Falcons three-peat in league against Pasadena

LA CRESCENTA — Just seconds after the Crescenta Valley High boys' soccer team clinched its third outright Pacific League championship in a row Friday afternoon, the Pasadena players stood at midfield and applauded the Falcons.

In turn, Crescenta Valley paid its proper respect to Pasadena before celebrating and raising the championship plaque after the Falcons posted a 4-1 home victory.

"There's a lot of respect between Pasadena and Crescenta Valley," said Crescenta Valley forward Pavle Atanackovic, the reigning All-Area Player of the Year, who scored what proved to be the match-winning goal in the 32nd minute. "They played us pretty tough and [Pasadena Coach] Cherif [Zein] is a great coach.

"To win league again is unreal. It's definitely the sweetest. It's something we wanted very much to win going into the season."

Crescenta Valley, ranked No. 4 in the latest CIF Southern Section Division V poll, won its 11th match in a row to improve to 14-0-6, 10-0-2 in league for 32 points. The Falcons gained a share of the league title Tuesday with a 3-1 home win against Hoover.

Crescenta Valley first-year Coach Grant Clark, who served as the boys' junior varsity coach the past three seasons, said he looked for the Falcons to maintain their league dominance.

"It's very satisfying for me," Clark said. "I came in and I knew I would be taking over a very good team and I've learned a lot along the way.

"There's a lot of confidence whenever they are on the field and I know they'll play hard. I began to take it all in during the last seven minutes of the game. You don't know how often winning league will come around."

Pasadena dropped to 8-6-3, 5-4-3 for 18 points. The Bulldogs remain in third place behind Crescenta Valley and Burroughs and need to win one of their remaining two matches to clinch one of the four automatic playoff berths. The Bulldogs trail second-place Burroughs (6-3-3 in league for 21 points) and own a one-point lead over Burbank (5-5-2 for 17 points).

Pasadena opened the scoring on a goal by Smail Belhamra in the second minute. However, the Falcons knotted the match at 1 a minute later when Alex Berger took a nifty pass from Matthew Bracht and beat Pasadena goalkeeper Jimmy Castillo.

Crescenta Valley was awarded a penalty shot in the 32 minute when a Pasadena defender was called for a hand ball near the goal line. The UC Irvine-bound Atanackovic lined a shot past Castillo to make it 2-1.

"Even after we fell behind early, we knew there was still plenty of time to play," Atanackovic said. "We had to keep the momentum going, and we wound up getting three more goals."

Pasadena nearly tied the game at 2, but Falcon goalkeeper Nick Ruiz (six saves) stopped a close-up shot by Belhamra in the 55th minute. The Falcons then extended their advantage to 3-1 on a goal by Pablo Sotillo off an assist from Berger.

The scoring was closed out in the 64th minute on a Pasadena own goal.

Zein said the Bulldogs played well throughout most of the contest.

"We started off by getting that early goal, but then they came back right away to tie it and that was key," said Zein, who got 10 saves from Castillo. "We just made a couple of mistakes against a very good team.

"CV is one of the best teams that we've played. We have a lot of respect for their record."

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