman Field that was blanketed by rain throughout most of the 80-minute match — conditions which hindered the talented athletes on both sides at times, but couldn’t stop El Camino Real from posting a 3-0 victory on a trio of second-half goals.
“They canceled the rest of the [Ralph Brandt Tournament] games, but we called and [El Camino Real Coach] Dave [Hussey] was good enough to bring the guys here,” St. Francis Coach Glen Appels said in reference to championship-bracket semifinal matches, including one between Glendale and Burroughs, scheduled for Saturday night at La Cañada High that were canceled due to poor field conditions. “We were hoping this would be a championship-bracket game, it turned out to be a runner-up bracket game, but that’s the reason we play in tournaments. We need to play teams like this and I think we showed we can play with them, but we also showed we need a little more work before we can beat a good team like this.”
El Camino Real (5-0-1), which won the Division I regional title last season and entered this year as the No. 1-ranked team in ESPN RISE’s national preseason poll, broke the scoreless tie in the 48th minute on a header by German Romero off a free kick by Beto Velasquez.
Velasquez’s kick from about 40 yards out near the left sideline was tapped out of the air by Romero playing the back post and back across the goal just within the net on the left side.
The Conquistadors added to their lead in the 64th minute on a strong run by Velasquez, who outsprinted multiple defenders on the dribble to beat diving St. Francis goalkeeper Luca Coppola for the score.
By the time St. Francis, which won the Division II regional crown last year and was ranked 21st in the nation preseason by ESPN RISE, tallied its first shot on goal in the 68th minute, El Camino Real was on the verge of scoring its third goal. Velasquez got his second score of the night off a cross from Sebastian Rodriguez in the 73rd minute.
“They have such good composure,” Appels said of El Camino Real, which has an unbeaten streak of 23 games dating back to last season and is yet to be scored on this season. “I think what happened was the first time they got a good chance was that big back-post ball and they headed it in. I think at that point they started playing with a little bit more composure than we were. We had chances where we had a chance to keep this game tight, but I think they kept building their confidence and we were scrambling a bit.”
St. Francis (2-2) was knocked into the consolation bracket by a Dec. 5 pool-play loss on to Glendale, which did not have a make-up date for its semifinal as of Saturday night.
El Camino Real was dealt its only tie of the season in pool play and was prevented from advancing to the championship bracket by a tiebreaker.