LA CAÑADA — The focus of the La Cañada High boys’ soccer team was to advance past the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division V playoffs, something that eluded it the past few seasons.
In order to accomplish that feat, the Spartans needed to play well against Jurupa Hills in a first-round playoff match at home Wednesday.
La Cañada coach Bruno Costa was aware of Jurupa Hills’ weakness on set pieces, and exploited that early in the game, as the Spartans also relied on fast-paced defensive pressure.
La Cañada scored twice off set pieces in the first half in a 4-2 first-round victory and advancing to the second round of the playoffs after two consecutive opening-round exits.
“We put a little studying into the opponent and knew about a few of the flaws that they had,” Costa said. “We capitalized on it quite a bit, especially on the set pieces. I’m happy about taking this next step.
“We know that challenges are going to get harder and bigger, but I believe this is the boost of confidence that we need to take on the next game. We’re ready.”
La Cañada, the two-time defending Rio Hondo League champion, will host Palmdale on Friday in the second round match at a time to be determined.
The Spartans, ranked No. 5 in Division V, received goals from senior J.P. Crispi, junior Andrew Ignatian, sophomore Tyler Na-Nakornpanom and senior Arian Shapourifar, who scored the Spartans’ final goal on a penalty shot in his first match back since December after being sidelined with a fractured leg.
The Spartans (17-2-3) took a 2-0 lead in the first half, but a Jurupa Hills goal from winger Alan Cortes right in the 40th minute carried the visitors’ momentum into the second half.
Jurupa Hills (9-7-3; San Andreas League runner-up) occupied much of the La Cañada side of the field for most of the second half. But a goal from Na-Nakornpanom in the 60th minute restored the host’s two-goal cushion and eased the side into their game.
“This was expected because it’s a different stage — the next stage of the season,” Costa said. “We knew the playoffs would have a huge emotional component. It’s all about that. A lot of the players, you can tell, feel the heat of the game and the pressure, but they were able to stick to the plan and implement what we were trying to do.”
After Spartans senior Marcus Chmiewlewski was brought down inside the penalty area, Shapourifar came onto the field in injury time to make good on the penalty shot to give La Cañada a 4-1 lead in the 82nd minute.
“The second half was really tough,” Chmiewlewski said. “They were really on us. They came out harder than we did. But then, they started getting tired, and then we broke in, we got that goal, and from there, we just kept breaking in.”
Down, but not out, Jurupa Hills scored three minutes later on a header from Luis Contreras to close to within 4-2.
The first half wasn’t much of a problem for the Spartans.
La Cañada got two early chances in the opening five minutes of the match and dominated possession in the Jurupa Hills third thereafter.
A 39-yard free-kick from La Cañada senior Andy Kozanian set up Crispi on a rebound shot for the game’s opening goal in the 16th minute.
Five minutes later, a corner from Crispi connected with Na-Nakornpanom on a back-heel shot that tipped out of the top left corner, setting up Ignatian for another rebound goal in the 21st minute.
“We wanted to attack the goalkeeper because we knew he had trouble holding the ball and that he wouldn’t come out a lot,” Crispi said. “If we attacked the six-yard box and the goalie, we knew we would be successful.”
The Spartans continued to work in the visitors’ side of the field for the rest of the half. But a throw-in in the 40th minute turned awry with a counterattack from Jurupa Hills forward Alan Cortes, who rocketed down the left flank and struck home the visitors’ first goal to cut the La Cañada lead to 2-1 just before the half.