Pirates lose back and forth match
DAYTON — After a successful 2011 season, the Dayton boys soccer team isn’t used to losing, which has made the start to this season a little difficult.
The Pirates (2-2-1) played a tightly contested Special District 3 match Tuesday vs. Pleasant Hill (1-4). Dayton came up short against the Billies 4-3. Tuesday’s match was the first meeting between the two teams since early last year, when Pleasant Hill beat Dayton 3-1.
Pirates coach Jose Cruz is certain the early season struggles are possibly related to the 5-1 state semifinal playoff loss vs. St. Mary’s back on Nov. 15, 2011.
“Something is happening here,” Cruz said. “I think we’re putting a big burden to make the state bracket; in the past it’s something we’ve done for the past four years, and all of a sudden we’ve been given a wakeup call.
“As I told them here at the end of the game, this kind of wakeup call is what we need. I can now hopefully teach the team to be free and let go of the past.”
The Pirates return 15 of upperclassmen.
The result of so many returning players mixed with new players has caused a shuffle with positions. Cruz feels the change has caught some of the players off guard and has created a slight mental challenge for his players. That was evident in Tuesday’s loss.
Pleasant Hill, which looked to grab its first win of the season, opened the scoring early. Jose Harris found a caromed ball smack in the center of the goal area boundary line, and he faked a shot to the left, got Dayton goalkeeper Hakon Larsen to lean that way and scored in the unoccupied right side.
After the opening goal from Harris, Dayton spread the field, which created a lot of scoring opportunities, but players were unable to capitalize. Esteban Cruz, Jony Miramontes and Pablo Vazquez each had scoring chances, but Billies goalkeeper Maddie Vanis made crucial saves.
“Our mental approach is the difference between winning a match or not,” Cruz said. “We started too slow in the first half and it made a difference. We don’t want to make mistakes.”
For most of the remainder of the first half, both teams found their footing defensively and kept the ball around midfield. It wasn’t until Pleasant Hill received a corner kick with four minutes remaining in the first half that Larsen was tested again.
Harris reared back, kicked the ball high into the air and somehow bent it, which confused Larsen, and the ball found the net again to give Pleasant Hill the 2-0 lead going into the half.
“It was a miraculous shot Jose made,” Pleasant Hill coach Phil Dodson said, “I have no idea how he got that ball to curl in there like, it was great for us.”
The 2-0 deficit seemed to motivate Dayton in the second half. Miramontes scored an unassisted goal in the first five minutes of the second half. Pleasant Hill’s Dillon Ritchie responded minutes later with a goal to make it 3-1. Two minutes later, Miramontes received a corner kick and got it to hit off the right post and go in, cutting Pleasant Hills lead to 3-2.
“I saw in the first half that their defense in the middle was weak, so I came out and got the first ball in that area, took a long shot and it seemed to work,” Miramontes said. “The second one, I just took a shot and hoped it went it.”
The Billies added another goal from Dillon Ritchie with nine minutes left to play. With less than two minutes left, the Pirates worked hard to prove they were not yet out of gas. Cruz had all players — including the keeper — move to Pleasant Hill’s end for the extra offensive player, and Marco Corona found the ball in his lap and scored for Dayton just as time expired.
Cruz is aware the Pirates are facing multiple mental battles, but is certain the team is learning from games like these.
“If we can start working on the mindset that it’s okay to lose close games,” Cruz said, “then the players will know to forget about that and go one step at a time.”