It may be playing in its first season, but there’s nothing first-year about the Westcliff University men’s soccer team.
Holding its own, and then some, against perennial GSAC power Vanguard, the Warriors came up just short in a hard-fought 2-1 road loss Friday afternoon.
“We brought the passion to the game,” Westcliff head coach Joey O’Keefe said. “Our first game of the year officially. Our boys not only brought what we expected them to bring, but they took it to a whole other level.”
Soccer is a game of taking advantage of limited opportunities, and the scoreboard doesn’t always reflect the nature of the contest on the pitch.
Such was the case in the first-half Friday, when Westcliff raced out to an 8-5 shot advantage only to find itself down 1-0 at half after Vanguard’s Stewart Alvayero found Andrew Robles on a header at the top of the box in the 26th minute.
“(Vanguard is) a very direct team, they like to play the ball in the back,” Westcliff keeper Josh Glover said. “And so for us, a new group with a new back four, I thought we dealt with it really, really well.”
For his part, Glover was outstanding, finishing with three saves, two of which came on one-on-one opportunities for the Lions. But Glover also pointed out that Westcliff will have to play more compact in the back to deal with the danger of direct teams like Vanguard going forward.
Kevin Hoennegar made things interesting in the 78th minute when he sent home the first regular-season goal in Westcliff program history, bringing the Warriors to within striking distance for the final ten minutes.
“We were challenged by a team that I think is 11th in the nation right now,” Glover said. “But we gave a testament to what we’ve done over the last two weeks because we fought every minute, and we were fantastic today.”
Westcliff left it all on the field, battling the final stretch for any opportunity they could find, but none would translate into the game-tying score.
Nevertheless, the final shot tally of 15-13, Vanguard, spoke volumes.
“Credit to Coach (Randy) Dodge and his team,” O’Keefe said. “(Vanguard) is a top ten, best team on the West Coast, GSAC champions-type program, but we gave them a run for their money. I think another day, the score may have fell differently. We made our stamp right here. Unfortunate to come out of here with a loss.”
For the second time this week, Westcliff made Vanguard its home-away-from-home, filling the stands with blue, and enjoying a vocal rooting section that helped electrify the pitch.
“Our fans made it our home,” O’Keefe said. “They were the loudest ones out here. Our bench made it our home, from the last guy on the bench to the first guy on the field, everyone was locked in.”
Alex Gamez finished with three shots, while Hoennegar, Danny Segal, Thales Castro and Taishi Adachi all tallied two shots apiece. Nick Frost turned in one.
Westcliff kicks off its inaugural home season Tuesday at OC Championship Stadium at the Great Park in Irvine. The match against Bethesda University starts at 7 pm.
To contact Brandon Petersen, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.