PASADENA — Nearly nine months had passed since Pasadena Poly ended the 2012-13 campaign for the Crescenta Valley High girls’ soccer team via a second-round postseason elimination victory in the CIF Southern Section Division III playoffs.
While February has long since passed, the Falcons found themselves in a familiar place, which is to say they were under siege again by the potent Panthers offense.
Yet, despite losing the field position and shots battles, Crescenta Valley narrowed the gap a bit with the divisional runner-up and CIF Southern California Division III Regional champion after a 1-0 road loss at Babcock Field in Tuesday’s season opener.
“We had most of our chances in the first half and they had a lot more chances in the second half. A one-goal game with the regional champions, I’m not complaining,” said Falcons fourth-year Coach Jorden Schulz, whose team was defeated, 3-0, by Poly on Feb. 19. “We still have a long way to go, but for our first game coming out against them, I don’t think we had a bad performance.”
Poly outshot Crescenta Valley, 20-6, with that difference noticeable in a second half where the margin was 13-2.
The Panthers also attempted eight of their 10 corner kicks in the second half, while keeping the ball in their attacking third for most of that time.
Yet, even with all those statistics, the Panthers were shut out thanks in part to some clutch and fortunate defense.
Perhaps no flurry better explained Poly’s offensive day than a three-shot sequence that began in the 49th minute off a throw-in from sophomore Annie Winton that split two Falcons defenders and found junior forward Nora Johnson, who fired a five-yard shot directly into the grasp of freshman keeper Sydney Schoeller (three saves).
Four minutes later, it appeared Crescenta Valley was beat when a brilliant through ball from Panthers junior Kayla Valencia found a streaking Johnson, who one-timed a seven-yard shot over the arms of a leaping Schoeller.
The shot on goal ricocheted off the crossbar and directly down, but not in goal.
However, with Schoeller out of position and Valencia steaming toward the net, the goal seemed imminent until Falcons junior defender Grace Keller raced from just inside the 18, slid and knocked the ball out of play.
Approximately 30 seconds later, the Panthers were denied a third time when Valencia set up junior Becca Hanel with a five-meter shot that Schoeller knocked away with one hand.
“Poly is probably going to be one of the better possession teams in the division, so this game really helps in getting us kick-started in defending,” said Schulz, who went with a 4-4-2 formation to counter Poly’s attacking 4-3-3.
Poly’s lone goal came early when the Falcons’ inability to clear their defensive zone cost them as a 30-yard free kick from senior midfielder Evan Gancedo bounced around the goal mouth before Johnson knocked in a four-yard score in the fourth minute.
The goal came versus Falcons senior starting goalie Emily Johnston, who otherwise was stout in stopping five shots on goal in the first half, before she was subbed out for Schoeller.
“I think we marked a lot tighter against Poly this time,” Johnston said. “We recognized how to defend against them and just needed a little time.”
Crescenta Valley’s best offensive look may have come in the 44th minute when a pass from junior Samantha Phinney to junior Courtney Iannello resulted in a 10-yard shot that Iannello bent around Poly’s goalie, but not out of the range of defender Alex Treister, who cleared the ball.
Pinney also nearly scored in the 24th minute when her 25-yard shot skipped off the hands of Panthers sophomore goalie Mia Fernandez, but again was cleared away by a Poly defender.
“We played against a tough team today. They were very tough and physical and this was a great first game for us,” said Panthers Coach Patrick Gray, who was without the services of star forward Noel Askins. “At times we played some pretty good soccer and at times it was ugly. The main thing is that both teams learned something from today.”