By Matthew Snyder
Mission High School head soccer coach Scott Kennedy told his team he had a dream that the Bears lost by one goal against San Francisco International — their opponents in Tuesday afternoon’s Academic Athletic Association semifinal at Boxer Stadium.
That nightmare very nearly became a reality against a fourth-seeded SFI squad intent on pulling off a huge upset over the top-seeded Bears, which were fresh off an undefeated league season, in which they’d outscored opponents 71-10.
Down 2-1 with less than three minutes remaining in regulation, the Bears scored a last-gasp goal to force overtime, then added two more goals in the second extra period to win 4-2 and keep their championship hopes alive.
“When [SFI] scored their second goal, I teared up, but nobody saw me,” said Mission senior captain Marco Caballero, who scored the Bears’ fourth goal, his 27th of the season. “I honestly was scared we would lose at that point. But then our goal came in and I teared up again. I cried when we scored that goal.”
For most of the game, Mission (17-3-1) seemed out of sorts, unable to string passes together and uncharacteristically sloppy with possession. The Huskies’ physical defense bottled up the Bears’ dynamic attacking tandem of Caballero and Mario Mejia, denying them space and time to create goal-scoring opportunities.
“We dodged a bullet,” Kennedy said. “I mean, [SFI] played fantastic. They played their hearts out. They played great. We came out and played timid. We played scared. We didn’t play team ball. There’s a lot to be said for [SFI]. They came out and handed it to us . . . They didn’t roll over at all. I give our team credit at the end for being resilient, but you’ve got enough seniors where it should speak for itself. They know what they need to do. It’s up to them, not us [coaches].”
After a SFI defender was whistled for a handball in the penalty area, Mejia converted a 13th-minute penalty, coolly coaxing his right-footed shot to the right of goalkeeper Kelvin Perez.
Up 1-0 in the opening stages of the game, it seemed like it would be business as usual for the Bears.
But SFI sophomore forward Scharly Alvarez soon put Mission’s defense under relentless pressure. Kennedy ordered at least one defender to track the speedy playmaker at all times, but Alvarez consistently managed to shirk his mark and work toward goal.
In the 38th minute, the Huskies took a free kick quickly from midfield and lofted it into the Bears’ penalty area.
Alvarez raced past the defense and got to the ball before onrushing Mission goalkeeper Marcos Lopez. Alvarez guided his first touch past Lopez before sending a delicately-chipped shot into the back of the net from a tight angle.
Bolstered by the goal, the Huskies (9-4-3) dominated the second half, with Alvarez frequently putting the Bears’ defense under pressure.
With less than 3 minutes remaining in the second half, the Huskies took advantage of yet another sloppy Mission mistake in the midfield and launched a counter attack.
SFI forward Edgar Castillo fired a shot that caromed off the right goal post, but Alvarez was there to smash home the rebound with a spectacular scissor-kick finish.
But with just seconds remaining in the game, Mission earned a corner kick. Caballero sent in a clipped cross — he said he “scuffed it” by accident — that pinballed around the penalty area before finally bouncing over to the right edge of the 6-yard box.
There, Mission senior
midfielder Ulises Martinez defender William Salvador, who hadn’t scored a goal all season, slid and looped a shot over Perez and into the top-left corner of the net to tie the game at 2-2.
In the second period of overtime, Caballero again sent in a lofted corner kick. Mission junior midfielder Fidel Cazares rose highest in a crowd of players and directed his header into the goal to give the Bears a 3-2 lead.
“It was just where I wanted to put it, to who I wanted to put it to, and [Cazares] scored,” Caballero said. “And that’s what gave us the win.”
Following a counter attack of their own minutes later, Mission junior forward Hugo Wanderley De Souza sent a crossing pass to Caballero, who directed a low left-footed shot into the net to cement the comeback with a two-goal cushion.
“That’s what we’re about,” Kennedy said. “It’s about discipline and keeping your head, and playing together as a team. Digging down deep when you need to. And they definitely did that.”
SFI head coach Angel Rodriguez was disappointed with the loss, but felt the Huskies gave a better effort than the regular season meeting between the two teams, which resulted in a 5-2 Mission victory.
“[It was] way different than the first game,” Rodriguez said. “We had the kids ready. They knew mentally how Mission is — pretty fast and everything. I think they did a great job – a super-great job. Extra time – you know, last minute – they’re all tired. It came down to the point where they scored two more than we did.”