Valencia boys soccer beats Kennedy to keep Empire League race close – Orange County Register

PLACENTIA >> The Valencia boys soccer team scored on a penalty kick late in the first half and played one man down over the final 12 minutes in a key Empire League game against Kennedy on Friday at Valencia High School.

Thanks to good ball control, defense and goaltending, the Tigers hung on for a 1-0 victory.

“We’ve had our struggles giving up goals, so this is a big clean sheet today for us,” Valencia coach Barry Gardner said.

Even with a victory, Valencia (10-4-6, 5-0-3) remains in second place, behind Kennedy (15-2-2, 6-1-1), in the league standings. The Fighting Irish, ranked No. 1 in Division 4 of the CIF Southern Section, have 19 points and the Tigers have 18 points. Teams get three points for a win and one point for a tie.

The Tigers still have a chance to take over first place, but for that to happen they must win their final two league games, against Cypress and Crean Lutheran, and they need the Fighting Irish to lose or tie one of their final two games, against Tustin and Cypress.

“Both teams played with a lot of heart,” Kennedy coach Art Guiterrez said. “Both teams wanted it. Both teams are looking to get the league title and these are important points.”

Late in the first half, Valencia’s Carson Hammond was fouled hard inside the box, giving the Tigers a penalty kick. Hugo Galeana scored on the kick for what would be the game’s only goal.

The Tigers had success playing keep-away by making multiple passes on possessions.

The Fighting Irish frequently kicked the ball long on their possessions, but were rarely able to control the ball at the other end due to effective marking by the Tigers.

“We trained on it Wednesday and Thursday because we know that is what they were going to do,” Gardner said. “We did a good job with one guy marking that up and guys organizing behind him, so if there is a second ball, we can clean it up quickly.”

A Valencia player received two yellow cards for unsportsmanlike play. By rule, the player was issued a red card and was ejected, forcing the Tigers to play with one less player.

The situation placed more pressure on goalkeeper Christopher Dura, who made two big plays during a sequence in the game’s final minutes.

Dura jumped high to bat a ball away on a long free kick. Kennedy’s David Contreras, who was positioned in front of the net, controlled the ball before the Tigers could clear it, and he headed the ball toward the goal.

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