MONROVIA — A 43rd-minute goal off a set piece was all that separated the visiting La Cañada High and Monrovia boys’ soccer teams in a pivotal Rio Hondo League match Wednesday afternoon.
Unfortunately for the Spartans, they found themselves on the opposite side of the goal and the score, as the Wildcats further fueled their league championship aspirations in a 1-0 victory.
“To be honest, there really wasn’t much of a difference between us,” Spartans Coach Alex Harrison said. “Monrovia played well, but I don’t think they really outplayed us. I thought it was even in everything except the final score.”
The Wildcats (15-3-4, 6-0-1 in league), ranked third in Division V of the CIF Southern Section, scored the match-winner when a throw-in from sophomore defender Joel Cortez bounced past a Spartans defender and was controlled by Monrovia sophomore forward Chris Wong.
The Wildcats striker held off his defender with his left hip before spinning and firing a 12-yard goal past Spartans goalie Graham Labran-Boyd (six saves) nearside for the match’s lone goal.
Wong’s goal came one minute after Cortez headed a pass off a free kick right to Labran-Boyd, who was positioned perfectly on the right post.
While the goal was relief for a restless Wildcats bench, the Spartans seemed energized after falling behind.
The Spartans (10-4-5, 3-2-2) responded with six shots over the final 37 minutes, three of which required saves from Monrovia goalie Max Medley (four saves).
La Cañada’s first shot on goal in the second half came from sophomore Lawrence Ku, who had a 30-yard direct kick denied by Medley in the 61st minute.
Thirty seconds later, senior forward Andrew Meeker also had a 25-yard shot stopped by Medley.
Perhaps the Spartans’ best look came on the final action of the match one minute into extra time.
Spartans senior halfback Armaan Zare slipped a pass to Ku about 35 yards from goal.
Ku was taken down by Monrovia’s D’Morea Alewine, which resulted in a free kick.
Ku lined up and fired a shot around Monrovia’s wall but not out of the range of Medley, who dove to his right for the stop as the match was called 10 seconds later.
“I think our ability to limit the number of shots La Cañada was able to take was the key,” said Monrovia Coach Michael Williams, whose team won the shots battle, 15-8. “Whether it’s now or back when I was playing, defense wins championships and we’re trying to prove that again.”
The Wildcats dominated a first half that was scoreless despite an 8-2 shot differential.
Monrovia had a few decent attempts, including in the 26th minute when a through ball from Wildcats junior Alfredo Maciel passed through two defenders and off the top shoulder of senior striker Antonio Rosas, who centered the ball, but flipped a shot over the cross.
Eleven minutes later, the Wildcats challenged Labran-Boyd, who dove to his right for a save on a 12-yard shot from Wong created off a pass from Alewine.
Perhaps Monrovia’s best look was snuffed out on a field block when Spartans senior defender Austin Gartside jumped in front of a 15-yard shot from senior defender Bearet Luttenbacher in the 23rd minute on a shot from 17 yards.
La Cañada’s lone shot on goal in the first half came in the 21st minute on a 40-yard free kick from Zare that was corralled by Medley.
The Spartans also had a late give-and-go attempt in the 39th minute between teammates Tristan Afshar and Filip Franke that sputtered off the front foot of Franke wide left from 10 yards.
“I was happy with our team’s effort,” Harrison said. “We had an embarrassing effort last game (a 7-1 loss at South Pasadena on Friday) and I wanted to see how the team would come out and play today.
“Last time we ripped every brick and mortar off our foundation. This time, it was nice to see us back to playing the type of defense at La Cañada we’re known for. This game is much easier to accept.”