LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE — For a St. Francis High soccer team that's been down on its luck for most of the season, getting a hard-fought scoreless tie against Mission League-rival Harvard-Westlake on Wednesday might have felt just as good as a win.
One can only wonder then how the Golden Knights felt following the Wolverines' stunning game-winning goal inside the final minute of extra time that sent St. Francis to a 1-0 league-opening loss at Friedman Field.
Harvard Westlake's Adam Wininger beat St. Francis' defense to the spot where Matthew Glick's cross from the left wing landed in the middle of the field and rolled a few strides to his right before unleashing a shot into the lower left corner to break the tie that seemed a near certainty as the second half was winding down.
While a heartbreaker, Wininger's late goal wasn't enough to put a damper on the Golden Knights' strong 79-minute effort, St. Francis Coach Glen Appels said.
"We played well and we had chances and if you don't take your chances this is what can happen to you," said Appels, whose team dropped to 1-7-4 on the season. "That's an excellent team and I think we at least played them even. We probably deserved better than we got today, but that's the sport and it's only the first game of league. I was happy with the effort, I just think a little more confidence in front of the goal and we get a different result."
St. Francis kept the Wolverines at bay for most of the match behind a solid defensive effort spearheaded by Billy Abdallah, Luke Hatanaka and Raphael Menedez, as well as the goalkeeping of Luca Coppola, who made three key saves in the second half.
With the clock ticking down under three minutes, the Golden Knights looked to break the tie themselves with a couples of set-piece opportunities, but a free kick from 30 yards resulted in a loss of possession and a corner kick moments later was cleared and quickly turned upfield to set up Glick's assist.
"Their best chances were on counter-attacks," Appels said. "I think the real issue wasn't the last minute, it was the four or five chances we had that we didn't put on goal. At that point, if we're two goals ahead, that last minute doesn't matter, but, honestly, when you're tied at the end of the game, these guys really have to pay attention to the minor things [like] finding their guys and pressuring the ball."
The second half held earlier opportunities for St. Francis, as well, including a 15-yard free kick for Eric Bocanegra set up by a hand ball that was turned away by Harvard Westlake's wall of defenders in the 49th minute. With six minutes left in the match, St. Francis' Derek Bell sent a perfect cross to Matt Laterza in front of the goal, but his midair header was high.
With about 10 minutes left in the first half, St. Francis' Billy McCreary dribbled to his right toward the corner and made a nice reverse move to free himself for a left-footed shot that was saved.
But St. Francis' biggest highlights were of the defensive variety. In the 56th minute, Coppola made a goal-saving tackle on a hard-charging Matthew Gooden, then recovered his position in time to catch a long follow-up attempt by Wininger. Two minutes later, Coppola stopped the ricochet of a free kick by Harvard-Westlake (6-1-2) that was headed for the goal.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun