PASADENA — Arcadia High still controls its own destiny in the race for the Pacific League girls' soccer championship, but Friday afternoon's league match between Crescenta Valley and host Pasadena was critical to both squads' hopes of staying within striking distance of the Apaches.
A goal in each half and 80 minutes of punishing, physical defense lifted the Falcons to a 2-1 win and into sole possession of second place, which the two squads shared coming in.
"It was one of the most important games, probably, of our season," said Falcons junior Sierra Rhoads, who scored the team's second-half goal. "If we didn't win today, next week wouldn't really have meant anything."
Now it means plenty, as the week to come will see the Falcons (11-4-2, 9-1-2 in league) attempt to run down Arcadia (12-4-3, 10-0-2) and clinch a share, if not all of the championship. Crescenta Valley plays winless Muir on Tuesday before the season-finale on Thursday against the Apaches, who play Burbank on Tuesday.
"We knew we had to win today or we had no chance at being co-champs," said Crescenta Valley Coach Jorden Schulz, whose team's only league loss came at the hands of Arcadia. "This was the turning-point game in our season to date."
At 13-4-3, 8-2-2, Pasadena will close out the season against Hoover and Muir, as it looks to hold off fourth-place Burroughs (12-7-3, 6-4-2) while also hoping for the teams above it to stumble.
"Now we need to rack up points against [Hoover and Muir], because you never know," said Pasadena Coach Kamiko Johnson, whose team has tied Arcadia twice, but also has now lost twice to CV. "One win, one loss, one tie can change everything."
Before being largely silenced altogether in the second half, Pasadena dug itself a hole with some miscommunication in the first half.
In the 16th minute, Crescenta Valley's Lisa Kang followed a ball played up by Karina Costilla into the goal box, advancing straight at Pasadena goalkeeper Venice Santos with a defender on her hip closing in from behind. It looked as though the threat could have been defused rather easily either by a challenge from Santos or a clear from Kang's mark, but neither happened and Kang was able to roll the ball into the goal amid the indecision.
Johnson said her team began to hang their heads a bit after allowing the first goal.
"It becomes all mental from there," she said.
Crescenta Valley still led by a goal in the second half when Rhoads dished to Jacque Phinney on the left wing and Phinney fired a low sinking shot that was deflected out by the Bulldogs, setting up a corner kick. Olivia Bird sent a beautiful ball into the box, where Rhoads timed her midair header perfectly and bounced it into the goal for a 2-0 lead with 29 minutes left.
"I knew it was going to happen if we let it happen," Johnson said of Rhoads' header. "If we don't mark and we don't do our jobs, then goals get scored."
Pasadena got just one shot attempt in the second half, but it was an important one. A Crescenta Valley hand ball in the penalty box awarded Bulldogs sophomore Samantha Koemans a penalty kick, which she buried in the lower left corner in the 71st minute to cut the deficit in half. But other than that, the Bulldogs were frustrated consistently by the more physical Falcons.
"I felt like we had to score early [in the second half] and in the rest of the half, we were pressing them really hard," Rhoads said. "After we scored, it just brought our energy up and I think it just helped us fight until the end."
Added Schulz: "Anything can happen, like it did. We had a hand ball in the box, but we at least had a one-goal cushion. [Pasadena's] getting really good, they've been getting good for the last two years, so props to them for giving us a show. Obviously, them tying Arcadia twice and us losing to Arcadia, we knew it was going to be a fight from the beginning."