Boys soccer: LA can’t hold on to late 2-goal lead

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By Mike Cote

The math is pretty simple: 78 minutes does not equal 80 minutes.
Unfortunately for the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys soccer team, it had to learn that lesson in just about the hardest way possible Friday.
In a big Class AAAA contest at Sullivan Field Friday afternoon, the Hilltoppers held what looked like a commanding 2-0 lead with just a little over two minutes left in regulation – not counting stoppage time – against one of biggest rivals, Albuquerque Academy.
But Academy’s Chargers, a perennial AAAA contender that’s gotten the 2010 season off to a bumpy start, got right back into the game. Within about 90 seconds, the Chargers scored two quick goals to tie the score by the end of regulation.
A stunned Hilltopper squad, except for a brief spurt in the first overtime period, failed to snap back and lost to the Chargers in 3-2 in the second overtime period.
It was one of the wildest – and for Los Alamos, most disappointing – finishes in this nearly four-decade-old rivalry.
The finish left Hilltopper head coach Evan Gartz shaking his head.
“This just shows how mentally weak we are right now,” Gartz said. “We think this can get done in 75 minutes. We need to play an 80-minute game.”
It was not the first time this season the Hilltoppers lost a seemingly secure lead in the latter part of the second half. They had a 2-goal lead on Rio Rancho in their season opener with under 20 minutes to play but needed to go to a shootout to earn that victory, then let a two-goal lead slip against Farmington two days later in a 3-2 loss.
But Friday’s loss could prove the most costly, as that game will likely be looked at for seeding purposes when the Class AAAA postseason bracket is announced in just a little more than a month. Academy, barring a collapse during its district season, has the inside track for a second or third seed – St. Pius X would be the No. 1 seed if the season ended today.
Academy head coach Howard Shapiro, who was well aware of what a road victory at Sullivan Field might mean to his team, said it was a matter of his team stepping up when it needed to.
“We don’t stop,” he said. “We play until the last second, until the final whistle. A 2-goal lead is a very dangerous lead. If the other team scores a goal, the momentum is swayed.”
Even with its top defender, Graham Delano, back in the lineup Friday after missing more than a week with a knee injury, Los Alamos had two big defensive collapses right at the end of regulation leading to the two goals.
With backup goalkeeper McKay Parkinson in the lineup — starter Lorenzo Venneri left the contest late in the first half with a broken nose after a collision with an Academy forward — Academy found two big lanes on the right side of Los Alamos’ defense and crashed those on consecutive runs.
The equalizing goal was scored by Ian Rosado after a late penalty kick was awarded on a touchy foul near Los Alamos’ left post. Rosado converted the kick with only about 20 seconds left in regulation.
Perhaps most frustrating for Los Alamos was the fact that all three Academy goals were scored with the Chargers two players down. Academy’s Nicol Chance was disqualified after picking up his second yellow card of the game in the 76th minute, while Alec Guthrie was issued a red card just a few seconds later on another questionable call of Guthrie leading with his spikes.
Academy, however, got only one shot off the entire second half until the two scores that tied the score.
Gartz, who, like the rest of the Hilltoppers feels like this is one of Los Alamos’ best chances to break its 24-year drought of a state title, knows these types of late-game breakdowns need to disappear in a hurry.
“With a 2-0 lead, they were all but home, all but in their beds,” Gartz said. “Even Academy, they were done, too. They were defeated, but we allowed some dumb plays, a dumb foul...this loss is completely on us.”
Los Alamos opens its District 2AAAA season at Bernalillo Tuesday, where it will be the favorite heading in. Capital, which has given Los Alamos some headaches in district in recent years, might be the only other serious contender for the district crown this season.
The Hilltoppers (5-7) went up 1-0 in the first half Friday Alper Unal tapping in an empty-net goal when Nicholas Castaño ran down a through-ball and Academy goalkeeper Nicholas Moeser was caught in no-man’s land after making an initial run to cut off Castaño’s angle.
Then, in the 74th minute, Andy Thoma went top-shelf after receiving a chip pass from Cooper Christensen right in front of the Chargers’ goal mouth to up the lead to 2-0.