Nevada Wonders' coach Paul Aigbogun is tired of making excuses for his team losing games they should be winning. So maybe it's time for an opposing team's coach to make excuses for winning a game his team should've lost.
"They had us on the ropes tonight," California Gold coach Artie Cairel said of Nevada. "We were lucky to come out of here with the win. But we were able to get the three points we wanted and that's the most important thing."
On Saturday night, the Wonders played their best game of the season against their best opponent of the season. But California, which is in first place in the Pro Select League, used a goal from Erick Supnet in the 73rd minute to beat Nevada 2-1 in front of more than 300 fans at the Carson High soccer field.
"We should've been up 3-0 in the first half. It's just getting disappointing," said Aigbogun, whose team outshot the Gold 31-18. "What else can we do? It kind of comes down to luck. It seems the other teams always get lucky and we don't. But that's normally how it works for teams that are near the bottom of the league."
Nevada (1-10-1) remains in fourth place in the five team Southwest Division. And California (8-3-2) kept its slim lead over the Carolina Dynamo (8-1-1) for first place in the PSL, the United States' third level of professional soccer.
"We played well against the No. 1 team in the country in the third professional level," Aigbogun said. "Now we just got to find a way to win. I think it'll come."
It nearly came in the 10th minute when Ian Miller's shot from inside the box ricocheted off the crossbar and then was followed by Chris Blackburn's shot that was saved by California goalie Mark Torguson. Missing great opportunities has seemed to be a reoccurring theme for Blackburn, who has moved up front from his natural position as a center midfield since joining the Wonders. Since Nevada's 3-0 win over the BYU Cougars on May 30, Blackburn hasn't scored despite having numerous chances. A gifted and talented player, Blackburn is almost embarrassed by his scoring drought.
"I've had plenty of chances but just can't seem to score," Blackburn said. "I think it's coming."
After the Gold's Dabwiso Nkhona drilled a 25-yard direct kick past Nevada goalie Hassan Shabazz in the 59th minute to give his team a 1-0 lead, Blackburn found the equalizer two minutes later. Kirkwood Harris, a Carson High graduate, sent a bouncing ball for Blackburn, who half volleyed a shot over Torguson's head. Despite outshooting their last three opponents, it was the Wonders' first goal in three games.
Shabazz, who started in goal for regular Sebastian Rowe, denied Ryan Daley's shot in the 68th minute to keep the game tied. Less than a minute later, Nevada defender Landon Roser nearly pulled off the Wonders' own game winner after blasting a shot from 30 yards out that bounced off the far post, but was quickly cleared.
Supnet found the actual game winner four minutes after Roser's near goal. Some nifty skill displayed by Nkhona in the corner eventually led to his service across the box. It was collected by Martin Sims, who laid the ball off for Supnet, who pinged a shot off the far post and past Shabazz.
The Wonders had several late quality chances for yet another equalizer but couldn't find it. Anthony Grillo, a Reed High standout, came off the bench and had a shot nick off the bar in the 83rd minute. Three minutes later a Blackburn cross found the head of Sean Nealis, whose point-blank attempt in front of the goal missed wide right.
"They're a much improved team, almost a completely different than the first time we played them," said Cairel, whose team beat Nevada 4-0 on April 25. "Now we hope Nevada plays this well when they play Utah next weekend. We need them to help us."
The Wonders host the Utah Blitzz Friday night at 7:30 p.m. Utah (6-4-2), which beat Nevada 6-0 earlier this season, is in fourth place in the PSL, six points back of the Gold.
Notes...California coach Artie Cairel has had to juggle the occasional loss of three players who have been training with the MLS' San Jose Earthquakes. Dabwiso Nkhona, who scored the game's first goal on Saturday, has been playing with with San Jose, as has the Gold's leading scorer, Tony Bussard. Bussard, who leads the PSL with 12 goals and three assists, missed Saturday's game with an injury, as did Enrique Tovar, who also has been playing sporadically with the Earthquakes...Nevada midfielder Bernard Morley missed Saturday's game because the referee didn't think his picture was clear enough in the pregame introductions. Wonders' coach Paul Aigbogun said he was pleased with Hassan Shabazz' play in goal. The former Reed High star will take over the full time goalie duties once Sebastian Rowe's 90-day visa expires July 2 and returns to England...