Benefield: Roseland University Prep boys know every game counts in soccer race

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IF YOU GO

Maria Carrillo at Roseland University Prep

What: North Bay League-Redwood Division boys soccer

When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday

Where: Sonoma Academy

Tino Fonzeca had hoped for a little less breathing room between first and second place in the North Bay League-Redwood Division title chase at this stage of the season.

Fonzeca, Roseland University Prep’s boys soccer coach, needed his squad to get a win at Analy on Tuesday to set up a showdown match with league-leading Maria Carrillo on Thursday, a game he was hoping could change the race for league supremacy.

Alas, this is the NBL- Redwood, a division that is rife with ties, series splits and upsets. And the Knights suffered one Tuesday, losing to Analy 1-0 to fall just a little further behind Carrillo with four games to play.

RUP is now 4-3 in league, behind Carrillo’s 6-1-1 record. It’s the beauty of the NBL-Redwood, where teams splitting their two-game series is not unusual and there is a logjam in the middle of the standings where two teams (Piner and Cardinal Newman) are 3-3-2 and a third (Analy) is 2-3-2.

It makes for crucial matchups almost every week, but ask Fonzeca and he sounds like he could perhaps use a little less excitement in his life.

“The awesome thing about this league is that anyone can beat anyone,” he said. “It kind of sucks as a coach, but it’s awesome for the kids.”

Of course, Fonzeca doesn’t truly think any of this sucks. It’s what the Knights came for. After a string of dominant seasons in the North Central League II, the Knights made the jump to the newly crafted NBL-Redwood. It is a gambit that has paid off. They currently sit in second place and are ranked No. 3 among North Coast Section Division 4 teams.

And it has been a ride.

Case in point: RUP beat El Molino 2-1 on Dec. 14 only to fall 1-0 to the Lions on Jan. 23. They beat Analy 1-0 on Jan. 10 but lost to the Tigers 1-0 on Tuesday.

“I feel like every game, as far as coaching, every game seems like a playoff, just the intensity and the preparation, all that goes into it,” he said. “There are no days off as competition, which is new to us. Anything can happen if you are not ready to go.”

The Knights had best be ready to go Thursday night.

They face a Maria Carrillo team that is 11-5-2 overall and ranked No. 6 among North Coast Section Division 2 schools. And it’s a team that features UC Davis-bound Ryan Dieter.

“He’s unreal,” Fonzeca said.

The first time these two teams met, on Jan. 12, Fonzeca knew he had to focus his team’s defensive efforts on Dieter. But the coach said Dieter essentially lulled him into a false sense of security.

“We knew we had to know where Ryan was at all times,” he said.

With the score still tied at 0-0, Fonzeca gambled. Dieter made him pay.

“I felt like it was pretty even,” he said. “I kind of let loose and said, ‘All right, let’s just play.’”

Suddenly freed from special attention by the Knights, Dieter immediately scored, Fonzeca said.

“He’s great,” he said. “We treated him like a normal player and that didn’t work.

IF YOU GO

Maria Carrillo at Roseland University Prep

What: North Bay League-Redwood Division boys soccer

When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday

Where: Sonoma Academy

“It’s one thing to talk about stopping him, but it’s another thing to do it,” he said.

The Knights lost that game 3-0. It was the only game of the season with a larger-than-one goal differential, barring the Knights’ 6-3 win over Ukiah on Jan. 15.

It’s unclear if it will be good news or bad for the Knights that the Pumas come into the contest after a bit of a rough spell. After racing to a 5-0 start in league, with 11 goals scored and zero allowed, the Pumas fell 5-4 to Piner, then tied Analy 0-0 before losing 3-0 to Elsie Allen in a nonleague contest Saturday.

But in that stretch the Pumas crammed three games into four days. They beat El Molino 3-2 on Tuesday to snap out of it.

So the Knights face a team that not only would like to put the league title in the bag, but also perhaps a team wanting to make amends after a bit of a rough spell in the last week.

But that holds true for the Knights, too. Fonzeca said he’s still trying to impart to his team the message that perhaps unlike in years past, they need to be ready to play every team, every game. This division asks for nothing less.

Tuesday’s result proves that.

“If we don’t play hard, and are happy with where we are at, we’ll never continue to succeed,” he said. “If we are OK with where we are right now, I don’t like that. I want to continue to get better.”

The Knights’ biggest test of that message and their season starts at 6:30 p.m. Thursday night.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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