St. Francis High boys' soccer can't keep up with Granada Hills

LA CAÑADA — A first half of near-balanced action between the St. Francis High and visiting Granada Hills boys’ soccer teams gave way to a lopsided second half in opening pool-play action of the Ralph Brandt Tournament.

Granada Hills outshot St. Francis by seven attempts over the final 40 minutes and netted one valuable score in defeating the Golden Knights, 3-2, at Friedman Field.

With the setback, St. Francis (1-1) moves into the pool-play finale Saturday versus another Los Angeles City Section school in San Fernando at 7 p.m. at Friedman Field, while Granada Hills will take a first crack at San Fernando on Friday at 5:15 p.m.

“The two real disappointments today were that we gave away a couple of chances,” St. Francis Coach Glen Appels said. “I don’t know what the number of their shots were, but they had an enormous percentage.”

Granada Hills (1-0-1) totaled 13 shots, eight that were on goal and which accounted for three scores versus six shots for St. Francis, four of which were on goal.

The big differential came in the second half, though, as the Highlanders peppered eights shots versus only one attempt for St. Francis.

The Highlanders broke a tie at 2 by scoring the game-winner in the 58th minute off an apparent Golden Knights mistake.

St. Francis’ defense tried to clear its zone when a ball was popped up near midfield into a trio of players, two of which were Golden Knights.

Out of the scrum, the ball was batted right into the path of Highlanders senior midfielder Zergy Martinez-Gallardo, who took possession 35 yards from goal and was unmarked.

By the time a defender neared Martinez-Gallardo, the striker ripped a 15-yard shot under the arms of St. Francis sophomore goalie Ernesto Rivero (five saves) for the last goal scored by either side.

“We made it work today. When you’re playing a good team like St. Francis, a Division I team, you have to take advantage,” Granada Hills Coach Fabian Sandoval said. “They beat us last year here, so we owed them one.”

While St. Francis had possession for most of the game after Martinez-Gallardo’s score, the Golden Knights failed to mount a serious attack and forced only one stop from goalie Kevin Hernandez (two saves) on a high, but soft 20-yard shot from senior Frankie Veiga.

Even when the Golden Knights drove inside the attacking third, they struggled to find the ball, including on a deep throw-in from Veiga in the 77th minute that bounced twice within the goal mouth, but only harmlessly bounced off the back of a St. Francis player out of bounds.

“The big difference for us wasn’t so much the offense, but our defense,” St. Francis junior Paolo Ramirez said. “We weren’t playing the ball as well and made simple mistakes.”

Ramirez kick-started St. Francis’ day the right way when the defender scored in the 13th minute to put the Golden Knights up, 1-0.

Ramirez one-timed a cross from Jason Camody off an offensive attack that began via free kick.

The Golden Knights’ other score came 30 seconds before the close of the first half when Veiga lofted a pass into a mass of bodies inside the 18.

St. Francis junior Kareem Zeenni somehow fired a 10-yard shot that scored and knotted the game at 2.

In between the St. Francis scores, Granada Hills punched in a goal from Chris Inghilterra in the 18th minute aided by both an assist from Connor Roberts and a Golden Knights defensive breakdown.

Granada Hills first took a 2-1 lead in the 23rd minute when a long ball from Inghilterra was turned into an assist thanks to some brilliant dribbling by junior forward Brandon Waters, who side-stepped his defender and fired a right-to-left goal from 10 yards out.

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