Coronado boys soccer rides second-half resurgence to 3A state title

The Coronado soccer team poses for its team picture with the 3A state title after a 6-0 finals victory over Northwest Christian Feb. 15 at Williams Field High School in Gilbert. (Independent Newsmedia/Jacob Stanek)

After 90 minutes of scoreless soccer, Coronado High School boys soccer opened the floodgates.

Northwest Christian, in particular senior goalkeeper Ben Ogan, bottled up the Dons’ lethal attack for a half of the 3A state title game Friday, Feb. 15 at Williams Field High School in Gilbert.

But less than 90 seconds after the second half started, the game was out of reach. 21 seconds in, senior Adan Valle’s header met Ezekiel Perralta’s cross for the first goal.

A minute and six seconds later, junior Gabriel Gonzalez scored the first goal of his second-half hat trick and the Dons made the Crusaders’ zone their home. The onslaught did not stop until the final buzzer, signifying the 5-0 win for No. 3 seed Coronado.

“At halftime the discussion was super simple. It was take advantage of the half-spaces just inside of the wings and really pressure them between their center backs and fullbacks,” Coronado Head Coach Nick Barker said.

“We made that quick adjustment. I wasn’t expecting the result. It was a nervy first half for both teams, with a lot of half-chances for each squad.”

It was another night in the office for Gonzalez who, according to AZPreps365 writer Jose Garcia, finished the season with 58 goals.

Coronado’s Gabriel Gonzalez, left, celebrates after scoring a goal during the 3A Championship game against Northwest Christian on Feb. 15 at Williams Field High School in Gilbert. (Independent Newsmedia/Jacob Stanek)

He completed his hat trick in the final 10 minutes with a volley off senior Jonathan Plasencia’s cross and a turn and missile five minutes later.

“The key was everybody pressing. We knew we had the opportunities. We were just missing the final piece, which was pressing making the high pass and last run,” Gonzalez said.

Perralta set up the third goal as well, setting up a two-on-one against the Crusaders’ defense and sliding a pass over to junior Carlos Mendoza for the finish.

“Ben (Ogan) was amazing. We had mental breakdowns twice and we went down two early in that second half,”

Northwest Christian Head Coach Jeremy Witt said. “For us (chasing the game) is not going to work. We don’t have the firepower against a team like Coronado.”

No. 4 seed Northwest Christian ended a 46-game winning streak of top seed Yuma Catholic Feb. 13 just to make the finals. That 2-1 overtime win is a high point of the program.

“For us to get to the championship game and get through Yuma is beyond what we should have done. Everyone wrote us off going into that Yuma Catholic game,” Coach Witt said.

“Yuma and Coronado are the two top teams, in my opinion, in 3A. So for us to get where we are at, I’m beyond amazed at the boys and the way we played.”

After allowing these 3A juggernauts one goal in 140 minutes of play, the Crusaders did not have much left.

“It feels great. Honestly, I knew I had to give it my best for these guys,” Gonzalez said.

The Dons obliterated the competition to sweep to the state title with a seven-match winning streak. In four playoff games, they outscored opponents 24-3. All this comes after a 9-4 start.

“What I realized is, I had my tactics all wrong with them for two-thirds of the season. A lot of the issues we were running into were self-inflicted by me,” Coach Barker said.

“We essentially played a 4-4-2 to start and we got burned. If you look at our results, there are several games where we’ve given up a lot of goals. It wasn’t until about four weeks ago when we made the adjustment. We didn’t really have to do any implementation. The boys … it was all them.”

Coronado was the top program in 4A before moving down and, until the tactical switch, did not find their new environment easy. The Dons were state champions in 2014 and 2017.

“Being in 3A this year, we didn’t really know much about our opponents. We found a lot of very creative coaches, a lot of very good players and strong competition. We’re honored to be 3A champions and we look forward to what’s to come,” Coach Barker said.

A raucous crowd cheered on Coronado’s second half surge. It’s a Valley school that treats boys soccer like its marquee sport.

And the players seem to realize the special situation they are in.

“It’s a great group of boys that respect the game, respect the officials and respect the opponent. I’m privileged to coach them,” Coach Barker said. “They excel of all areas of life and I’m so proud of them.”

Editor’s Note: Mr. Smith is the editor of West Valley Preps.

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