LA CANADA — Playing to a draw has become commonplace in Rio Hondo League girls' soccer play this season. Going into the final league games of the year, the two undefeated teams on top, San Marino and South Pasadena, had played each other twice without a winner.
"I personally am not a big fan of ties at all," South Pasadena Coach Eva Dixon said, "and I think the sport of soccer should get rid of them like many sports have. If you end the way you started, what really happened?"
However, rather than putting itself in a place to possibly snatch the Rio Hondo crown from San Marino, South Pasadena accomplished an improbable feat that it probably would have liked to avoid. On Thursday, South Pasadena went on the road and played La Cañada, ending in a 1-1 tie. The result means the Tigers (8-7-5, 5-0-5) are undefeated in league play but come in second to the Titans, who set the final standings in stone with a 4-1 victory over the Wildcats later that evening.
"As far as I'm concerned," Dixon said, "the girls learned the message of those ties and how painful they can be."
The Tigers scored first on a successful penalty kick by senior Jessica Moog. The penalty was called on Megan Decker for an accidental handball near the top of the box as the Spartans looked to clear the ball. Moog then took the shot, driving it to the right of Spartans goalkeeper Kristen Becker, who was playing just her fifth game minding the net.
The Spartans (9-5-3, 5-3-2) almost got the equalizer two minutes later, when Katrina Davis took a pass from Miranda Dimase-Nordling and shot it on goal, only to see Tigers goalie Angelique Ulmer dive to the ground going left to save the ball and the lead.
However, La Cañada did tie the game up before the break on a set piece. Olivia Leyva took a long free kick from the middle of the pitch, sending it straight down the middle, through a mass of bodies, to Natalie Ragusa, who was behind the defense and struck the ball on her first touch as she turned toward the goalmouth, sending it into the right side of the net.
"I think [the Tigers] were bigger and stronger and that did make a difference in the game, but they didn't have a lot of shots on goal," Spartans Coach Louis Bilowitz said.
Soon after, the Tigers came tantalizingly close to going ahead again when Jackie Mejia sent a long-distance high-arcing shot that came straight down on Becker standing on her line. The ball struck her hands and rebounded into the underside of the crossbar, but never crossed the goal line. So, not surprisingly, the teams were even at half.
The second half became increasingly physical on both sides. It was the Tigers who built the most quality chances. The best came from Moog early on, when she dribbled the ball down the left side and drove a hard shot on the ground, only to see Becker stand her ground and knock the ball harmlessly back into play with her feet.
"My girls needed this just to guarantee we were in the playoffs," Bilowitz said, "and I think they played with a lot of heart."
Both teams pushed hard until the end, but once again a key Rio Hondo girls' soccer contest ended in a draw, cementing South Pasadena into second place just ahead of the third-place Spartans.
"The truth is we should have put this team away definitively so it wouldn't be an issue," Dixon said. "That's what we are going to work on going on into the postseason."