Coronado’s game plan is to keep possession and find an opening – especially against a bigger, stronger squad like Williams Field. Especially with a possible rematch in the Division III boys soccer championship awaiting on Friday.
No. 3 Phoenix Cortez did its part by routing seventh-seeded Tucson Palo Verde, 4-0, in the early match Wednesday night at Arcadia H.S., but the top-seeded Dons had to get past a formidable side in No. 4 Williams Field.
The Dons and Black Hawks played their respective roles to a standoff for 35 minutes until the door swung open.
In a three-minute span, Coronado got clear of the Williams Field defense three times and held on for a 4-2 win in its semifinal Wednesday night on the artificial turf at Arcadia.
“The game finally opened up for us,” Coronado coach Mike Tsorin said. “As soon as we got our chances, I had a feeling we were going to finish them because this is such a nice surface.”
Tsorin described it perfectly – after getting whistled for offside several times, Coronado timed its passes for a trifecta of first-half goals.
The Dons meet Cortez – who beat Coronado, 1-0, in the final a year ago – on Friday night at 7 p.m. at Campo Verde.
But Tsorin made that wasn’t on the Dons’ minds.
“I specifically said, ‘They are not watching Cortez, I will watch Cortez,’ and we warmed up over there,” Tsorin said, pointing away from the field. “We got here later and warmed up. Cortez is going to be tough, we have to play even better than this.”
Goalkeeper Victor Perez concurred.
“As the captain, I told them that they had to stop thinking about it because it is like trying to look two directions with both eyes and that’s impossible,” he said. “You have to focus on one thing.”
Cortez has won a state title twice in the last three years and lost in the semifinals the other season.
On Wednesday, during the furious three-minute span late in the first half, the Black Hawks found the net once, turning a scoreless game into a 3-1 halftime decision in favor of the Dons.
But Coronado converted a play during which the Williams Field goalkeeper was out of position, then played stout defense outside of a rebound goal late by the Black Hawks.
The late first-half flurry began when Christian Gaxiola found Cristian Gonzalez free for a 17-yard shot in the 35th minute. A mere 90 seconds later, a defensive lapse allowed Ruben Balverde to net an 18-yard shot past Jesse Berner to give Coronado a 2-0 lead.
“We were feeling kind of down at first,” Balverde said. “We just opened up the field more.”
However, Williams Field needed one minute to get back into the game. Benjamin Martinez had a free kick about 30 yards out, fed London Rogers, who headed it over Perez' head to cut the lead to 2-1.
But Coronado – which was whistled for offsides a half-dozen times in the first half – got its timing down. Balverde again found himself with the ball and the goalkeeper out and volleyed the ball over his head for the Dons’ third goal.
A renaissance season ended on a sour note for Williams Field, which hadn't previously reached the semifinals in the school's relatively short existence, and its roster makeup suggest the Black Hawks could easily return here again.
Not that it made Wednesday any more digestable.
“You teach these kids the offside trap, they do it and then they don’t call it,” Williams Field coach Domenic Scafaria said. “It’s just painful because these kids worked so hard. I don’t know if we would have won or not, it’s that we worked so hard and for the officials not to be able to stay with the last man, that’s where the pain comes in.”