By Jeremy Balan
Mission High School senior midfielder Marco Caballero had Oct. 18 circled on his calendar from the start of the 2012 boys soccer season, and it was for a good reason.
The day represented the Bears’ matchup against Academic Athletic Association power Lowell and Caballero did not disappoint in the biggest game of the 2012 season to date.
Caballero opened the game’s scoring with a goal in the eighth minute, then assisted on the game-winning score in the 56th in Mission’s 4-2 win on Thursday that ended the visiting Cardinals’ 48-game AAA unbeaten streak.
“It was circled on my calendar because this is what I wanted. This is what we all wanted,” Caballero said. “We got the win, now we have to just get ready to see them in the championship.”
With the game tied at 2-2 Caballero lined up a corner kick from the right wing and sent a low ball toward the near post. Lowell goalkeeper Abdul Monim and Mission forward Walter Sevillano met at the ball and made simultaneous contact, but Sevillano got the best of the exchange and the ball bounced past Monim and into the net to give the Bears a 3-2 lead they would not relinquish.
“I saw my striker open and the goalie was way to far in the middle,” Caballero said. “There was nobody covering that side and he just tapped it in.”
Caballero scored the first goal of the game on a curling free kick from 25 yards out on the right wing that bent into the top left corner of the net.
“He’s the captain of this team,” Mission head coach Scott Kennedy said of Caballero. “In his freshman or sophomore year – I don’t remember which one – I had to boot him from the team. He wasn’t a team player. So, to see where he’s at now, and the captain he is, is really special. To see him get his grades up, to see his attitude change, to see him as a leader on this field – he was the first one to shake my hand after that whistle blew.”
The Bears (15-2-1, 11-0-0) controlled possession and had the majority of opportunities in the first half, but only took a 1-0 lead into the halftime break.
Lowell took back momentum immediately in the second.
Three minutes into the second half Lowell senior forward Avery Fisher headed in a corner kick from Alex Ruppert, then the Cardinals (9-1-3, 9-1-1) took the lead in the 48th minute, when Zachary Weisenburger scored on a straightaway free kick from 30 yards out, sending the ball over the Mission wall and tucking it just inside the right post.
“I still thought we were OK,” Kennedy said of the moment Lowell took the lead. “I knew we had better talent.”
That talent only took two minutes to respond, when a ball bounced to Mission junior Fidel Cazares on the fringe of the Lowell penalty area in the 50th minute. Cazares sent a low ball that bounced twice into the bottom-right corner of the net to knot the score again at 2-2.
“When you play on this field, you are never in control,” said Lowell head coach Marcos Estebez. “It’s so unpredictable. It’s short, it’s narrow and transition on this field happens immediately. We didn’t feel comfortable, but we felt that we had momentum [after our second goal].”
After Sevillano’s go-ahead score, the Cardinals had more than enough opportunities to equalize, including two more free kicks by Weisenburger from just outside the Mission penalty area.
Then, with Lowell pressing up every player but Monim on a corner kick in extra time, the Bears cleared the attempt away, creating a breakaway opportunity for junior forward Mario Mejia. With only the goalkeeper to beat, Mejia sidestepped Monim, who came sliding in, and chipped the ball in to end the game with a flourish.
The Bears clinched first place with the win, but Lowell will be a significant favorite to meet them in the AAA championship on Nov. 8
“They can absolutely [beat us]. They showed that,” Kennedy said. “But I think we’re the best team in the league and it’s ours to lose. That may sound cocky and arrogant, but I’ve seen them all now, and I think we’re the best team.”