M. Soccer: Pair of losses puts Falcons as the #2-seed for conference tournament

Orlando Martinez (18) had the best scoring chance of the day for Cerritos
Orlando Martinez (18) had the best scoring chance of the day for Cerritos

Over the course of a month, the Cerritos College men's soccer team was turning in some of the best performances the program has seen in recent memory. But in their last two games, the Falcons (13-4-1, 7-2-0) have failed to score a goal and dropped two important South Coast Conference games. The second, a 2-0 setback at the hands of El Camino College drops the team to the #2-seed for the upcoming South Coast Conference Tournament. The Falcons will receive a bye in the first round and then host the winner of the game between the Warriors (15-2-1) and Los Angeles City (7-8-5) next Tuesday at Cerritos.

The loss at home also snapped a 44-match unbeaten streak (38-0-6) that dated back to the 2016 season.

It was a slow-moving first half with neither team getting much of an opportunity to score. The two teams combined for just six shots as the first half was about to come to a close. But in extra time, Eli Ristovski was able to get off a clean shot that Cerritos freshman goalkeeper Alex Ledesma (Bellflower HS) made the save on, but gave up a juicy rebound. The Warriors Haruki Utsumi was right there to collect the rebound and fired the ball from short distance into the net for the game's first goal.

"As a team, we've been doing this long enough to understand that December 5 (state championships) is the day we want to be playing," said head coach Benny Artiaga. "Give a lot of credit to El Camino. They were opportune in the moments they had to be. We still felt like we played well enough to win. If things play out as expected, we will get a chance to face them again (in the conference tournament semifinals)."

Cerritos did have several chances to tie the game, which would have changed the tempo and momentum of the contest. Just a few minutes after checking into the game, freshman Eduardo Exiga (Bellflower HS) took a clean, hard shot that rolled just past the goal post on the far side, which would have tied the game. Then, in the 78th minute, freshman Orlando Martinez (Bright Star Secondary Charter Academy HS) fired a line drive that drilled El Camino goalkeeper Luis Garibay in the face, and deflected away from the goal.

Playing shorthanded on the day, the Falcons did get off five shots on goal in the second half, but were turned away. The team was without Arnold Castillo (Bell Gardens HS), Ronaldo Ibarra (Montclair HS) and Miguel Aguilar (St. Genevieve HS), while leading scorer Armando Ibarra, Jr. (Downey HS) was limited to just 20 minutes of play in the first half.

"It was a tough loss today," added Artiaga. "We hadn't lost at home since 2016, so it obviously stings a bit. But with securing the division title a few games ago, it was vital that we focus on getting healthy for the playoffs."

Photos by Daryl Peterson