By Jeremy Balan
The Lincoln and Mission high schools’ boys soccer teams both appeared to be contenders to win the Academic Athletic Association championship entering their matchup on Thursday, but only one came out looking the part.
Behind two goals apiece from seniors Marco Caballero and Walter Sevillano, the Bears rolled to a convincing 5-0 win over the visiting Mustangs.
Both teams came into the game undefeated, but now only Mission (11-1-1, 7-0-0) and Lowell stand as the remaining unbeaten teams in AAA play.
“This is a good win, but at times we were horrible,” said Mission head coach Scott Kennedy. “We lost our composure [during the middle of the game].”
Caballero put the Bears up early, with his 14th and 15th goals of the AAA season in the 13th and 17th minutes. The first came on a long throw-in from the left-hand sideline by junior Fidel Cazares that found Caballero’s head in the penalty area. Caballero directed the ball into the bottom-left corner of the net, then scored his second goal when he broke free on the right-hand wing and powered a close-range shot through the hands of Lincoln goalkeeper Jacob MacDonald.
“I have to take the initiative as a captain to start something,” Caballero said. “I just feel glad and lucky that I’ve scored all these goals. I’m having such a perfect season right now.”
Caballero also assisted on the fourth goal of the game, when he worked into an open space in the middle of the field and found junior forward Mario Mejia breaking behind the Lincoln defense in the 75th minute. Mejia temporarily lost possession, then regained the ball, before sidestepping a Lincoln defender and depositing the ball into the low, left-hand side of the net.
Sevillano’s first goal came in the 61st minute on a broken play that saw a loose ball carom to him in the penalty area, but his second, which capped the Bears’ scoring in the 78th minute, was not a cheap one.
Alone on the left-hand wing with two Lincoln defenders between himself and the net, Sevillano deftly juked his way through the pair and rocketed a sharp-angled shot into the top-right corner of the net.
It was no surprise that the Mission offense that came into the game averaging over six goals per game in AAA play scored its share, but even when the Bears’ attack hit a lull late in the first half and early in the second, their defense limited any serious Lincoln scoring opportunities.
The Mustangs (7-2-2, 6-1-0) took just three shots on target, but didn’t have one within 25 yards.
Sure-tackling defenders Christian Cortes and William Salvador led the Bears’ defensive unit. Cortes, normally a midfielder, had to shift into the Bears’ back line due to some Mission suspensions for violations of team rules.
“He doesn’t even play that position. He’s a midfielder,” Kennedy said. “That’s why I’m pretty happy. I know we can do better.”
Lincoln’s offensive struggles were, at least in part, due to a strategic move by head coach Kenyatta Scott.
Scott shifted senior Hernan Felipe Herrera, probably the Mustangs’ best forward, to defense to guard against the Mission attack. Herrera moved up to midfield midway through the second half, but the Mustangs still couldn’t muster substantial scoring opportunities.
“We respect the ability of Mission and we had to do some things to counter that,” Scott said. “Other than the mistakes we made, it was a good design.”
With Lincoln knocked out of the regular-season championship picture for at least the moment, to only remaining challenge for the Bears figures to be Lowell, which won its 45th straight AAA game with a victory over Washington on Thursday. Unless the Cardinals have a misstep against Lincoln on Oct. 16, Lowell and Mission should face off on Oct. 18 with unbeaten league records and the league’s top playoff seed on the line.
“We don’t want them to slip up,” Kennedy said. “We want them undefeated. We want that.”