By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Entering a difficult second half of the men’s soccer season, Sonoma State needed better play than the Seawolves produced Friday in a home loss to UC San Diego.
Yielding a pair of soft scores and failing to get shots on goal was not a recipe for success against the Tritons, who lead the California Collegiate Athletic Association South with the conference’s best record.
Sonoma State entered the match tied for first place in the CCAA North. The Seawolves must regain rhythm on offense and determination on defense in a push for the conference tournament and a possible NCAA postseason bid.
“We’ve got to stay positive and be creative. That’s what’s been working for us,” said Sonoma State midfielder Nico Spann, out of Montgomery High. “We’ve definitely struggled a bit the last few games.”
The 2-0 loss left Sonoma State winless in its past four contests.
The Seawolves came out strong against UC San Diego. Then an unlucky goal and a letdown on defense had the Seawolves battling from behind against a Tritons squad that has only given up four goals in 11 games on the season.
Even with a two-goal cushion, UC San Diego kept pressuring Sonoma State with speed and sharp passing to complement a rugged defense.
“Our No. 1 goal is to shut teams down. It was nice to get a lead,” said Evan Walker, who scored the Tritons’ first goal and figured in the other.
The matchup of conference leaders was decided by a more consistent level of play. UC San Diego matched Sonoma State’s early effort and maintained the momentum with the Seawolves searching for a spark.
What turned the contest to the Tritons was an offensive burst off another early defensive stand.
Taking a long ball down the left sideline, Walker beat his defender to the end line and put a shot on goal. The blocked shot bounced in the goal mouth and an attempted clear spun up to the crossbar and down into the goal.
With the Seawolves coaches encouraging players to mark Tritons players tighter, Sonoma State picked up the pressure. Still, while controlling play for a 10-minute stretch, Sonoma State couldn’t create an extra pass or find an open man for the goal that would even the match.
Thwarting the Sonoma State attack were four defenders who repeatedly cut off crosses and serves. UC San Diego also kept a forward back to limit the Seawolves’ playmaking midfielders.
“We know how to break them down. But they’re solid,” said Sonoma State forward Michel Arroyo, out of Calistoga High.
Another long ball off a defensive stop put UC San Diego up by two with just under 14 minutes to go in the first half. On the right side this time, Walker worked around a defender for a shot on goal. Sonoma State goalkeeper Beau Diaz slid to block the attempt that deflected off a player to Tsuk Haroush, who banged in the rebound.
While shots were at a premium on both ends, Sonoma State couldn’t get one on goal. After a strong offensive showing earlier this season, the Seawolves are now searching for offense.
Winning second-chance balls and finding midfielders to build runs is critical to Sonoma State’s possession game. The Seawolves aren’t big, but they are skilled.
Coming out aggressive in the second half, Sonoma State was sharp and determined. UC San Diego matched the effort.
“We have to work harder and score goals,” Spann said. “We battled. It’s unfortunate.”
With the win, UC San Diego gained a tighter hold on one of four berths for the conference tournament. The Tritons haven’t been there since 2005.
“Beating Sonoma is really big. Sonoma’s always a tough team to play,” Walker said.
Sonoma State needs to take advantage of three home contests before finishing the conference campaign with three on the road.
“I thought we started out well. We worked a lot harder in the second half,” said Sonoma State coach Marcus Ziemer. “We’ve got to bounce back Sunday.”