It wasn’t the way they would have scripted the ending … but Escalon’s varsity soccer boys still had a season to remember and be proud of, finishing with second place honors in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division V playoffs.
The Cougars fell by a 3-0 final to a powerful West Campus team in a game at Elk Grove High School on Thursday night, March 2.
“Those guys were definitely at a different level,” Escalon coach Paul Silva said of the West Campus squad. “You can tell they’ve been playing at a high level of competitive soccer for a long time.”
Many of the West Campus players, he said, are associated with the FC Republic Academy in Sacramento, a competitive club team, and that added experience and familiarity helped them nail down the win.
Escalon, which came in as Trans-Valley League champions, had not lost a game all season until the finale. They had 20 wins, no losses and two ties through pre-season, league play and the playoffs, that run coming to an end with their first loss of the season in the last game; their final record 20-1-2.
“They put us under pressure,” Silva said of West Campus setting the tempo. “They overloaded our wings, we were slow to pick up our marks.”
The attack by West Campus forced Escalon into a different scheme on defense, with midfielders spending more time on defense and even the occasional forward having to drop back. That left little time or cohesiveness for the offensive attack.
Still, the teams battled for the first 25 minutes until West Campus finally got a goal past keeper Luis Mendez, who dove to his right but couldn’t quite stretch far enough to make the save.
It was just a 1-0 lead for West Campus at the half.
“I think nerves played a role in the beginning,” Silva admitted. “We talked at halftime about some adjustments we wanted to make.”
West put their second goal in early in the second half and sealed the game with a penalty kick midway through the half.
“We weren’t looking to pass the ball, we were just moving it forward,” Silva said of the Cougars not able to get together any kind of consistent offense.
The coach also credited Mendez for a solid game in goal.
“Luis did a tremendous job keeping us in the game,” Silva said. “I was hoping we could get a goal but we didn’t find a way.”
Mendez, who played the entire game in net, had 10 saves. Despite taking the loss, Silva said the Cougars battled admirably.
“They were just better quality players,” the coach noted of West Campus.
Escalon received a plaque for their second place showing in Division V, the farthest the team has gone in years.
“They felt the pain of the loss but honestly, on the bus ride home, they were realizing how much they’ve accomplished,” Silva said. “This was a great group of guys with character, chemistry and a great work ethic, they worked for each other and it was special for me to a part of it and to coach them.”
Along with Mendez, Silva said several players had outstanding efforts in the title game.
Hector Rodriguez was “all over the field” at striker, while Jonathan Valeriano started on the wing but then moved to the middle where “he did a really nice job playing defense,” said Silva.
Kevin Alpizar got high marks for his work on defense and Guillermo Alvarez also had a solid game for the Cougars.
“It was bittersweet at the end but we had an amazing year,” Silva said. “If we had won, that would have just added to it. Losing doesn’t take anything away from the season we’ve had … it has been a great season.”