Valencia seizes control of Empire League


PLACENTIA – Two different styles met in Tuesday’s boys soccer game here at Valencia High.

Kennedy tried to use its speed, building plays from the midfield with quick passes, most of which headed to Jesus Ibarra, who ranks fourth in the county in goal scoring with 14.

The Tigers, on the other hand, had a size advantage over the Fighting Irish and tried to make the most of it on corner kicks and long throws. Having some big, husky guys on the field, the Tigers took it too Kennedy at times, especially on 50/50 balls.

And in the end power beat finesse as Valencia posted its first victory against Kennedy in three seasons, edging the two-time and defending Empire League champions, 2-1.

The loss ended any chance that the Fighting Irish had of wining a third consecutive title as they fell to 5-7-3, 2-4-1. Kennedy now finds itself in a battle just to get one of the league’s final playoff spots.   

 “The just wore us down,” Kennedy coach Tom Link said. “When you win it two (years) straight, you don’t want to give it up. It is disappointing. But they have obviously had a better season than us.”

The Tigers’ defense, though, has been shaky at times, and big leads are often not safe.

First-place Valencia (12-3-5, 5-1-1) has posted only one shutout in 20 games and watched a 3-0 advantage turn in to a 3-3 tie in the North Orange County Championship game.

And in the 49th minute on Tuesday, Valencia let Kennedy back into the game when Ibarra blasted a shot from about the penalty spot. Bao Binh Nguyen tried to make the save for the Tigers, but he couldn’t catch the ball, and Heriberto Espinoza, who only recently became eligible to play, was there to collect the rebound and tie the game, 1-1.

 “That No. 20 (Espinoza) … he is hard to defend. He was crafty with the second look,” Gardner said. “We score a lot of goals, but we give up a lot, so we are really stressing that defensive shape. To give up one against Kennedy is pretty good.”

Valencia should have won by more than one goal with all of the chances they had. Cole Engstrom had two shots clank off the crossbar and Jesse Gonzalez watched two shots roll just wide of the post.

In the 33rd minute, though, Gonzalez finally found his target and gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead. He also played a role in the game winner in the 70th minute, taking a shot from just inside the 18-yard line, which Miguel Llanes knocked away with a one-handed save. The ball, however, went right to Engstrom, who drilled a shot inside the far post.

“We did a little more kick ball than I would have liked, but having that tank No. 9 (Gonzalez) and that big red-headed kid (Engstrom) up top makes us hard to defend,” Gardner said. “So we were coming at their back line constantly.”

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