LA CAÑADA — For much of the first half of its Mission League match Tuesday, the St. Francis High soccer team held its own against CIF Southern Section Division I top-ranked Loyola.
The Cubs scored an early goal in the first half and had plenty of chances late in the stanza to pull ahead, but the Golden Knights’ defense stood firm to stay in the game and keep the deficit at one at halftime.
But Loyola scored a pair of goals with 15 minutes remaining and went on to defeat St. Francis, 3-0, at Friedman Field.
“I think our guys saw that when we do things right, we can compete, and there’s those moments where we just need a little bit more composure to stay away from the mistakes,” St. Francis coach Glen Appels said. “But the season is a learning experience and it’s really early for us to play important league games, so we’re hoping when everybody’s healthy and when we’re back in January after getting some more games in that we’ll make a better showing.”
Loyola, ranked No. 2 in the state and No. 9 in country, according to MaxPreps.com, absorbed much of St. Francis’ early pressure in the Cubs’ half of the field and broke away in the 11th minute off a throw-in in the Golden Knights’ defensive third.
Cubs center back Ben Beuerlin connected on a cross to head in the ball to give Loyola a 1-0 lead.
“They came out strong in the first half, but we just knew we needed to stay compact and not leave any gaps in the back,” St. Francis captain and attacking midfielder Ian Odermatt said. “We left one of their guys open obviously on the goal, so that was unfortunate, but we tried to stay compact and play tight defense.”
Loyola (8-0-1, 2-0-1 in league), started to overcome the early St. Francis pressure and strung together chances midway in the half.
“St. Francis does a good job defensively and we know we’re in for a battle every time we come in here,” Loyola coach Chris Walter said. “Our guys did a good job and were patient, moved the ball around, got everyone involved and slowly, but surely, tried to break them down.
“We got a good goal from Ben coming forward. That kind of gave us a bit of energy.”
The Cubs outshot the Golden Knights, 11-1, in the first half, with St. Francis’ best chance coming off of a shot from Odermatt in the 24th minute that was saved by Loyola goalkeeper Salvador Ontiveros.
Loyola dominated possession outside the St. Francis penalty area in the final 10 minutes of the first half, but the Cubs couldn’t convert any of their five chances before halftime.
“We didn’t get a lot of chances, but we had a couple of good looks,” Appels said. “If we’re going to compete against the top teams, we need to take those chances and turn them into something more than just half-chances.”
The Cubs came out in the second half with more pressure on the offensive end, but the Golden Knights quickly flipped the script with a more physical approach in the opening 15 minutes.
St. Francis (4-5-2, 1-2-1) showed signs of life around the penalty area, but wasn’t able to find good footing for shots aside from a header from sophomore winger Brady McNulty in the 49th minute.
“They got a lot of chances in the first half, so we felt a little bit lucky for it to be 1-0 in the second half,” Odermatt said. “We took that as an opportunity. We came out stronger in the second half, I felt, and we were playing a lot more smart soccer to hold them in their half of the field and generating more attack.”
Eric Arreola finally broke through the St. Francis pressure in the 67th minute to double Loyola’s lead, 2-0, after teammate Nico Mancilla’s low cross flew past Golden Knights goalkeeper Luis Granados.
“We just talked about getting a second goal because with a one-goal lead, anything can happen,” Walter said. “We wanted to try to get that second one because St. Francis is capable of scoring goals and we got it a little longer than we were hoping for. That was good. It helped us out and made things a little calmer.”
Nearly 10 minutes later, Loyola sophomore Nate Smith-Hastie trapped an overhead pass from midfield and slotted it home to the opposite post to seal the victory for the Cubs.
“Obviously, for us, there were a couple of the goals that we think we could have done better on and so it’s always disappointing to put in a good effort and have a couple of mistakes make the difference,” Appels said. “Whenever you play a good team, you can’t make big mistakes because they punish you, so we knew that was going to be the issue.”