In the 2019 boys soccer season, the Taft 7-12 Tigers have had an undefeated regular season, won the District Championship, claimed eight post-season awards and made it to the semifinals of the OSAA State Playoffs. Saying this is a historic year for Taft soccer may be somewhat of an understatement.
“I can't say it enough about how proud I am of these boys,” head coach Ryan Ulicni said. “They have truly shown what a team can become and what they can accomplish when you put in the effort, believe in yourself and never give up.”
Taft's round one win over Central Linn put them in a second round game against Riverdale Saturday, Nov. 9. Riverdale eliminated the Tigers from the quarterfinals in the 2017 State Playoffs and was coming off a 1-0 victory in the first round.
“I know that Riverdale has been at this level before and having played us as well, so we knew it would be a challenging match up,” Ulicni said.
In the first half, Fuentes got the Tigers on the board with a goal that gave Taft a 1-0 lead going into the half. In the second half, Riverdale scored on a scramble at the net that saw the ball trickle in after some physical play. After that, the momentum shifted in favor of the visiting Mavericks.
“We have experienced this before and talked about it greatly in practices on how to get ourselves back into playing the game the best we know how,” Ulicni said. “It was fantastic to see the team pull together and bring it back under control. A game like this being so end-to-end packed with action and fouls it was only going to take one moment to change it.”
And that moment came late in the game when the Riverdale goalkeeper got out of position, allowing senior Edson Fuentes to sneak behind him, receive a long pass and punch it in for the game winning goal.
“Edson stepped up in one of the big moments and skillfully made the wining goal and on the other end the whole team played together and worked out of the back, which was nice to see.”
The 2-1 victory in front of their home crowd set Taft up with a semifinal matchup with unbeaten Catlin Gabel on Nov. 12, marking the Tigers furthest trip in the playoffs, according to Ulicni. But Taft will be facing a whole new level of competition when the two teams meet at Catlin Gabel tonight, given each team holds an identical 17-0 season record.
The gameplan for the Tigers? Just keep doing the things that has got them to this point.
"If we can just remember to play the game we know, expect that things are going to go wrong, work together as a team to overcome them, it is going to be an exciting match," Ulicni said.
Throughout the playoffs, the Taft coaching staff has been impressed with the improved play of all the individuals on the team, especially the defenders.
“Captain and senior Estib Hernandez has been a great leader as one of the center defenders, Ethan Thomas has provided a powerful energy always being in support and communicating, Ivan Cortez and Adam Lascano have secured their spots on the outside where you can always count on them to do the work on the line and helping out in the middle,” Ulicni said. “Then there is goalkeeper Sam Cortes, who has come up huge in a lot of key moments and done such a fantastic job. He is setting records with his defense on shutting teams down.”