Dons, Royals play to a clean draw

No trouble. No goals. No problem.

Santa Barbara High and San Marcos battled to a 0-0 tie Wednesday night at Valley Stadium in a Channel League soccer game that wrapped up the regular season for both teams.

A scoreless draw usually begs more questions than it answers and often leaves both teams unsatisfied.

Wednesday’s game was no exception, though San Marcos had to take some solace in shutting out the highly ranked Dons. That the game was played without any untoward incident, however, did answer one important question: Could the two arch-rivals put a rough-and-tumble first meeting behind them? Yes, they could and, yes, they did.

“I’m just getting over the headache from that first game,” said San Marcos coach Brian Eisen. “But there was none of that tonight. The referees did a very good job.”

“This was a good soccer game,” added Santa Barbara coach Todd Heil. “There were no problems.”

Santa Barbara won the first meeting and has been the dominant player in the rivalry in recent years. The Dons, 20-2-3, had previously clinched second in the Channel League while San Marcos slipped into the third slot and a berth in the upcoming CIF playoffs despite a so-so record of 8-10-5.

Consequently, the result was a positive one on paper for San Marcos, a fact that captain Alvaro Garcia acknowledged with a smile.

“We put that first game behind us,” he said. “We watched the tape and learned from our mistakes and corrected them today. So, yeah, I’m happy. I’m smiling.”

Santa Barbara, the top-ranked team in the CIF before losing 1-0 to Ventura, also played a scoreless game with Dos Pueblos this week, following a win over Buena. Going scoreless in three of its last four games is a concern, said Heil, but not a crisis.

“We created chances tonight,” he said. “Their goalie made three very good saves and, give credit to San Marcos. They played well and so did Dos Pueblos. So, yes, it is a concern that we are not finishing but, at the same time, it’s good to know our defense can shut other teams out when we are having trouble scoring.”

San Marcos goalie Efren Gutierrez came off his line repeatedly to defuse Santa Barbara attacks, particularly in the second half when the Royals pushed Garcia up from his sweeper position. Garcia helped trigger or support several threats on Santa Barbara’s goal but his absence in the back allowed Santa Barbara’s Peter Aguilar to luirk dangerously around the San Marcos penalty box.

“We were expected to lose so I decided it worth taking the risk,” said Eisen.

The game’s best scoring chance happened so suddenly it passed without much fanfare. Catching the Royals in transition, Aguilar took a long ball upfront and pushed the ball to Justin Jimenez 10 yards from the goal with only Gutierrez to beat. Jimenez squeezed off a shot but Gutierrez left his feet at the same moment and blocked the shot with his right hand as he fell to the ground.

For most of the game, however, Santa Barbara had trouble maintaining the sort of short, ground-strokes and ball control passing game that has raised it to the top echelon of the CIF. Instead, it played a lot of balls quickly into the air and saw the Royals defense bang them quickly back out.

Eisen even risked becoming bulletin board material by postulating that the Dons’ quick trigger was the result of being “intimidated” by the Royals’ defense.

“They played that way because they knew they couldn’t dribble through us,” he said. “They’re intimidated by us.”

Whether true or not, Aguilar conceded that the Dons need to regain their scoring mojo if they hope to play to deep into the playoffs.

“We need to step it up and play our game,” he said. “We’ll put this behind us now and get ready for the playoffs.”

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