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El Toro wins showdown with No. 1 San Clemente
LAKE FOREST – One of the highest-scoring teams in the county proved that it can play defense, too, even against the sixth-ranked team in the nation.
Coming into Friday’s nonleague game, San Clemente was averaging 3.1 goals per game. But host El Toro held the Tritons scoreless in the first half and allowed Gage Zerboni, who has had five multiple-goal games this season, to score just once as the Chargers posted 2-1 victory.
No. 2 El Toro (17-1-0) has scored 55 goals this season.
“For our confidence, this is huge. I would like to keep a clean sheet, but giving up a goal against San Clemente isn’t a slap in the face,” El Toro coach Doug Franco said.
The Tritons (17-2-1) have scored 60 goals in the 20 games this season, and they have scored three or more goals in a game 12 times this season.
“Shutting down a team like that is very good,” Franco said, “and it will give us some confidence going into league.”
In the first minute of the game, the Chargers showed they were up to the challenge of playing the team that has been ranked No. 1 in the county all season.
James Suri sprinted into the right corner and sent a cross to Michael Bryant at the near post. But Dylan DiGiacomo grabbed the ball before at the last second, so it didn’t reach its target.
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It was a sign of things to come from Suri. During a counter attack in the 61st minute, Suri again did a 60-plus-yard dash down the field around the San Clemente defenders and had nothing between him and DiGiacomo. This time the San Clemente senior goal keeper couldn’t get a hand on the ball, and Suri gave the Chargers the lead, 2-1.
San Clemente coach Mike Pronier said his team wasn't quick enough to the ball in the midfield and that let the Chargers, especially Suri, pick up loose balls and get things started. When Suri started the play that ended with the decisive goal, he was standing pretty much alone in the midfield because Pronier said “the mechanics of what we did to defend him then was poor.”
“It (the goal) could have been avoided,” Pronier said. “We just didn’t hold him up enough.”
The Tritons like to control the defensive tempo, but the Chargers turned the game into a back-and-forth track meet while running up and down the field. San Clemente, which had a 0.47 goals against average before this game, found itself in a very unusual position – chasing the play, which put some Tritons out of position.
But that, Pronier said, didn’t play a role in El Toro’s first goal. An injury did. The Triton who was supposed to be on Trenton Rainone couldn’t mark him, letting Rainone go into the box and loft the ball over DiGiacomo’s head and into the goal, giving the Chargers a 1-0 lead in the 39th minute.
The Chargers' advantage didn’t last for too long, though, as just nine minutes into the second half Zerboni tied the score, 1-1, when he collected a rebound in the box and drilled the ball inside the far post. It was his county-leading 20th goal of the season.
“He is a great player. He is very active and is all over the field,” Franco said. “He was still getting shots and crosses off while drawing in two and three defenders.”
Unlike the Tritons, the Chargers don’t rely on just one goal scorer. El Toro has three players in the top 10 in the county in scoring – Suri, Nick D’Amato and Michael Bryant. Suri got his 10th goal of the season on Friday. D’Amato and Bryant both have nine.
D’Amato sat out Friday’s game with a bone bruise on his right knee. He suffered the injury last week while playing Mission Viejo in the Zach Butcher Memorial Tournament. He warmed up before the game and took some shots with his left foot, but Franco wanted to rest him, so he could be ready to go for the Sea View League opener against Laguna Hills on Wednesday.
“He the kind of kid that even if we put him in there, he would play. He is a gamer and he wants to be here all of the time,” Franco said.