In a game that some called the biggest in program history, the College of the Canyons Cougars men’s soccer team more than delivered. The Cougars used two first half goals to propel themselves past defending state runner-up Taft College, 2-1 on Tuesday night in a rare night game at Cougar Stadium.
Defending Western State Conference MVP Andres Bueno helped the Cougars strike first when he delivered on a penalty kick in the 20th minute. The Cougars never looked back, controlling the pace and passing with precision. The Cougars seemed to frustrate the far more experienced Taft squad for most of the match, causing the central valley team to rush through set pieces and miss wildly on most of their pass attempts.
Cougar coach Phil Marcellin said the win gives him confidene in the freshman-laden squad. “I think it was a great effort. One of the things we don’t know about our team is how well we would play against quality teams,” said Marcellin. “This was a very quality team…if we want to consider ourselves somebody who has a chance for a good playoff run, these are the games that are going to show us that.”
The Cougars went up by two when freshman Jesus Salazer came flying into the box by the near post, heading in a brilliant cross from fellow freshman Carlos Hernandez. COC carried the lead into the second half, before Taft’s Ivan Sanchez buried a lose ball after a long shot caught the post.
The Cougars recovered though, taking control of the game for the final time, and in the end it was COC’s ball control that prevented Taft from making a full recovery.
“They made some adjustments at halftime, and they came after us. But for a team that starts four freshman at the back line and a freshman goalkeeper, we responded well,” continued Marcellin.
The game ended on a sour note for both teams. In the final ten minutes plus stoppage time, COC’s Noe Ramirez and Jose Reyes were both issued red cards, as was Taft head coach Angelo Cutrona. The Cougars will miss the presence of Ramirez, who has scored twice this season, and Reyes, another starter, when they face the toughest road trip in program history this weekend.
The Cougars travel north to take on state powerhouse Santa Rosa on Friday, followed by a game against Consumes River in Sacramento, before returning to Southern California for a grudge match against the team who eliminated them in the playoffs last year, Santa Ana.