Soccer News: SD Flash Notch Fourth Win and Third Shutout of the Season
The undefeated San Diego Flash solidified their hold on first place in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) West-Southern Conference with a convincing 3-0 win over former second place Fútbol Club Santa Clarita. It also marked San Diego’s third clean sheet in four wins and one draw in the young season. Flash (4-1-0) now have 13 points, four better than Fullerton Rangers (3-0-2; 9 points), who jumped past Santa Clarita with a 4-2 win over San Diego Boca FC to take over the number two slot.
Coming into the match Santa Clarita were the highest scoring team in the conference, and remain so with 15 goals – one better than Flash. However Flash entered with the conference’s best defense, having only surrendered three goals. In the end, it was defense that proved the winner and Santa Clarita suffered their first loss against two wins and two draws.
Early on the two sides battled evenly, with neither team able to crack the other’s defenses. Finally in the final five minutes Flash struck twice on goals by midfielders David Bakal and Brennan Tennelle. The first goal came after a Santa Clarita defender attempted to clear a throw in but instead dumped the ball at Bakal’s feet. Always willing to oblige, Bakal fired the gift into the net for a 1-0 lead.
Tennelle’s goal came on another Santa Clarita miscue. Sergio Valle-Ortiz attempted to play a ball over the top from 30 yards out but mis-kicked and it ended up coming to Tennelle, who was closely covered. “The defender bit,” said Tennelle, “I did a step over to my right and hit it into the far post when I saw the keeper was out about seven yards. Basically it was the defender thinking I was going to go right and I went left.”
The second half began the same as the first, with both teams fighting for advantage but neither converting. Finally with about 13 minutes left in the game newcomer Justin Picou, who played with SD Boca in 2011, fed the ball into the center where team captain Nelson Pizarro avoided a defender and beat the Santa Clarita goalie for the final goal.
The visitors were not about to concede, and continued to battle. Flash goalkeeper Nicolas Harpel was forced to make several difficult saves as Santa Clarita stepped up the pressure. Then in the 83rd minute Harpel fouled an attacker while trying to clear the ball, and the referee awarded Santa Clarita a penalty kick. Refusing to let his defense’s hard work go to waste, Harpel read his opponent, dove to his left and knocked the shot out of bounds. The exultant keeper was surrounded by teammates as the Santa Clarita players looked on.
|Flash goalkeeper Nicolas Harpel celebrates after blocking a Santa Clarita penalty kick
Then as the teams continued into stoppage time, lighting struck again. This time Flash’s Adrian DuBois was called for a foul in the penalty box and Santa Clarita once again received a penalty kick. This time the shooter fired to Harpel’s right, but the determined goalie blocked the ball and then smothered it as it dribbled down the line. When the whistle sounded moments later to end the game the Flash swarmed their goalkeeper.
After the game Harpel talked about the two stops. “My team was fighting hard the entire game,” he said. “We put away three early goals and my defense was working the whole time. I knew I had to come up big. We had a couple of mistakes – I made one of them – but we came back and fought through it and we got the ‘W’ and the clean sheet.”
Assistant coach Jerome Watkins, who took over for head coach Warren Barton who was busy with the FOX Soccer coverage of the FA Cup final, was satisfied with the results of the game. “I thought we played well,” he said. “I thought a couple guys didn’t play as sharp as I was hoping, but overall we made a lot of chances. I don’t like giving up two PKs, but they didn’t have too many quality shots. I think our pressure is working; it’s making it hard for teams to play against us.”
“This is what we’ve been working for all season,” said Harpel. “We had a tough preseason, with a couple of guys being injured, but we’re starting to hit our stepping stones. It’s better to hit these stepping stones more in the middle of the season versus in the beginning and then drifting off.”
Assistant coach David Banks was impressed with the quality of play by Santa Clarita. “In the first fifteen minutes I thought we were going to have a tough competition and it might be a tough day,” he said. “But we worked hard and wore them down. Not many teams will beat them, so this was a good match for us.”
“It means a lot for us,” said Tennelle of the victory, “because it puts us head and shoulders above everybody else. We were already first place entering this game, and a 3-0 win at home puts us well ahead of the rest. Right now we’re at the top of the league. Now we just have to keep it going.”
The Flash will next host the Bay Area Ambassadors who currently sit at number four in the West-Northern Conference. The match is scheduled for Sunday, May 13, with kickoff at 1:00 p.m.
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