Ventura tames the beast, beats Dons 1-0

For four years, Ventura High sweeper Omar Aranda has been predicting that 2009 would be the year that the Cougars won the Channel League soccer championship.

And his coach kept reminding him that, to do that, the Cougars would have to “go through the beast,” by which he meant Santa Barbara High.

On Thursday evening at Peabody Stadium, in a battle between the No. 1 and No. 3 teams in the CIF, the Cougars tamed the beast, at least for one game, and took a huge step toward turning Aranda into a modern-day Nostradamus with a 1-0 win over the Dons.

The victory squares Ventura’s record with Santa Barbara for the year at 1-1-1 but the loss was in a tournament so it takes over first place in the Channel League with two games to play. The Cougars are 5-0-1 in league and 17-3-3 overall while top-ranked Santa Barbara drops to 4-1-1 and 19-2-1.

“Other years I was not so sure, but this year I just knew would be our year,” said Aranda. “This is a great team; we’re very much together, like a family.”

If that is true, and most soccer teams aspire to such togetherness, the key blow Thursday could be said to have come from a “little brother.”

Junior defender Geofferey Browne is not, in fact, particularly little and is hardly a newcomer to pressure situations, having scored a game-winner in a CIF playoff game last year. But his 30-yard shot in the 16th minute Thursday, resulting in the game’s only goal, was his first goal of the year and, he conceded, something of a surprise.

“It was not a shot I wanted to take,” he admitted. “I was just trying to knock the ball back (into the goal area) and keep it on frame. I was surprised it went in.”

The shot itself was proof again that, in soccer as in real estate, the three most important factors are location, location  and location. Aranda’s shot was the equivalent of a change-up in baseball, spinning on a soft arc to the goal but biting sharply as it sailed over Don goalkeeper Emmanuel Angulo’s outstretched hands and ducked under the crossbar.

“What’s even more amazing is that Geoff was sick as a dog today,” said Ventura coach Todd Tackett. “He gave us 26 minutes but then he had to come out..”

By that time, Ventura had clearly established that it was prepared to settle on a single goal and make it hold up by committing the bulk of its players to defense.

“You only need one (goal),’’ said Santa Barbara coach Todd Heil. “They got the early one and started to drop 10 guys back.”

Normally, the trade-off for that approach is that your opponent gets to control the ball and mount more attacks. And the Dons were able to take advantage at times, particularly in the final 10 minutes. But few of the attacks were particularly dangerous, mostly a series of balls bouncing through the penalty area amongst players well-covered by defenders.

“I don’t think we had many quality strikes,” conceded Heil. “We had only 10 shots and they weren’t very quality strikes. I think we lost our composure some inside (the goal area).”

Tackett noted that the Dons had scored all their previous goals against the Cougars this year on shots resulting from re-start situations. To counter that, he assigned his two best players at heading the ball to run free on re-starts rather than to mark an attacker. There was no faulting the result on Thursday but, in fairness, the Dons did not have many free kicks.

Instead, Ventura’s defense relied on a more common tactic, tightly marking attackers in the goal. And, for that, said Tackett, Aranda deserved credit that had noting to do with his prognostication skills.

“Omar did a great job or making sure everyone stayed on their guy,” he explained.

“I know our rival is supposed to be (Ventura-based) Buena, but for us, it’s really Santa Barbara,” Tackett added. “Todd has won 200 games in 10 years, which is incredible. But Omar has been saying for four years that we would win league when he was a senior and I would tell him that meant we would have to go through the beast. From day one, this guy has just led everyone in every way you can lead a team.”