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Aliso Niguel scores late to beat Esperanza in Aliso Cup pool play

STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM – Just when it looked as if Esperanza had finally worked its way back into Wednesday’s Aliso Cup pool play match, scoring a game-tying goal and then stopping an Aliso Niguel penalty kick, a momentary defensive lapse with three minutes remaining undid all of the Aztecs’ hard work.

While an Esperanza center back tumbled to the ground while playing out of position, Amin Mahjouh sprinted alone toward the goal and delivered the game winner for the Wolverines, who opened the season with a 2-1 triumph at Esperanza High.

“We dug deep and wanted it. We have been training for two weeks for this day and the kids built off each other,” Aliso Niguel assistant coach Alex Figueroa said. Figueroa was filling in for Coach Randy Dodge who was with the Vanguard women’s soccer team at the NAIA national championships.

“It was a great way to open the season. I am very impressed with these guys,” Figueroa  said. “It wasn’t the prettiest, but at least we got the W.”

Aliso (1-0) took control of the game early, taking a 1-0 lead when Ryan McCormick slipped a shot underneath the crossbar. Luis Saavedra leaped to try and make the save for the Aztecs (0-2), and even though he did get a hand on the ball, the Esperanza goal keeper couldn’t stop the ball from hitting the back of the net.

Esperanza coach Conan Hawkins blamed the goal on another defensive miscue.

“It was comedy of errors. A couple of crucial mistakes from center backs created goal scoring opportunities that we really should have eliminated by being more patient defensively,” Hawkins said. “But it is early on in the season and we made some mental mistakes. I definitely appreciate the resilience they showed.”

For most of the game, the Wolverines’ back line made it difficult for the Aztecs to get close to the box, but in the 54th minute, Esperanza took advantage of a set piece to tie the game when Gio Marin knocked in a corner kick from Phillip Figuerres.

Eight minutes later, though Aliso Niguel threatened as Matthew Reagan lined up to take a penalty kick. Reagan went low left, taking aim at the exact spot where Saavedra dived, and Saavedra batted the ball away to preserve the tie, which lasted until the Mahjouh scored in the 77th minute.

“When you fight and claw your way back into a game, you have to make sure that you maintain the game at the end,” Hawkins said. “And we lost sight of that at the most important point of the game.”

Contact the writer: ddottore@scng.com


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