When the referee gave his whistle three short blasts to signal the end of the soccer game, half of the Spokane Shadow players dropped to the turf at Albi Stadium in disappointment.
San Gabriel Valley goaltender Tudor Cezar kissed the goal posts.
“And he should have,” Spokane forward Dave Berto said.
Berto was one of the Shadow players who beat Cezar only to have the post save Cezar.
In fact, the goal bars made four stops and Cezar made seven, some spectacular, as the Highlanders beat the Shadow 1-0 Saturday before 1,875 fans at the USISL Premier League West Division championship game.
It marked the second year in a row the Shadow’s season ended in the national tournament qualifying game.
“That post was huge tonight,” Berto said. “It was like a magnet. An inch and it’s a blowout. It had the potential to be a blowout.”
The Shadow controlled the game from the outset but the tone was set early when Shadow midfielder Ryan Edwards hit the crossbar in the second minute. The game wasn’t 20 minutes old when Tim Seeley volleyed the ball from just outside the right corner of the penalty box to the left post, Berto headed the ball to the middle of the goal and Jeff Rose headed the ball into the crossbar.
In the 61st minute, Berto sent a rocket past the animated and vocal Cezar directly into the left post, and the ball rebounded past Berto so fast he never had a chance for a second shot.
The feeling built that something bad was bound to happen, and eventually it did.
One Highlander got the ball behind the defense and Shadow keeper Pete van de Ven was forced to make a play. He did, taking out Vrezh Shakbandaryan inside the box. The call resulted in a penalty kick, which Sarkis Banyan drilled past van de Ven in the 73rd minute.
“Maybe I was a little bit too aggressive,” van de Ven said. “They’re a good team. The ball rolled the right way for them and it rolled the wrong way for us. Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.”
The Shadow never quit pressing, and twice in the final 10 minutes Cezar tipped shots over the cross bar.
“He got the shutout, he made things look entertaining for the crowd,” Shadow coach Sean Bushey said of Cezar. “We pounded him and pounded him, give him credit.”
Cezar, a Romanian, didn’t stop with a salute to the soccer gods on the goal he defended in the second half, but marched to the other end of the field and kissed the other goal posts.
“We’re a good team but when it comes down to it you have to put the ball in the net and, for whatever reasons, we didn’t do it,” Shadow defender and captain Stuart Rose said. “You can say we’re the better team but they put the ball in the net.”
The Shadow finished with 19 shots to nine for the Highlanders.
“A penalty kick, four off the bar, the ball in their end the whole time, that’s just the breaks of the game,” Bushey said. “We had the run of the game, they had the penalty kick. That was their only shot in the second half. It’s tough to take.
“We defended very well. they got a few shots off but we played in their half of the field. What more can you say. It’s disappointing right now but we have to walk away and say we played well.”
Craig Waibel, who dropped back to defense when Lane Jerdahl’s ailing back kept him from playing, said, “There comes a point in the game where you start to feel nothing is going to go in no matter how you shoot it, not to take anything from their goalie. He played a great game. It felt like that at the final whistle. It was just one of those days.”
Most disappointing for Spokane was the way the Shadow dominated a team of veteran foreign players. The Highlanders dressed nine Armenians, five players from Iran, a Romanian and a Russian.
“Based on how I heard they played, I thought they may be able to possess (the ball) better, string passes together and get in behind us,” Saunders said.
Bushey added, “I expected more from them.”
In the other two divisional finals, the Mid-Michigan Bucks defeated the Des Moines Menace 3-0, and the Cocoa, Fla., Expos edge the Jackson, Miss., Chargers 2-1. Bushey’s brother plays for Jackson… . In the national finals beginning Friday in San Luis Obispo, Calif., Mid-Michigan, the No. 1 seed, plays the Central Coast Roadrunners, the host team, and Cocoa plays second-seeded San Gabriel Valley.
Highlanders 1, Shadow 0
First half - none. Second half - 1, San Gabriel Valley, Sarkis Banyan, penalty kick, 73:00.
Shots - SGV 9, Spokane 19. Saves - Tudor Cezar (SGV) 7, Pete van de Ven (Spokane) 5. Attn. - 1,875.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
MEMO: On deck San Gabriel Valley advances to the national tournament in San Luis Obispo, Calif.