Mira Costa, Manhattan Beach defeats Loyola, Los Angeles, for CIF soccer title
Pressure can burst pipes and it can produce diamonds.
Friday night it produced a diamond of a championship game.
No matter how much they told each other it was just another game, so let’s not do anything different than we have all year, Thomas Southey and his Mira Costa boys soccer teammates couldn’t ignore the reality: Friday night’s showdown with arch-rival Loyola for the CIF Southern Section title was the biggest game any of them had ever played in. Just making the championship game was a first in school history. Winning CIF would mark the 2021 team as the best in Costa’s long and proud soccer history.
The pressure to win, to seize this once-in-a-lifetime golden opportunity right in front of them, was immense.
The signs of how important this game was were everywhere.
The first sign: their unusual pre-game preparation in the team’s locker room.
“Coach Smith showed us a video of Mira Costa soccer alumni wishing us good luck and telling us how proud they were of us just for getting to the CIF championship game,” Southey recalled Sunday night. “They told us to go out there and do our thing, just like any other game. It was really motivational.”
The best part of the video surprise: two of the alumni, Alex Rieg and Jared Tang, were on the team last year.
“Just knowing those guys were rooting us on was a big help,” he said. “It was great to see their faces again.”
The second sign: when they finally ran out to the Costa football field, the stands were approximately two-thirds full. Despite the pandemic, more than 2,500 roaring, rocking, amped-up fans – from both schools – screamed their support. Vaccinated and unvaccinated fans were seated in separate sections. This for a team that typically played in front of a few dozen friends and family, before their improbable title run began a few weeks ago.
Southey, who has played in plenty of big games as a star wide receiver for the Costa football team over the last three years, admitted all the excitement and pressure got to him.
“Just knowing what was at stake gave me that jittery feeling. I was jumping up and down.”
That tense feeling – on both sides – dominated the early part of the game. Neither side could come close to scoring while the defenses controlled the action.
But in the 13th minute that all changed when the Mustangs scored the only goal of the game.
It started when Costa’s Kenneth Yap took a free kick from about 30 yards away from the Loyola goal and sent the ball directly into the crowded penalty area, where Center Forward Southey was waiting for an opportunity just like the one coming his way.
“I got my head on the ball and bumped it over to Ben Moglia,” Southey said. “I was just trying to get it on goal and Ben was perfectly positioned, waiting to see if something popped out that he could score on. He jumped all over it, kicked it over the line for the goal, and suddenly we were ahead 1-0 — and we never lost that lead.”
Indeed, they nearly doubled their slim lead mid-way through the second half when Southey and Jack Crawford combined for a shot on goal.
It started when Crawford’s throw-in went straight towards Southey, who got his head on it and directed it toward the goal.
“I got the ball down the right sideline and tried to meet the guy coming up on me. I pulled it back on my left foot, but it was a pretty weak shot,” Southey said.
Loyola goalie Cabral Carter snatched it out of the air and launched a Loyola counter-attack that resulted in their own shot on goal by Lucas Ibarra. But Mustang goalie Joe Staszkow preserved his shutout with a sharp save.
Loyola continued its attack in a desperate attempt to tie the game and force overtime, but Costa’s defense refused to wilt.
“Our defenders were amazing,” Southey said. “Those guys are the real reason we won. Keeping Loyola scoreless in a championship game was awesome.”
When the game ended with a 1-0 Mustang win for the title, hundreds of Costa fans poured out of the stands and surrounded the ecstatic players.
“We started out not even believing there was going to be a soccer season because of the pandemic,” Southey said. “Then when we won the Bay League, we started talking about making a run for CIF.”
That five-game run for the CIF title became a real possibility when Costa upset Cathedral, the nation’s top-ranked team, in the quarterfinals two weeks ago.
“That’s when we really started to believe we could actually do this,” he said. “After that we felt like a team of destiny.”
They destroyed Godinez 6-0 in the semi-finals, setting up the championship game with third-seeded Loyola, the school that over the years has enrolled so many elite Manhattan Beach athletes who otherwise would have taken their talents to Mira Costa.
“That’s what made this so satisfying,” Southey said. “We know a lot of the Loyola players from club teams. We respected them because we knew they were good, but we just felt that we had the players to beat them. And it turns out we did – in front of our home crowd. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Last week, Southey said the quarterfinal upset over undefeated and top-ranked Cathedral was the best game and biggest win he had ever been a part of.
That’s no longer true.
“This was the best game and biggest win I’ve ever been a part of,” he said. “Anyone who was there will never forget it.”
Contact: teetor.paul@gmail. Follow: @paulteetor. ER
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