Benefield: SRJC men's soccer team plays to scoreless draw in conference home opener

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A tie in sports generally leaves one wanting. Wanting a moment back, or wanting to rewrite how a series unfolded. Wanting a little bit of a do-over.

But after the Santa Rosa Junior College men’s soccer team tied visiting San Joaquin Delta 0-0 in the Bear Cubs’ Big 8 Conference home opener Tuesday, coach Marty Kinahan had nothing but praise for his team.

No, a tie isn’t ideal — especially at home — but he said the Bear Cubs played good soccer and battled a solid Delta squad to an “I can live with that” tie.

“I thought we played well,” he said.

But don’t get him wrong.

“That’s a home game we want to win,” he said. “We never play for a tie, so it’s disappointing not to win.”

The tie moves the Bear Cubs to 5-3-1 overall and 1-0-1 in the Big 8.

And the Bear Cubs were a moment away from being handed a loss. In the closing seconds of the game, the Mustangs got a long free kick. As Kinahan was shouting to his defense to prepare for “a chip over the wall,” the Mustangs, yep, sent a chip over the wall. A couple of beautiful passes in the box set up a Mustang goal.

But it was one pass too many: Offside. No goal.

And a goal in that moment would have been a shame, really, because the Bear Cubs had spent the last 15 minutes of the game knocking, but could get nothing to go in. In the 84th minute, freshman Matias Gomez brought a long ball down beautifully to set up a strike. In the ensuing scrum in the box, the Delta goalkeeper game up clutching his head.

Still no score.

If he could rewrite the script at all, Kinahan said he would light a little fire under his squad in the opening minutes. And he’d love to have those corner kicks back. The Bear Cubs inexplicably sent two corner kicks behind the goal, eliminating scoring chances.

And yes, the start could have been faster. My first note of a Bear Cub “moment” was nine minutes in, when freshman Rigo Barragan received a pass from Kevin Ontiveros and got off a decent shot.

But thereafter, the evenly matched teams did battle with no one clearly having an edge. And there was a long stretch where solid SRJC defending proved a recurring highlight.

The Bear Cubs’ back line worked in coordination better than was apparent nearly a month ago in their home opener against DeAnza. And on Tuesday, the Mustangs had good team speed but could not break the home team.

Until freshman defender Derek Neidlinger tripped.

Neidlinger, who prepped at Windsor High, otherwise had an outstanding defensive game but his life must have flashed before his eyes when, 32 minutes in, he was backpedaling to a lofting ball heading into his own defensive third, got his feet tangled up and hit the deck.

“I felt like I got sniped,” he said, chuckling. “I honestly panicked a little bit and my feet got caught up, but thankfully they didn’t score.”

Freshman goalkeeper Javier Aguilar had to charge to clear the ball. Crisis averted.

Neidlinger more than made up for it throughout the game, covering the speed of the Mustangs attack well in partnership with Miles Monroe, Augusto Magalhaes, Jack Bailey and Ontiveros.

“We all just do a really good job of communicating with each other,” he said.

The Mustangs came in with a potent attack, but they were not able to crack the Bear Cubs’ defensive unit. Delta entered Tuesday’s game averaging 2.7 goals per game behind sophomore Hector Romero and freshman Ivan Rosales, who have scored four goals a piece.

The Bear Cubs were having none of it.

In the 53rd minute, Delta’s Adrian Vargas gave a ball to Lucas Travis, who was able to pop it over the top of a charging Aguilar, but Neidlinger tracked it down, won it and cleared the ball away.

“I thought we played really well as a team. We moved the ball well, created chances, unfortunately just didn’t finish,” he said. “It was a good one today.”

Neidlinger, who seemed to be everywhere, even had a crack on goal at one point.

“I wish I would have that one back, but it’s all good,” he said.

About 30 seconds after Neidinger’s strike in the 66th minute, sophomore David Luis — who has three goals on the season — came painfully close to putting the home team up 1-0, but his shot went just wide.

“We are going to get less and less chances against good teams,” Kinahan said.

The Bear Cubs came into the game on a three-game win streak after dispatching San Francisco, Napa Valley and Modesto last Friday in their Big 8 Conference opener. Delta came into this one hot — they were 5-0-2 overall and, like the Bear Cubs, 1-0 in the Big 8.

When the Bear Cubs meet Delta again, on the road on Oct. 26, they will have to get a win. At that point in the season, Kinahan expects both his squad and Delta to be contenders for the Big 8 championship.

As the season marches on, the Bear Cubs will have to find a way to put one of those chances away. Kinahan remains positive. The Bear Cubs are expecting the return of a few more players who have been out with injury, and another is nursing himself back from illness.

Despite the tie, Kinahan saw good news in the way his team battled.

So did Neidlinger.

“I thought we played really well,” he said. “It was a good game. It sucks not to get the win, but I thought we played really well as a team.”

Next up for the Bear Cubs is a trip Friday to American River to play the Beavers.

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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