On Saturday night, the Southern California Seahorses were a completely different team than the one on May 10 that tied the Nevada Wonders 1-1. Unfortunately for Nevada, they were a completely better team.
Josh McLeish and Jason Hotchkin both scored first-half goals as Southern California continued its recent turnaround with a 2-0 win in front of more than 300 fans at the Carson High soccer field.
"This was the same team (as on May 10), we just played better," said coach Dave McLeish, whose team won the Western Conference last season before losing in the PDL national semifinals. "Because of all the success we had last year, I think we came out the first three games of the season a little overconfident. Now we're starting to play a lot better, like we were last year. And we're going to have to if we want to stay in it."
The Seahorses, who lost to the California Gold of the Pro Select League on Friday night in Modesto, Calif., remain in second place in the Southwest Division standings with a 5-3-2 record. They started the season 0-1-1. The Wonders, who dropped to 1-8-1, are still in fourth place, one point ahead of the last place BYU Cougars, who lost both games to the first-place Fresno Fuego this weekend in Provo, Utah.
"Nevada has gotten a lot better, too," Dave McLeish said. "I think they're going to be a force in the future."
Perhaps, but only when it finds a goal scorer. For the second straight game, the Wonders had enough chances to pull out a win. But for the second straight game, they didn't score any of them.
"It hurts when you can't score," said Nevada coach Paul Aigbogun. "We should've scored a couple of times before they even scored. But at this level, not finishing comes back to haunt you. It was the same thing against Fresno (last week). We outshot them 28-8 but they come away with a 3-0 win. I don't know what the statistics are for this game but I'm sure we had more dangerous chances than they did."
In the 8th minute, Antonio Mora slotted a ball inside the Seahorses' penalty box for Chris Blackburn, who took a few touches before missing a shot that should've been the game's first goal. Then in the 19th minute, Mora found Ernesto Oliden inside the box but his shot went right at Southern California's keeper. In the 25th minute, Richie Delgado had a nice chip that nearly beat the keeper but landed over the bar. A minute later Delgado laid a ball off for Blackburn, whose wide-open shot went right at the keeper.
All of these bouts of pressure by Nevada and nothing to show for it resulted in the Seahorses going up 1-0 in the 28th minute off a fluke goal. Josh McLeish ran down a loose ball near midfield that was bouncing out of bounds. He saved it with a well-struck ball than soared about 50 yards toward the Wonders' goal. But after soaring, it dropped into the goal and on the back side of goalie Sebastian Rowe, who was caught off his line. In the 34th minute, Hotchkin made a couple of nifty moves in the offensive third, then blasted a 25-yard shot that beat Rowe to the near post.
"Really, I think 'Seb' should've gotten both shots," Aigbogun said. "He just made a few mistakes he normally doesn't make."
Southern California dominated much of the second half, stringing passes together while making Nevada chase. While neither team generated consistent scoring chances, the Wonders should've scored late. In the 82nd minute, they had a flurry of opportunities inside the box. Delgado had a shot that landed off target, then Bernard Morley missed a shot from three-yards out and Blackburn missed one that was knocked out for a corner kick. All were uncontested shots within seconds of each other and all of them never found the net.
The Wonders' next game is Saturday against the San Diego Gauchos of the Pro Select League. Their next home game is June 21 against the California Gold.