By Jeremy Balan
In just its second year of varsity competition, the San Francisco International High School boys soccer team has already done something multiple longer-standing Academic Athletic Association programs have yet to achieve.
With a 2-0 win over Balboa on Thursday at the Crocker Amazon Soccer Fields, the Huskies won their first postseason game in school history.
“It feels great, because last year we just missed the playoffs,” said SFI senior Medhanie Berih, who was born in the small African country of Eritrea and embodies the team’s global roots (all SFI students are internationally-born). “It’s a dream come true. We’re getting closer and closer to a championship.”
Berih, a sure-footed midfielder, created some scoring opportunities, but it was standout sophomore forward Scharly Alvarez that had a hand in both goals. The first, just seconds before the halftime whistle, changed the entire complexion of the game.
On one of many long balls from SFI’s defensive half that targeted the speedy sophomore upfield, a Balboa defender bodied Alvarez just as he entered the penalty area and knocked him to the turf. The referee immediatley awarded a penalty kick.
SFI senior forward Eduardo Hernandez deposited the penalty into the low, left-hand corner of the net to give the Huskies (9-4-3) a 1-0 lead at the break.
“It was shoulder to shoulder, with a little guy going against a bigger guy,” said Balboa head coach Juan Guzman. “The ref is always going to go with the smaller guy. There was a similar situation in the second half, where they bumped into each other, but he didn’t call the same thing. That was supposed to be in our favor, but we can’t rely on the refs.”
The Bucs (7-5-1) struggled to create scoring opportunities for the first 70 minutes, but amped up their offensive pressure in the final 10. Balboa forward Jose Meza had three chances to equalize, including a bicycle-kick volley with his back to the net that was saved by SFI goalkeeper Kelvin Perez.
With Balboa pressing, Alvarez finally broke through on another long ball from the Huskies’ defensive half in the 78th minute. Likely intended to be a simple clearance, Alvarez outran the lone Balboa defender back, collected the bouncing ball 30 yards away from the net and calmly chipped the it over charging Balboa goalkeeper Carlos Orellana and into the net on one bounce.
The fourth-seeded Huskies will now take on top seed Mission, which was in attendance to watch the game, in the AAA semifinals on Tuesday. Mission won the regular-season meeting between the two teams 5-2.
“They have a good team, but we have a chance,” said SFI head coach Angel Rodriguez. “We lost in the regular season, but right now, it’s another game.”
Washington 5, Lincoln 4 (OT)
The sixth-seeded Eagles (8-5-0) avenged a 2-1 regular-season loss to the third-seeded Mustangs (11-4-3) in thrilling fashion.
The teams were tied 2-2 at the half and 3-3 at regulation, then Rusbel Sanchez scored the first overtime goal to give the Eagles a 4-3 lead. Lincoln freshman Adrian Torres scored moments later to knot the game up at 4-4, but Sanchez struck again to send Washington to the AAA semifinals, where they will meet second seed Lowell.
Washington’s Giovanni Baraja scored all three of the Eagles goals in regulation.