There were any number of potential sub-plots when the No. 2 Carlsbad and No. 3 (CIF) Torrey Pines girls soccer teams squared off Monday night, Feb. 4, with the Avocado West League championship hanging in the balance.
There was the fact that the game was originally slated 10 days earlier but was called off and re-scheduled because of a start time miscommunication. Or maybe that Carlsbad Head Coach Dean Balent wasn’t even in the stadium, sidelined by a red card picked up last Friday. Of course both teams would be factoring in the memories of the 4-0 pasting the Lancers put on the Falcons in the opening day of the league season and just for kicks, there was the on and off rain that provided added drama to a contest that didn’t really need it.
When all was said and done, the only storyline that really counted was pace and pressure—specifically that being applied by Carlsbad and the effect it had on host Torrey Pines—leading to a 2-0 victory for the visitors and clinching at least a tie for this year’s title as well as back-to-back Avocado West championships for the Lancers. The outcome left Carlsbad 18-4-1 overall and 7-0-1 in league play with two games to go while Torrey Pines slipped to 13-3-3 / 5-2-1.
Carlsbad speed and aggressiveness was particularly telling in the first 40 minutes. Torrey’s ball control offense was never able to get untracked and the Lancers’ offense swarmed early, creating several chances in the first five minutes. Torrey Pines survived the initial foray and both teams had opportunities later in the half with Carlsbad definitely getting the better of things in the run of play. But just when it looked like Coach Martyn Hansford’s Falcons’ might escape the opening half with a scoreless tie, lightning struck, in the form of Lancer sophomore Lexi Wright. In the final minute, she knocked in her 28th goal of the year from short range with an assist from junior teammate Taylor Wells.
“Lexi hit a great initial shot but the Torrey Pines goalkeeper (Shayna Ross) made an amazing save,” recalled Wells after the game. “The rebound came to me, I crossed it back in front of the goal and Lexi was there for the finish.
“Given the timing, it was a really important goal because we were able to set the tone going into halftime and for the rest of the game.”
Torrey came out with new resolve and essentially played the Lancers on even terms in the second half. Late in the game, with Hansford’s club reducing its defensive presence while pushing for a tying goal, Carlsbad was able to produce several quality tries in the final third and once again, in the waning moments, found paydirt. This time, it was senior Marisa Bubnis connecting on a free kick from 20 yards out to create the final margin.
“I saw that their wall was blocking the front post but the goalkeeper was on the far post,” said Bubnis, who went direct along the turf. “The front post was wide open, I was able to bend it around the wall and made sure to get it inside the post.” She didn’t downplay the significance of winning the league banner for the second time in a row.
“It was very important to us and we’ve worked very hard to get to this point,” she continued. “Hopefully, this will secure home field for us during the CIF Playoffs.”
Hansford, whose team finished second to Carlsbad in last year’s Avocado West race, gave the winners their due credit. “Carlsbad is a very difficult team to play because they’ve just got so many good athletes,” said Hansford, whose teams were CIF Open Division champs in both 2016 and ’17. “They’re effective pressing and not giving you much time on the ball. In the first half, we didn’t show as much confidence and composure offensively as I would have liked. On defense, if you give them an opportunity, they have three of four players that can hurt you.”
Despite the final score, Hansford found a number of factors to like about his team’s performance and was receptive to the notion of a possible third match-up between the two sides in the post-season.
“We created some chances, just didn’t make them, which you have to do against a tough opponent, and I thought we did a good job of defending in the second half,” he said. “Tonight showed that we’ve narrowed the gap a bit and every time you play a team, you learn a little more.
“Yeah, absolutely we’d like to play them again. It’s hard to beat a team three times and if we took the field against them again, I’d be cautiously optimistic that we could give them a run for their money.”