SOUTHEAST GLENDALE — Despite playing the final 48 minutes of Friday's Pacific League road match down a man, the Crescenta Valley High boys' soccer team still nearly escaped Glendale High's Moyse Field with a victory.
But the handicap finally caught up with the Falcons with little more than a minute remaining, as the Nitros snuck a tying goal through the back door for a 1-1 tie that, along with Muir's tie with Arcadia on Friday, kept the top of the league standings unchanged.
"By that point we were not desperate, but we just had to push everybody up," Glendale Coach Tulio Marroquin said of the play that led to Kelby Hernandez' last-minute goal. "We were knocking and knocking, but we just couldn't put the ball where it belonged. Then, finally, Kelby just comes from the back on a cross and puts it in."
Instead off increasing its lead in first place, Crescenta Valley (5-2-5, 3-0-3 in league) remained a point above second-place Muir (4-3-2, 3-1-2) and two points ahead of Glendale (4-0-6, 2-0-4).
The tying play originated from a free kick at midfield. The ball went to Eddy Torres on the right side, who crossed the ball upfield and back towards the middle seemingly toward forward Levon Sargsyan, who was in the middle of the penalty box. Whether by design or not, the Nitros let the ball continue to travel through the box, where Hernandez emerged unmarked behind the Falcons' formation and had a free shot at the goal.
He found the left corner of the net, setting off a raucous celebration for the Nitros and protests of offsides from at least a few Falcons.
"At the end of the day, a lot of people point the finger at the referee saying maybe that guy was offsides," Crescenta Valley Coach Kiel McClung said, "but maybe our guys should have been tighter, maybe we should have stayed with our runners and maybe we walk away with a win.
"Instead of blaming the refs at the end of the game, I'm more so [asking] why is that guy standing by himself in the box."
Amid a scoreless first half that featured far more fouls, injuries and interruptions of play than quality chances, Crescenta Valley's Vahe Nalbandian drew a red card during a brief scuffle with Torres in the 32nd minute, putting his team at a numbers disadvantage the rest of the way.
It was of no immediate benefit to the Nitros, however, who continued to flounder offensively and went down, 1-0, in the 56th minute on a free kick by Salar Hajimirsadeghi.
"I think that mentally they got flat and that's how they played considering that CV was a man short," Marroquin said. "They put that in their heads and they just didn't pick up the pace.
"We gave them that goal basically."
The Falcons' goal was set up by a pushing foul that gave them a free shot just outside of the penalty box. It played out more like a penalty kick, as Hajimirsadeghi's shot bypassed the Nitros' walls of defenders straight into the left side.
"[The tie] is really frustrating especially because we had a silly mental mistake and we were down a man," McClung said. "For our guys to be down a man and play the way we did, I asked for us defensively to just play low pressure and try and get a set piece and capitalize on it and that's what we did. We got everything that we wanted."