It had been 21 months since the last regular season men's soccer game played by the Pasadena City College men's soccer team. On Saturday, the Lancers made their return to play in a 3-2 loss at Taft College that opened the 2021 season.
PCC had closed out the 2019 season on a high, going 5-1-3 in its last nine games and was undefeated at 3-0-2 over the final contests. Somehow Pasadena head coach Gerry Mora kept his recruits, '19 redshirts, and a core group of five lettermen from the '19 team engaged during online-only instruction/coaching for most of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the layoff and only a brief period of time of in-person practices prior to the start of the season, Mora's Lancers appear to be as competitive as ever.
Carrying a 25-man roster, the Lancers took just 53 seconds to get on the board v. Taft, a program that has perenially been one of the North Region's top programs including a No. 3 playoff seed in 2018. It was a connection between sophomores with midfielder Martin Manzanilla making a brilliant move to feed striker Asher Smith for a 1-0 PCC lead. Manzanilla scored five goals as a starter in 2019 while Smith has greatly improved since his work as a freshman two years ago.
After Taft tied it, it was Smith's turn to make a key pass as he assisted on returning All-South Coast Conference Second Team midfielder Mario Urbina's goal to regain the Lancers lead at 2-1 in the 26th minute. Urbina led the '19 Lancers in scoring with seven goals and 10 assists.
PCC frosh goalie Paul Jing (Temple City High), who took the spot once occupied by PCC's All-SCC First Team netminder Steven Sandoval who graduated in 2019, made his presence known by making an outstanding stop on a penalty kick in the first half that maintained the Lancers lead. Jing finished with seven saves.
As the Lancers felt the effects of a scorching, 100-degree temperature at Taft, the Cougars used their home advantage to get the edge in the second half. Taft tied it in the 56th minute, then Elijah Espinoza scored what proved to be the winning goal with 10 minutes left.
Despite the loss, Mora, in his fourth season directing the team and sixth year as part of the coaching staff, was excited about his team's performance.
"We had a great start of the game," he said. "Collectively, we were working very hard. We had nine freshmen debut v. Taft and they stepped up huge. We made two mistakes off set pieces by Taft that cost us, but these are simple errors that we can fix. It was really satisfying to finally get back on that field for the players and the coaches. I'll take the type of effort we exhibited anytime."
The Lancers opening-day starting lineup featured freshmen in defenders Cameron Montana (Monrovia HS), Erik Perez (South El Monte), Roger Faustino (Arroyo HS), Emilio Ramirez and midfielders Seth Sandoval (Monrovia), Kareem Browne (Monrovia), Elias Galaviz. Seeing playing time off the bench were letterman midfielder Danny Vargas, sophomore defender Edward Morales, returning striker Ronaldo Chavez, frosh midfielders Nathan Cruz (a 2-time, All-CIF Division V selection) and Andy Garcia, both from Baldwin Park High, and first-year midfielder Christian Chavez (Arroyo).
Mora said two newcomers to watch are Galaviz, a center midfielder who scored a hat trick in a game earlier this year as a prep senior at Burbank Burroughs High, and Morales, who plays left back on defense and is a product of Arcadia High.
Off the bench, PCC has a familiar face from four years ago in 2017 then starting goalie Andrew Espinoza (2.22 goals against average, 52 saves in 14 games).
The Lancers next play Tuesday, Aug. 31 at Southwestern College with a 4 p.m. kickoff. PCC's home opener is Friday, Sept. 3 v. College of the Desert, a 3 p.m. start at Robinson Stadium. Pasadena does not begin South Coast Conference play until October 5 v. Rio Hondo College.