It was surprising, it was unfair, it was heart wrenching, and it happened in a matter of seconds. It was soccer.
It was one team wanting it more than the other and taking their chances, which were few and far between, and converting them.
El Cerrito’s injury time winner stunned everyone at Knowles Field, because the last time these two teams played, Alhambra won 4-0. This time the 13-seeded Gauchos pulled up a North Coast Section miracle with a 2-1 win, emphatically sealed with an injury-time free kick curled into the top corner.
After the game, coach Ed Marinelli refused to point to his team’s injuries as a reason they would be dumped from the playoffs in the first round, despite being favorites.
“Like everything in life, you get out of it what you put into it,” Marinelli said. “And quite frankly we didn’t play as hard, as fast; we were flat-footed. They were moving more than we were.”
But still, in over 80 minutes of soccer, how does a team dominate and not get a win?
El Cerrito struck first in the 10th minute after Alhambra held the ball in the Gaucho’s half. It was a half a chance, but with the conditions, and perhaps the pressure of being put in for her first start in a playoff game, sophomore Claire Jensen spilled the shot from junior midfielder Sophie Marengo.
It was cruel that after a week of tepid night-time weather, the torrential rain would come on Wednesday, but it did.
To their credit, Alhambra plugged right along, continuing to possess the ball in the final third of El Cerrito. The only problem was they couldn’t produce a shot.
The Gauchos were compact and organized. They looked like a team resigned to the fact that they weren’t going to out pass the technicians Alhambra has in midfield.
The first and only shot on goal the Bulldogs had in the first half was by sophomore Marlo Allen. But it was from long range and hardly tested the keeper, a theme the crowd at Knowles Field grew restless from.
In the second half they were able to produce what they needed to get their goal.
It wasn’t pretty, but it did the job. Lexy Swenson’s throw in found fellow senior Kayla Porche, who buried the chance that fell to her inside the box. Porche had troubled the El Cerrito defense, but was unable to score until that moment.
Buoyed by the goal, Alhambra attacked.
They put ball after ball into the box, but became increasingly relaxed in their play. Unlike their 0-0 draw against Las Lomas in the regular season finale, there was no desire in the team to chase down loose balls. Credit to them from playing in less than favorable conditions, but as Marinelli said after the game, “We didn’t have clean shots on goal.”
Six of Alhambra’s shots on goal in the second half all went right at the keeper. Three of those opportunities came within a minute of each other. At that point, you got an inkling of what was going to happen. Because in soccer, when a team can’t put away their chances, they’re punished.
So when Katie Christman gave away a free kick just outside the 18-yard box, it was clear that El Cerrito’s senior captain Anna Tong was destined to put the ball into the net.
Tong stepped up and curled her effort into the far corner, and while the shot took an odd deflection, she did the hard bit, getting it up and over the wall to test the keeper.
It was bedlam. The goal was the last kick of the game, and El Cerrito had done what wasn’t thought possible.
“It goes that way sometimes, unfortunately,” Marinelli said after the game.