SOUTH PASADENA — It was a disastrous start that led to an ugly conclusion.
Set for a Rio Hondo League showdown with rival South Pasadena High with both teams jockeying for positioning atop the Rio Hondo League, La Cañada High looked nothing like a team that was unbeaten in its last six games.
Instead, the Spartans were on the wrong end of one of the worst scores in recent memory for the program, falling to the host Tigers, 7-1, on Friday afternoon.
“Worst game in three years,” said La Cañada Coach Alex Harrison, who in his three seasons at the helm had never had a team relinquish seven goals until Friday. “You could see we were frustrated. We got mad at each other and it fell apart.”
In the teams’ first meeting, La Cañada (10-3-5, 3-1-2 in league) opened league play with a 2-1 win over South Pasadena (11-2-1, 4-2), but the Tigers wasted little time in presenting evidence that it would be a far difference case this time around, scoring twice in the first eight minutes and four times in the first half.
The loss was even more damaging considering both teams were trailing first-place Monrovia, which hosts the Spartans Wednesday, in the standings.
After a Zack Dunn laser of a shot was saved by Spartans goalie Graham Labran-Boyd (seven saves), the rebound was booted in by Ramon Gutierrez for a 1-0 South Pas lead in just the third minute.
The Spartans looked shell-shocked, as the Tigers were faster to the ball, making runs left and right and maintaining possession in the attacking third.
In the eighth minute, Clam Witherall scored off a corner kick by Dunn, who finished with two goals and three assists, while Heven Gomez had a hat trick for the Tigers.
Despite their shortcomings, the Spartans had a brief window to play back in the game when freshman Jack Meeker sent a pinpoint pass up the middle to a streaking Keivan Meshkat. The senior moved onto the left wing with a defender on his hip and shot right for a score in the 23rd minute.
But having cut the score to 2-1, any Spartans momentum was quickly expunged when Dunn dribbled from left to right against the face of the Spartans defense, curved around his mark and sent a low shot into the far post outside the reach of Labran-Boyd for a 3-1 score in the 24th minute.
“They took that momentum,” Harrison said.
By halftime it was 4-1, as the Spartans came out slow, while the Tigers were sprinting, winning possession, jumping passing lanes on defense and controlling the tempo in a big way. South Pasadena outshot La Cañada, 22-6, and 13-3 in the first half, taking the first five shots of the game.
Prior to the start, Harrison implored his players to compete as if it were their last game. After they fell behind early, he shouted at them to, “wake up,” and as the onslaught continued, he and his staff shuffled players around, but it was all to no avail.
“They gotta execute,” Harrison said. “There heart wasn’t in it and that was evident.”
The second half started much the same as the first, as South Pas took the half’s first five shots and Gomez scored in the 43rd minute. The Tigers poured it on with two more goals.
Adding another degree of frustration, late in the game, the Spartans were awarded a penalty kick, but it was saved by the Tigers’ reserve keeper.
Perhaps most astounding was that the Spartans defense, stellar all season to the tune of 10 shutouts and nine goals allowed in 17 games, had never allowed more than two goals in a match prior to Friday.
No matter, with Monrovia up next, Harrison realizes his team must recover quickly.
“I hope this pisses everybody off,” he said. “If they needed a wake-up call, this was it.”