Knights battle throughout before falling to Grens
By Dave Owen
Gio Garcia’s frustration didn’t last long.
After his penalty kick attempt was denied on a great save by Prospect goalkeeper Jack Cooney with 7:24 left in Thursday’s game, Garcia scored goals with 6:44 and 4:15 left to play to complete his hat trick and finish Elk Grove’s 4-1 Mid Suburban League win over the visiting Knights.
“I don’t know what happened on the PK,” Garcia said, “but that just got me going I guess.
“It was a nice save, but I was a little mad that I missed it and I just wanted to give my all to make up for that. And that’s what I did.”
Garcia first powered a left wing shot into the far corner of the net off a Carlos Miranda-Gomez pass to make the score 3-1.
On his next shot, Garcia put away a low 25-yard blast off a Johnny Arzeta cross to quickly go from PK heartbreak to hat trick.
“I tell the guys all the time that the difference is Gio,” Grens’ coach Rob Shepard said. “He’s the creative guy, and it’s exciting when he gets the ball because big things can happen.”
But the Grens’ six-game win streak hasn’t been a one-man show.
“Johnny’s scoring, Gio’s creativity, and Ivan (Corona) does a heck of a job winning balls in the midfield for us,” Shepard said. “I thought Manny (Pillado) in the back did a nice job, and when (Daniel) Hadler came off the bench in the stopper position the organization was better.
“Hadler does a heck of a job on our set piece stuff, and on both ends of the field he’s just a guy that wants to get in there. Avery (Chang) plays hard, and Arnold (Aguilar) is a guy at the right back position who plays 80 minutes a game and was a JV player last year as a midfielder.
“This year he’s an outside defender and he gets better every game. I could honestly name my whole lineup – I’m really proud of them all.”
The closing flurry by Garcia and Elk Grove (6-1-0, 4-0-0) repelled a great effort by Prospect (0-6-2, 0-4-1), which battled the Grens toe-to-toe most of the night.
“For 70 minutes I’m really pleased with how we approached the game,” said Knights’ coach Kurt Trenkle, whose team has four losses by one goal this fall.
“We’re trying a lot of different things – each half we tried a different formation, and I thought we had a little bit of offensive flow in the second half.”
Elk Grove’s offense controlled first half play, despite multiple great efforts by Prospect defender Ian Lenke to deny Grens’ threats in the first 15 minutes.
“Ian is great on and off the field,” Trenkle said. “He’s all heart. He’s the example of how I want all our players to approach the game. He’s been in hard on every challenge, winning balls and frustrating other players because he does it so cleanly, and he’s just always there.”
“My goal was just to win the ball in the center,” Lenke said. “They were getting the majority of their attacks just switching it through the back. They were very good technically on the ball and were able to move the ball very well, switching the field very well.”
Elk Grove’s waves of pressure finally paid off with 20:36 left in the half.
Eric Pillath’s throw-in went off Cooney’s hands as he tried to leap over an Elk Grove player to intercept. After Cooney made a great save lying on the ground on an initial shot, Garcia put away the rebound for a 1-0 Elk Grove lead.
“Eric Pillath blew out his knee a year ago playing soccer, and he came back,” Shepard said. “He brings a different style than other guys, and it works. Then you have David (Bahena) come in who plays a little different style, and teams have to adjust to us in that sequence.”
Bahena made his impact 5:16 before halftime when he corralled Arzeta’s block of a Prospect clearing attempt. Bahena’s dribble into the box and 15-yard blast put the Grens up 2-0.
Lenke’s great individual effort denied an Edgar Soto attack, and the Knights’ Jacob Schroeder made his second nice defensive play of the half to deny a dangerous Deion Morales pass to Miranda-Gomez in the box.
Those stops didn’t keep Elk Grove from entering halftime in control, but Prospect’s offense would soon match its defense’s intensity.
Chris Cooney’s drive to the net 80 seconds into the half was denied on a nice play by Elk Grove’s Aguilar, but Cooney would finish his next chance.
With 29:30 left, Cooney fielded a clearing attempt of Dominic Taldone’s 30-yard direct kick and lined a 20-yard shot into the lower left corner of the net to cut the Elk Grove lead to 2-1.
Shifting to a three-back formation provided more power upfield for the Knights.
“At this point of the season we’re just trying to find out what’s going to work for us when we reach the major time, which is regionals,” Lenke said. “During this game we struggled at times but we also showed strength trying to adjust to this team. They (Elk Grove) were awesome – I’ve got to give them that.”
The constant threat of Elk Grove’s offense showed with 10:30 left, when goalkeeper Alberto Centeno batted a 35-yard direct kick by Prospect’s Alex Whiteman out of the crease.
That triggered Sergio Aguirre’s quick clear upfield to Arzeta for a shot just wide of the net.
“It seems that the one-two touch soccer, when we get those in extended sequences we always seem to end up with a chance at the other end,” Shepard said. “We work on that a lot, and the guys are creative in that process, too.”
Goalkeeper Cooney’s PK save with 7:24 left after a controversial hand ball ruling in the box seemed to sustain Prospect’s hopes – but only briefly.
“Jack did a great job on saving that PK,” Trenkle said. “That was very timely because it kept it at 2-1, but the last 10 minutes they put a lot of pressure on us and have a lot of speed. When we’re playing just three in the back, guys lost composure and things happen.”
With 24 goals in seven games, Elk Grove’s offense has done that to all opponents with increasing frequency.
“We got a little off our (offensive) game and started defending more at the start of the second half,” Garcia said, “but we managed to get the ball through to the middle – that’s where the heart is. We started passing the ball and we got results.
“One touch give and go passes were tough. We’ve gotten better throughout the season. At first we were taking too many touches, but now we have more chemistry together so we go boom, boom, boom and we know where we’re moving. It’s better, and it’s fun to play like that.”
“In the last 15-20 minutes we seemed to get the control back after Prospect did a heck of a job coming out after halftime and being ready for us,” Shepard said.
Prospect’s strong effort didn’t pay off on the scoreboard, but the Knights clearly made strides despite the deceiving score.
“I thought Dominic Taldone had an outstanding game also at central mid,” Trenkle said. “He’s really starting to step up and challenging. And Christian Osorio is really starting to frustrate a lot of people when he gets the ball on his feet. His strength and speed is paying off, and now that we’re getting some combinations with him I think we might see some more offense.”
Lenke also sees plenty of promising signs for the near future.
“Our main problem this season has been not playing a whole 80 minutes of soccer,” Lenke said. “Hopefully by the end of the season we can unite as a team and be able to finish games.
“This was a great team effort. We had guys in positions they don’t usually play or who don’t play much out there playing their hearts out and showing energy, aggressiveness, all the traits you want to see. I think this is a good starting point to finish the season.”
Thursday’s big finish aside, Elk Grove seeks more consistency.
“There’s an ebb and flow to how we do,” Shepard said. “We have yet to put together a game that we feel that for 90 percent of the time we’re controlling it. I know every team fights for that, but that’s the biggest challenge.
“They need to keep reaching and knowing there’s something they can improve upon. It’s a good group of guys that want to do that, will listen and try to get better.”