If there was a player of the game award handed out – and there wasn’t – it would definitely have gone to Modesto JC goalkeeper Alonso Lara.
His 10 saves proved to be the biggest number of Tuesday’s scoreless tie against the Taft Cougars.
“The keeper was their best player,” Cougar coach Angelo Cutrona said. “He had a strong leg, and had some really long punts.”
Lara was Modesto’s best – and perhaps only – offensive threat because the Pirates did not attack. Instead, they put 10 players around Lara to frustrate a Cougar team that wins with finesse.
“It was a shocker to have absolutely no one challenge us,” Cutrona said. “I thought we were clearly the better team, and they must have also felt that. I think they came in with a game plan of tying us.
“Because of the strategy we use, teams will do that sort of thing, but I wasn’t expecting it from minute one.”
The tactic disrupted TC’s rhythm but didn’t keep the Cougars from getting in their licks.
They just weren’t successful.
“We played pretty well,” Cutrona said. “We had 15 shots on goal, so the chances were there. We just couldn’t move the ball quick enough to challenge 10 players. Usually, you are challenging one or two players – maybe three – but we had 10 to contend with.”
The Cougars missed two open-net shots.
The first came in the 12th minute and might have changed the complexion of the game.
“Our guy could have dribbled in closer, but he rushed it and the shot went wide,” Cutrona said. “The other one went wide too.”
“It left us with a bad taste in our mouths, but it didn’t cost us. We felt like it was a loss and they felt like it was a win for them. In fact, they celebrated pretty darn good. I haven’t seen a team that celebrated a tie that hard.”
Cutrona’s glad it happened now because usually that type of strategy occurs in the playoffs.
“We expect that in the playoffs, but you don’t usually see it in regular season. In the end, we had a game plan and didn’t execute it, and they had a game plan and did.”
It was the first time this season the Cougars have been shut out and the seventh game in a row they have held their opponent scoreless.
The scoreless standoff helped both teams in the state power rankings.
The Cougars – the only undefeated team in the state along with City College of San Francisco – moved from No. 2 to No. 1 while the Pirates jumped from No. 13 to No. 7.
San Francisco, which has been playing tag with TC for the top spot for several weeks, defeated No. 34 Gavilan and slipped a notch.
The TC-Modesto game was a conference crossover. In addition to playing the three other members of the Central Valley Conference (Fresno, Sequoias and West Hills-Lemoore), the Cougars play four consecutive games with the Big 8 Conference.
The fourth is today in Stockton against San Joaquin Delta (7-5-2).
The Cougars resume CVC action next Friday (Oct. 26) when they host Sequoias.
Cutrona is expecting more 10-man defensive tactics between now and the first round of playoffs Nov. 17.