By Jeremy Balan
All it took was one breakdown, and Sacred Heart Cathedral’s boys soccer team was in a hole immediately against St. Francis on Saturday at the Crocker Amazon Soccer Fields.
Thirty seconds into the game, the Irish committed a turnover in their own half of the field and St. Francis midfielder Emilio Huerta made them pay.
The junior took control of the ball in the middle of the field and sent a strike just inside the left post from 20 yards out for the lone score of the Lancers’ 1-0 West Catholic Athletic League win.
“When you give away possession in your own half, the better the player, the better the team, the more they are going to punish you, and that’s what happened,” said Sacred Heart assistant coach Toby Rappolt, who was serving as head coach in the absence of Jeff Wilson. “One moment, among hundreds of moments, and that was it.”
The St. Francis (7-2-4, 4-0-3) offense almost entirely ran through Huerta and the playmaking junior took a game-high three shots on net and distributed the ball deftly to teammates.
“We were hoping to get something early and obviously a little luck helps,” said St. Francis head coach Thomas Silvas. “On the attack, Emilio is key and he’s getting better every day. He’s one of the best players in the league.”
Sacred Heart (7-3-3, 3-2-2) had more than its fair share of chances, but didn’t send a shot on net until the 63rd minute on a free kick from 35 yards out from junior defender Oscar Reyes.
Irish attackers Dashiell MacNamara, William Velasco and Jonathan Rojas consistently worked the ball into the St. Francis penalty area, but were always a step away or a foot off of capitalizing on their opportunities.
“A couple of our best players’ touch started going away,” Rappolt said. “But you can’t take those guys out of the game, and it came back to them.”
The Irish surged late and Rojas came just inches away from equalizing in the 76th minute.
Rojas received a centering pass from senior Daniel Ryan and rifled a shot toward the top half of the net from 15 yards out. The ball beat St. Francis goalkeeper Jacob Silva, but struck the crossbar and caromed over the net.
“I was just hoping for a little luck there,” Silvas said. “This win is big, because they’re a well-coached team. We didn’t know how we were going to do it, but bottom line, we needed to come up here and win — steal it, or whatever we had to do.”
The Irish only took two shots on goal in the game, but were kept in the game by junior goalkeeper Connor Anderson, who had seven saves, including two diving stops in the second half.
“He’s always good for at least one, sometimes two huge saves a game,” Rappolt said. “It’s like scoring a goal when he denies them a goal-scoring opportunity like that.”