RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA – There may not be many more crushing or frustrating ways for a season to end than what happened to the San Clemente girls soccer team on Tuesday night, Feb. 14.
With less than two minutes remaining in the second overtime period, less than two minutes away from a potential tie-breaking penalty-kick shootout, Santa Margarita was awarded a controversial penalty kick, which the Eagles buried to defeat San Clemente, 2-1, in a CIF-SS Division 1 quarterfinal at Santa Margarita Catholic High School.
“It was stolen from us,” San Clemente coach Stacey Finnerty said. “We dominated that overtime, and it was stolen from us. For a ref to stop the game and listen to the side judge, I’ve never seen anything like that at any level in my life.”
In the 98th minute of play, a foul was committed at the top edge of the left side of the San Clemente box. While the referee called for a stoppage, he did not initially award the deciding penalty kick. After conferring with the side judge, which happened to be on Santa Margarita’s side of the field, the referee then awarded the penalty kick.
“To do that, no one does that in any soccer game I know. No one in a golden goal calls a PK at the top of the box. You’d have to punch someone in the face,” Finnerty said. “(The head referee) didn’t see it from the field. He asked some side judge, who’s going to OK a PK for a golden-goal win? That is absolutely unheard of. I coached long enough, watched enough, played long enough to know that was stolen from us.”
Throughout the night, San Clemente controlled the pace of play and was much more dangerous than Santa Margarita, with numerous forays up the field and balls played into the Eagles’ area, including three collisions with the Santa Margarita goalkeeper.
Santa Margarita’s only goal in the run of play came off a San Clemente miscue in the 14th minute, as the Tritons goalkeeper didn’t get full contact on a clearing attempt on a trip out of the net. The ball went right to the foot of an Eagles attacker, who sent it to the back of the empty net for the lead.
San Clemente had several opportunities off long free kicks, but the Tritons couldn’t finish any opportunities until a Santa Margarita mistake in the second half.
Santa Margarita had trouble clearing out a San Clemente crossing pass, and it was Rachel Millard that pounced on the open ball and zinged it to the right side of the net to level the score, 1-1, in the 55th minute.
The Tritons had another goal called offside in the 69th minute, and again, despite push after push, San Clemente couldn’t find that extra finishing touch in the later stages and frustrating overtime.
“Obviously, we should’ve finished a bunch of chances so we’re 3-0 and don’t have to go into overtime. We get that,” Finnerty said. “There’s all those things, but in championship games, that’s what it comes down to. It comes down to tight games, it comes down to overtimes. So, for a ref to make a call like that instead of allowing these girls to earn it?”
San Clemente’s season finishes after a triumphant late push to a second consecutive South Coast League title and a first-round shutout of Roosevelt, 2-0, last week.
“I told my girls that they’re champions,” Finnerty said. “They had a whole year of success. They have a friendship that’s amazing. They live in the town that they grew up in, that they’re tight. I love what we have, and I wouldn’t give it up. We take the loss now, but I think in life we have the championship.”