MILTON — The scoreboard read "Cambridge 3, Gainesville 0." But those attending the two teams’ Class 6A boys soccer semifinal showdown of nationally-ranked teams may have walked out of Cambridge Stadium feeling unfulfilled.
The No. 1-ranked Bears' goals came on a pair of penalty kick goals, one in each half, sandwiched around a rebound goal late in the match. Meanwhile, the Red Elephants had a penalty kick goal nullified midway through the first half that would have tied the game. Also, a red card against senior Cambridge star John Crawley with 33 minutes remaining did not result in the loss of a player for the Bears.
The Red Elephants’ non-goal came after Pedro Santos was pulled down in the Bears box after stealing a Cambridge pass with 21:27 left. Edwin Garcia appeared to tie the game at 1-1, scoring on a rebound off an apparent save by Bears keeper Nic Sides. But the refs ruled that Sides had not touched the ball, which also struck the left post, and nullified the rebound score.
The final PK goal for the Bears, with just 2:10 left in the match, was awarded after Gainesville keeper Augustin Garcia made a tremendous punch save on a shot by Reece Degen. But the refs ruled that a Red Elephants player had committed a foul in the box after the play was over.
Gainesville coach Elie Viviant was left shaking his head while his players were still trying to decipher what had happened.
“[On the nullified goal] (The refs) told me (the keeper) had not touched the ball, but it looked from our position that he had. [On the second Cambridge PK goal] no one was looking in the box because of the great save by Augustin so who knows. In any other league except high school our goal counts and that second PK never happens,” Viviant said. “I’m not happy with the decisions on those plays, but there was really nothing I could do. That’s why home-field advantage is important.
“The red card was given during a stoppage in play so that’s why they did not lose a man. But he wasn’t allowed to play anymore. That was the right call, per the rules.”
Still, what might have been in what some were calling not just the de facto Class 6A title game but the overall match to decide state supremacy. A tied match with 61 minutes left involvng two of the top 15 ranked teams in the nation would have made for an instant classic.
It was not meant to be, however.
After a back-and-forth affair for the first 13 minutes, Cambridge got the first major break when Gainesville’s Cristian Jaimes brought down Crawley inside the box after a long ball and run down the right side. Ethan Rose then buried the PK shot past Augustin Garcia with 26:10 left in first half for a 1-0 lead.
Less than six minutes later Gainesville got its goal/non-goal and the two teams traded 10 shots on goal apiece combined with 12 more total shots until there was just five minutes left.
Garcia pulled off 10 saves on the night and kept the Red Elephants in the match until the very end. Sides was also equal to the task, stopping eight Gainesville efforts, including a furious four-minute stretch early in the second half.
Gainesville defender Erick Serrato got the sequence started with a beautiful, sliding block of a Cambridge shot inside the Gainesville box that broke for a Red Elephants run and an Edwin Garcia shot from 10 yards that Sides dove to stop in the 54th minute. Moments later, after a Cambridge turnover at midfield, Armando Hernandez nearly drilled the equalizer, but Sides made a full layout, diving stop of Hernandez's 25-yard left-footed rocket in the 55th minute.
Gainesville put three more shots on target over the next three minutes, including a curling effort by Edwin Garcia that slid just over the bar in the 52nd minute. The Red Elephants continued to press the attack while Cambridge nursed the clock and its one-goal lead all the way until the final five minutes.
Jarvin Ramirez then dashed any real chance of a Gainesville comeback, burying a rebound past Garcia off a deflected shot by Degen with 5:15 remaining for a 2-0 lead. The Bears sealed it for good three minutes later with Degen’s second goal on a PK shot.
“We felt we really outplayed them for a good part of the match,” Viviant said. “Both keepers were very good. If our PK goal stands it’s a tie game and everything changes. It’s a little disappointing with the way the calls went, but for most of the match we were right there.”