Cal United Strikers v 1904FC Game Recap

Published Oct 3, 2019


Oct. 2, 2019

By Scott French

For California United Strikers FC

IRVINE -- California United Strikers FC welcomed back one of its finest warriors Wednesday night, and it paid off with the team's finest defensive performance of its young National Independent Soccer Association campaign.

Adan Coronado, who left the club just before the new Division 3 pro league kicked off in late August, was back on the backline, teaming with captain Xavier Fuerte in the middle, and it had much to do with Cal United's impressive 3-0 romp over visiting San Diego 1904 FC in front of 1,102 fans at Great Park's Championship Stadium.

Christian Thierjung scored another early goal, Andy Contreras doubled the lead right after coming on in the second half, and Gonzalo Villalobos assisted one goal and added the finale in second-half stoppage as Cal United (2-1-2/W-L-T) pulled within one point of Miami FC (3-0-0) in the NISA standings.

Everything seemed to fall nicely into place for Don Ebert's side, which prevented 1904 from penetrating into its box, commanded the proceedings even when surrendering possession, and used a gorgeous counterattack to take a quick lead for the third time in as many home games, then add to it early in the second half.

“I think we're finding us -- what we're good at, what we still need to work on -- and everybody's on the same page,” said Ebert, Cal United's head coach. “We do some things really, really well, and we're starting to understand [how to] play a little bit more to our strengths. In the beginning, we were just a bunch of 18 guys doing our thing.”

Goalkeeper Steven Barrera came up big when 1904 (2-2-0) threatened, but there wasn't a whole lot of that. Cal United kept things tight in the middle, dared San Diego to attack from width, then used its size advantage to win nearly every cross into its box.

Coronado's return was pivotal. He and Fuerte had teamed together on the backline for two years -- they were key in Cal United's United Premier Soccer League fall title run last year -- but employment opportunities, in another field, had lured the veteran center back elsewhere.

“I wasn't sure [I was going to play during the NISA season],” Coronado said. “I was on and off. I had some personal things outside, some work-related stuff, and I decided to step away for a little bit. Just recently I got the call back, the opportunity [to return], so I'm grateful for that, and I'm grateful to be here to help my team.

“We're a family, and I felt like I needed to get back here and continue the journey together. These guys are like my brothers. Definitely, I missed them.”

Cal United missed Coronado, too, conceding six goals in the first two games -- a draw with Oakland Roots and a loss to 1904, both on the road -- but were stronger in a 3-0 win over the L.A. Force a week and a half ago and a 1-1 draw three days later with Oakland. Michael Bryant had stepped in next to Fuerte and fared well, but Coronado's presence enabled him to return to the No. 8 role, and he was a force on both sides of the ball.

Ebert was quite happy to have Coronado back.

“He was our best player,” Ebert said. “Adan left us and wasn't sure what he wanted to do in life, and we lost him for six weeks. And it completely changed out backline. He has been a linchpin, him and Xavier, so when he walked away, we were scrambling.

“It's nice to have him back. He's not 100 percent fit yet, but his soccer brain, his left foot, the composure: He adds a lot of subtlety and confidence for our team.”

The backline, Bryant and fellow central midfielder Duncan Capriotti, who departed at halftime with a quadriceps injury, provided a foundation for the attack, which finished the opportunities that came its way.

It started in the fourth minute, when Capriotti laced a perfect long ball that found Thierjung in stride behind the San Diego defense. He pushed it past goalkeeper Marcus Norris and finished into an open net for his fourth goal of the season.

“Duncan on a dime ...,” said Thierjung, named Man of the Match.

Other opportunities failed to pan out -- Villalobos headed over the crossbar from a corner kick in the 10th minute, Thierjung just missed connecting with Abraham Villon Jr. after a Gonzalo Salguero long ball in the 22nd, and Thierjung fired high from Villalobos' feed after Michael Bryant picked up a loose ball in the 33rd -- until after the break.

Contreras came on for Kevin Jeon in the 58th minute and doubled the advantage about a minute later, beating Norris to the right post from a Villalobos through ball.

Ebert called Contreras “our best finisher everyday in training.”

“You give Andy five [chances], he scored three,” Ebert said. “My challenge to Andy is just increase his mobility, his ability up and down, and defensively. ... But in front of goal, I'll give it to him every time.”

The goal was Contreras first in NISA.

“It's a dream come true,” he said. “I think you've got to come off the bench ready and take advantage of the opportunities you get.”

Cal United's direct approach paid off handsomely against a San Diego side that prefers to build on the ground.

“If we don't use our speed, I should be kicked in the head,” Ebert said. “I put guys up there, and I don't need 15 passes to score a goal. If I can get in behind, with Thierjung and Jeon and [Villalobos], we can get in behind you.

“It's a balance. I don't just want to kick it, but at the same time, if you're going to commit to pressing us so hard, we're going to go behind.”

San Diego, which was without injured goalkeeper Jean Gamain Antoine and midfielder William Garton, two of its best players, had a lot of the ball and kept Cal United's opportunities to a minimum. But the visitors struggled in the attacking third. There were big defensive plays by Fuerte and right back Chris Klute, both stopping first-half runs into the box by Lorenzo Ramirez Jr., and Barrera did well to deny a Brandon Lozano blast just before halftime and Christian Enriquez's bending shot toward the upper-right corner in the 89th minute.

“We knew they like to move the ball around and penetrate our center,” Fuerte said, “So we tried to make it very compact in the center, so they have to play around us [and send in crosses], because they don't have height. We have the advantage height-wise.”

Villalobos scored his third NISA goal in the 91st minute, after substitute Omar Nuño's ball into the goalmouth from the left flank bounced off a defender and fell to his feet. He took it a couple steps to his left, to find space against two defenders, and finished with aplomb.

It was a perfect finish to Cal United's best outing of the season. The team has shown marked improvement since its NISA debut a little more than a month ago.

“I think it's the intensity,” Thierjung said. “We battle for each other. And also the confidence -- that's big. You've just got to believe. Any time you make a mistake, next play. You miss a shot, next play. I believe in this group of guys, and I believe we're going to go far.”

Cal United is home again against 1904 on Oct. 20 before closing the regular season a week later against the LA Force at Rio Hondo College in Whittier.



California United Strikers FC 3, San Diego 1904 FC 0

CU -- Christian Thierjung (Duncan Capriotti) 4

CU -- Andy Contreras (Gustavo Villalobos) 59

CU -- Gustavo Villalobos 91+

Cal United Strikers FC: Steven Barrera; Chris Klute, Xavier Fuerte, Adan Coronado (Omar Nuño, 75), Gonzalo Salguero; Duncan Capriotti (Evan Waldrep, 46), Michael Bryant; Gustavo Villalobos, Abraham Villon Jr. (Beto Navarro, 92+), Kevin Jeon (Andy Contreras 58); Christian Thierjung (Miguel Sanchez-Rincon, 63).

San Diego 1904 FC: Marcus Norris; Dallin Cutler, Alexis Velela, Ozzie Ramos, Eder Arreola (Elmer Jack Villatoro, 83); Brandon Zambrano (Hanif Wright, 92+), Felipe Liborio Jr., Christian Enriquez; Nelson Flores (Adonis Amaya, 57), Lorenzo Ramirez Jr. (Milo Barton, 64), Ernesto Espinoza (Jorge Quincy Taylor, 73).

Yellow cards: Zambrano Lopez 53, Taylor 84.

Referee: Christopher Calderon. Att.: 1,102.