Timing is everything in sports.
One second, too quick or too slow, could mean the difference in any ball game.
And, as a team, you want to make sure you are playing your best when it matters most.
The Dos Pueblos High girls soccer team did just that Monday evening at Scott O’Leary Stadium.
Taking on undefeated Lompoc, the Chargers were unfazed, putting together their best performance of the season in a 2-0 victory that now leaves them in control of their own destiny, as they move to the top of the Channel League table.
“We had a great team effort. Everyone was out there working their best and we connected really well throughout the entire game, which was awesome,” DP’s senior defender Emilia Kling said.
Now, with a win, Wednesday over rival Santa Barbara, the Chargers (8-4-4, 6-1-2) will lock up their second straight league title.
Santa Barbara (8-7-5, 5-3-1), currently in third place in the Channel League, can finish as high as second with a win Wednesday at DP and a Lompoc (10-1-6, 5-1-3) loss.
Kling had one of the hardest jobs out on the pitch Monday: finding a way to neutralize the reigning Channel League MVP, Ayziah Simmons.
The Braves’ senior striker is a threat to score at any given moment, and even when she doesn’t score, she still finds a way to make plays in the final third.
Last week against Santa Barbara, Simmons’ quickness allowed her to catch up to a deep pass, where she controlled the ball and then drew a foul in the box.
Lompoc would convert the subsequent penalty shot and win the match 1-0.
On Monday, however, the senior had hardly any space to operate.
DP’s backline, captained by Kling, one defender would always be back to stay in front of Simmons while another defender quickly dropped once she touched the ball to force her to make quick decisions.
Overall, Simmons registered just three shots on the evening, with one being on target.
“We all played really well. I think we held her off pretty well. She’s pretty fast but we stayed together and we were communicating and we were stepping well so we were able to make plays,” Kling said.
It also helped that the Chargers took control of the contest, quick and in a hurry.
Not even five minutes into the match, sophomore midfielder Gizela Zermeno stepped into a shot from about 30 yards out, and found the back of the net, firing it past the Lompoc keeper to quickly put her team on top, 1-0.
Zermeno made a slew of plays throughout the evening, playing with a nice pass and always making the right decisions.
The Chargers had a few chances to get an insurance goal in the first half, with their best look coming in the 36th minute when Precious Nwosu passed a ball into the 18 to senior co-captain Barbara Gonzalez, who fired the shot trying to find the left corner of the net but instead found the Lompoc keeper.
In the second half, DP continued looking like the better team, continually making more runs and getting in the way of Lompoc’s best offensive players.
It would not take long for the Chargers to find their second goal, however. In the 46th minute, Zermeno served a corner kick into the box which first found Kling.
Kling then headed the ball to the near post, finding teammate Gigi Kinnaman. The junior defender then put a shot on frame with a header but it was blocked away by Lompoc’s keeper.
Unfortunately, the scramble for the ball found Nwosu, who put a right foot to it and easily guided the Chargers to a 2-0 lead.
“We kind of aim to hit it toward the front of the box, either to get the goal or for someone to finish it,” Kling said.
Trailing 2-0, something they had not faced this season, the Braves were incapable of finding one shot to get them back into the contest.
They would routinely play the ball up too quickly for any forward to try to make a play or just be a bit too late to find an open teammate.
DP’s senior goalkeeper Isabella Vasquez also put forth a great performance. Any time a Lompoc player would put a shot on frame, she was there to shoo it away.
In the final 10 minutes of the contest, Vasquez blocked a ball that found Simmons inside the six-yard box.
Simmons tried to slot it past Vasquez, who was on the ground, and did so. Unfortunately, the shot was just a bit too wide, highlighting the trouble Lompoc had all day.
“This is a tough league with tough competition,” Lompoc coach Jason Cochrane said after the game.
“To even get to 16 games and not be beaten is a (heck) of a feat. And (Monday) we didn’t have our best game. Both the goals that we conceded were goals that came off our mistakes. Credit to DP, they were ready to pounce on those mistakes right away. They were the better team.
“It’s a tough one to swallow, especially this late in the season, but now we have to move on.”
While the loss hurts, ultimately, Cochrane hopes this hardship could motivate his team before Wednesday’s season finale and before postseason play.
“There’s something to be said about losing a match this late in the season so you know how to react to being down and you know how to react to being in that situation. We love positive results, as far as cohesiveness we need to be playing a little bit better going into the playoffs, otherwise, it will be a short exit,” Cochrane said.
Lompoc has made the postseason the last five seasons and has lost in the first round each year.
For DP, locking up the crown is the number one priority and with a chance to beat its crosstown rival in order to accomplish that goal has the team excited.
“It’s going to be a big game, especially because it’s senior night. There’s going to be a lot of emotions riding on it and I think our team does a good job at harnessing those emotions and being able to play in the moment,” DP coach Seth Asuncion said.