It’s early yet in the 2017 National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) season to issue any definitive pronouncements, but by beating defending Southwest Conference champion Albion SC PROS, 2-0, Sunday night, Riverside Coras certainly made a statement.
“This was a true test to show what we can do this year,” said Julio Ayala, who netted the winning goal for Coras in the 66th minute. “Last year when they were champs, everyone was trying to go for them and I think this year we’re going to show we’re the team to go for.”
Albion and Coras, who finished first and third in conference last season, entered Sunday’s match at UC Riverside with conference-best 1-0 records with a combined ten goals scored in their respective season openers.
But any expectation of a shootout fell to the wayside by halftime, as despite a fast pace and aggressive play from both teams, neither side could muster many quality opportunities.
“We had a little bit more confidence heading into this game,” said Coras assistant Gabriel Esqueda, Jr., who coached the team for the absent James Ross. “When we kept them scoreless at the half we felt like we had a chance to pull out the game.”
Albion (1-1) initiated some chances early in the second half, including a high pass on a set piece for a charging David Luquen that Coras goalkeeper Alonso Lara (four saves) deflected in midair.
But soon it was Coras that began building toward a goal. Alfredo Tapia Rojas unleashed a blast from 25 yards in the 58th minute that ticked off the fingertips of Albion keeper Jean Gamain Antoine and several minutes later he put another attempt on frame that was also stopped.
After another eight minutes elapsed, Ayala found himself in the right place at the right time, charging out of the midfield to bury a cleared out ball into the left corner to end the stalemate.
“We were just going at each 100 percent and there was no calming the ball down,” Ayala said. “As soon as we scored I think it set the match to where we able to take control. Whoever got that first goal was going to be able to take advantage, no matter what.”
Coras (2-0) was indeed able to take advantage, as the hosts finished the game with a handful of additional scoring chances as Albion pushed up looking for the equalizer. Chief among them was Gabriel Zavala’s goal with five minutes left in stoppage time that provided a nice bit of insurance.
Albion did have its chances to tie the match before Zavala’s late goal.
Just a couple minutes after Ayala scored, Sean Callahan nearly knotted it back up on a header on a pass from Felipe Liborio from deep in the corner, but the attempt sailed just inches outside the post.
That near miss was followed closely by another near Coras goal, where Cody Shelton made a perfect cross along the endline to Daniel Lopez, whose point-blank shot was inadvertently field blocked off his defender’s heel.
Then the game got chippy over the last few minutes of regulation, with two Coras players picking up yellow cards in the aftermath of the same foul, which led to a free kick inside the 18 for Albion.
The kick was curved nicely across the goal to Amani Waker, whose attempt on the far post was saved by Lara before two Albion follow-up shots in quick succession were both field blocked.
“Coras is a fantastic team, we knew coming in,” Albion SC PROS coach Ziggy Korytoski said. “We feel that we’re probably the top two teams in the Southwestern Conference, so we knew it was going to be a battle. I thought, up until the goal that they received, we were probably the better team; we were organized, we were disciplined , we weren’t giving much away and we get picked in the midfield for a great goal.”
Albion next travels to Mesa, Arizona to play Arizona FC at 7: 30 p.m. on Saturday. Riverside Coras, which is yet to be scored upon and enjoys a goal differential of eight, will head out on the road for the first time to face SoCal SC at the Pomona Fairplex at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
“We’re happy at the fact that we’re getting success,” Esqueda said. “We’ve got it together, we’re locking it down and we’re starting to play our football.
“It just kind of confirmed that we belong. We gave Albion so much respect this week, being the returning champions, we just wanted to prove to ourselves that we belong on this field with them.”