TEMPLE CITY — The La Cañada High boys’ soccer team was one win away from a perfect Rio Hondo League campaign entering its regular-finale against Temple City on Thursday.
Boasting nine straight victories, the Spartans had already captured their second consecutive league title, but sought one more victory for a perfect season on the road against the Rams.
Still scoreless with 10 minutes remaining, the Spartans did all they could to grab a victory in their final league match of the season against runner-up Temple City.
But La Cañada’s second-half effort wasn’t enough, as the Spartans played to a 0-0 draw to still finish the league campaign undefeated.
“We actually predicted that this would happen,” said La Cañada coach Bruno Costa, who has won three league titles in the last four seasons with the Spartans. “Temple City is growing as a program and as a team. They’ve become another contender in the Rio Hondo League and we’ve played very close games against them. This is the first time we’ve played them here because of the rain.
“It was the first time we played here in four years and I was already expecting that they would throw all their weapons out in the first half. In the warm-up, I warned they players that they’re going to come very intense and they’re going to hold some ground.”
La Cañada (15-2-3, 9-0-1 in league) was tested early as the hosts kept pressure in the Spartans’ third of the field for much of the first half.
The Spartans, ranked No. 5 in CIF Southern Section Division V, had better chances in the second half, especially in the final 10 minutes.
La Cañada striker Marcus Chmielewski had a shot at the edge of the penalty area swing right of the goalpost in the 74th minute. Two minutes later, a free-kick from senior J.P. Crispi soared over the top of the crossbar.
“We just wanted to move the ball, touch the ball and get behind them,” Crispi said. “It didn’t work too well, but it’s alright. We’re still undefeated.
“Towards the end, we tried to send it longer and more direct. Since the beginning, we tried to touch and it really wasn’t working, so I think the long ball was kind of more effective, but it didn’t work out in the end.”
Temple City pressured La Cañada enough to take over most of the possession in the first half. Two breakaways from the Rams five minutes into the match resulted in a corner, but the Spartans were able to clear the ball.
“I think we really felt like the pressure was on them,” Temple City coach Shane Watkins said. “The places where you finish in league were already determined regardless of the results, so I thought we were loose. The pressure was on them to keep a perfect record. We just came out to play and have a good time.”
Temple City (12-3-2, 6-2-2) had its first real chance with a cross into the penalty area at the 15-minute mark, but the pass was cleared by La Cañada defender Daniel Pinski.
La Cañada finally settled in the final 20 minutes of the half, with free kicks from Crispi that kept the Spartans inside the Rams’ final third until the break.
Chmielewski, who is committed to Occidental College, took a shot on goal to start the second half that set the tone for the Spartans for the following 20 minutes.
The senior had another chance in the 57th minute on a one-on-one breakaway against Temple City goalkeeper Paul Jing, who came out of his box to clear the through pass.
Temple City’s best chance to take a one-goal lead came at the 69th-minute mark with a shot from inside the penalty area from forward Henry Lui Ze that went right of the post.
“Even though we played a very close game today, I didn’t see much control over us,” Costa said. “I’m really, really confident that we’ll go far in the playoffs.”