It may have been the first official game of the 2021-22 season, but Bret Harte and Venture Academy were playing as if a playoff spot was on the line.
Both teams played an extremely physical brand of soccer. The physicality eventually spilled over into some unsportsmanlike moments, which resulted in multiple yellow cards and two red cards. And after 80 minutes of physical soccer, it was Venture Academy who was able to hold on for a 2-1 win over the Bullfrogs Friday night at Dorroh Field in Angels Camp.
“This was a very physical game and I’m really proud of my boys for going as hard as they did,” Bret Harte senior Matthew Barajas said. “We made sure to go 100% the whole game and I have no doubt that we played our hardest.”
Junior Ezra Radabaugh spent the fall wearing a helmet and pads as a member of the Bret Harte football team and during the season, he absorbed his fair share of big hits. Friday’s game against Venture Academy must have been deja vu back to the football season, as Radabaugh routinely was taken to the ground.
“A lot of people doubt soccer with its physicality,” Radabaugh said. “I still get beat up playing soccer. Maybe not as much as in football, but I get knocked down 10 or 15 times a game. It’s hard out there.”
Venture Academy had a game plan that may have been effective on the field, but quickly bothered those in attendance. It became obvious that once Venture Academy got a 1-0 lead with 19:19 to play in the first half, the visiting squad did all it could do to slow down the tempo of the game, sometimes bringing it to a screeching halt.
That strategy proved to be helpful as time became a factor and the Bullfrogs needed every extra second they could get in order to try and tie the game before time ran out.
“It’s no secret that it’s deliberate,” Bret Harte head coach Jeff Gouveia said. “They’re not slowing the game down just because they don’t feel like moving fast. They were running the clock out. It frustrated everybody; the whole bench and the whole crowd when you have the opposing team unnecessarily delaying the game. It’s unsportsmanlike and it’s bad soccer, frankly. I would be embarrassed to be that coach and have my kids play that way.”
Gouveia was not embarrassed by the way his players performed in the opening game of the season. The Bullfrogs started a little slow in the first half and trailing 1-0 at the midway point, Gouveia told his players that they needed to play a little faster and were about 20% slower than their opponents.
“I applaud my guys,” Gouveia said. “They battled bell-to-bell. We came out a little soft in the beginning. I always tell them that when you travel, it’s hard to get off the bus and to be ready to jump and go and that seemed to be the case this time playing at home.”
The physicality of the game started to become noticeable in the final 40 minutes. The Bullfrogs did all they could do to tie the game early in the second half, but a wide penalty kick was a missed opportunity to put a point on the board.
Venture Academy scored its second goal with 25:04 to play and the Bullfrogs were running out of time to come back from a two-goal deficit. The more time started to tick off the clock, the more tempers started to flair and red cards were handed out, both of which went to Venture Academy players.
“Honestly, I don’t think the refs were card-happy,” Barajas said. “The way they (Venture Academy) were playing, it looked like they were just going for the fouls. They were talking a lot and saying a lot of bad things. It’s really hard to play against and keep your cool, but I think we tried our best to do that tonight.”
The Bullfrogs made their loudest statement with 10:11 to play in the game. Radabaugh spun around a Venture Academy defender and blasted a shot into the back of a vacant goal for Bret Harte’s only score of the night.
“Everyone crashed in and I saw the goalie coming up, so I booted it a little bit to the forward, spun around them, and the ball got past them and I just tapped it right in,” Radabaugh said.
In regards to the importance of Radabaugh’s goal, Gouveia said, “That was what we needed in that moment after missing that PK and being down 2-0. We needed a goal and that’s what Ezra can do for this team and repeatedly does. That’s why he plays in the position that he does. It takes a lot of confidence and it takes skill and he combined that and was able to convert for us.”
The Bullfrogs had momentum after the Radabaugh goal, but were unable to find the back of the net for the remainder of the game.
“In the first half, we felt a little slow and couldn’t build as much,” Barajas said. “In the second half, it felt like we were pressing a lot harder and it forced them to give a couple of balls away. After the goal, we were really pressing hard, but unfortunately, we couldn’t get it back.”