Floodgates open as Coronado unlocks Crusaders’ defense

The Northwest Christian soccer team poses for a photograph with the runner up trophy after their 3A Championship loss against Coronado on Friday, Feb. 15 2019 at Williams Field High School in Gilbert. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]

Richard Smith
West Valley Preps

GILBERT – After holding two of the state’s most potent attacks to one goal in 140 minutes, the Crusaders defense had little left.

Northwest Christian, in particular senior goalkeeper Ben Ogan, bottled up Coronado’s lethal boys soccer team for a half of the 3A state title game Feb. 15 at Williams Field High School in Gilbert.

Less than 90 seconds after the second half started, the game was out of reach. 21 seconds in, senior Adan Valle’s header met Ezekiel Perralta’s cross for the first goal.

A minute and six seconds later, junior Gabriel Gonzalez scored the first goal of his second-half hat trick and the Dons were in full flight. The onslaught did not stop until the final buzzer, signifying the 5-0 win for No. 3 seed Coronado.

“At halftime the discussion was super simple. It was take advantage of the half-spaces just inside of the wings and really pressure them between their center backs and fullbacks,” Coronado coach Nick Barker said. “We made that quick adjustment. I wasn’t expecting the result. It was a nervy first half for both teams, with a lot of half-chances for each squad.”

It was another night in the office for Gonzalez who, according to AZPreps365 writer Jose Garcia, finished with 58 goals on the season.

He completed his hat trick in the final 10 minutes with a volley off senior Jonathan Plasencia’s cross and a turn and missile five minutes later.

“The key was everybody pressing. We knew we had the opportunities. We were just missing the final piece, which was pressing making the high pass and last run,” Gonzalez said.

Perralta set up the third goal as well, setting up a two on one against the Crusaders’ defense and sliding a pass over to junior Carlos Mendoza for the easy finish.

“Ben was amazing. We had mental breakdowns twice and we went down two early in that second half,” Northwest Christian coach Jeremy Witt said. “For us (chasing the game) is not going to work. We don’t have the firepower against a team like Coronado.”

Still, the coach of No. 4 seed Northwest Christian said he could not have asked his squad for more.

The Crusaders ended a 46-game winning streak of top seed Yuma Catholic Feb. 13 just to get here. That 2-1 overtime win is a high point of the program.

“For us to get to the championship game and get through Yuma is beyond what we should have done. Everyone wrote us off going into that Yuma Catholic game,” Witt said. “Yuma and Coronado are the two top teams, in my opinion, in 3A. So for us to get where we are at, I’m beyond amazed at the boys and the way we played.”

The Dons obliterated the competition to sweep to the state title with a seven-game winning streak. In four playoff games, they outscored their foes 24-3.

It is hard to believe this team was 9-4 at one point.

“What I realized is, I had my tactics all wrong with them for two-thirds of the season. A lot of the issues we were running into were self-inflicted by me,” Barker said. “We essentially played a 4-4-2 to start and we got burned. If you look at our results, there are several games where we’ve given up a lot of goals. It wasn’t until about four weeks ago when we made the adjustment. We didn’t really have to do any implementation. The boys … it was all them.”

Northwest Christian found its groove during the holidays, thanks in large par to the leadership of its five seniors.

Witt’s team entered the 3A finals on a 10-game winning streak.

“The senior class really took over around Christmas break. They started doing things together. They have their own language,” Witt said. “They should be proud of where they got to. We should have never made it this far in my opinion. We played amazing all the way through the state championship. They left it out on the field and just got caught in that second half.”

He hopes the large group of returning players, led by 47-goal ace junior Michael Huss, learns from this night.

“The younger guys now know what it feels like to play here. The mental game is just important as the physical game,” Witt said.

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