Benefield: Tough way to start season for SRJC men's soccer

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The Santa Rosa Junior College men’s soccer team survived Tuesday afternoon’s home opener but didn’t thrive. The Bear Cubs endured a barrage of shots and attacks through 90 minutes of play but fell 2-1 to De Anza College.

It could have been worse.

The Dons spent a fair amount of time in front of the Bear Cubs’ goal, only to be turned away by a clearance or misfire or dumb luck.

“They completely outworked us; they won balls. We were spectators,” Bear Cubs head coach Marty Kinahan said. Santa Rosa falls to 0-1.

The visitors opened the scoring with 12 minutes to play in the first half, but truth be told they could have been up by more — and earlier — in the game.

Just four minutes in, the Dons used a long throw in to put the Bear Cubs under pressure in the box. Freshman goalkeeper Javier Aguilar, who prepped at Healdsburg High, punched it clear.

Just minutes later, a Bear Cub clearance of a De Anza corner landed in the vicinity of a lonely Don well outside the box, who then sent a screaming volley just over the crossbar.

That was a scenario that seemed to play out for 90 minutes — even when the Bear Cubs’ defense was able to break up a Dons attack, the ball seemed to return to the feet of a De Anza player either by luck or by will.

Kinahan had a guess as to which.

“They just outworked us,” he said. “They were way more dangerous.”

De Anza time and time again sent long balls deep into Bear Cubs territory, challenging defenders to a foot race. It posed problems for Santa Rosa’s back line all afternoon.

“We weren’t communicating,” Kinahan said.

De Anza’s goal started with Santa Rosa’s defenders ably breaking up the attack, but again failing to control the ball and giving it immediately away. A De Anza cross from the far post set up a slotted shot that beat Aguilar at the near post.

At the half, his team down 1-0, Kinahan gathered his defense in the middle of the field, urging them to get on the same page.

“They didn’t sort it out,” he said.

But De Anza, whether by luck or misfortune, could not capitalize. On a number of occasions, the ball pinged around in front of the net and somehow no Don could tap it home.

But it wasn’t as if the Bear Cubs never threatened offensively.

The Bear Cubs missed a clear chance just before the half when Rigo Barragan, a freshman who prepped at Windsor, lofted a beautiful pass just behind De Anza’s back line.

The Dons’ keeper came way out of the box and was beaten by freshman Alejandro Madrigal.

But Madrigal’s subsequent touch, with the goalkeeper now behind him, took him away from the goal and allowed the defense to collapse around him.

Chance gone.

But the Bear Cubs were suddenly back in it, thanks to another well-played ball from Barragan.

This time, the freshman beat his man one on one in the box and delivered a no-miss pass across the front of the goal to a waiting David Luis, a sophomore out of Casa Grande High, who tapped it home.

“I think that goal helped us a lot. It brought our whole team up,” Barragan said. “We were motivated to score again. Our intensity came up a lot, too, after that.”

But De Anza hit back. The Dons scored with five minutes left to put themselves up for good.

Barragan was philosophical after the loss.

“Take it as a learning lesson. They are a good team. We are a good team, too,” Barragan said. “We just got to keep going.”

Kinahan said it was a bitter pill to not only come of the gate with a season-opening loss, but to give one up at home. Come postseason, each of these games will matter.

“You kind of have to get off the block quick,” he said before the game. “It’s hard to come back if you don’t have success early.”

It’s a sentiment that holds true for games as well as seasons. The Bear Cubs let the Dons set the tone from the opening whistle and they had a hard time pulling themselves back into a competitive groove.

But those are things Kinahan said will be addressed. Immediately. The De Anza game was the first of a four-game homestand, including a matchup with Cabrillo College on Friday and games with Contra Costa and Canada next week. Big 8 Conference play starts Sept. 21 on the road at Modesto Junior College.

Some injuries, some puzzle pieces to fill in the lineup — those things will get addressed in the coming weeks, Kinahan said. And the Bear Cubs will be the better for it.

“It’s disappointing losing the opening game and losing at home,” he said.

That said, he sees reason to be optimistic.

“As the season goes on, I think we get better,” he said.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield.

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