IEFC gets a vital win to continue their playoff race as they beat Cal FC 2-1.
Two top 5 teams from the UPSL Premier SoCal North were set to battle for a playoff spot with 2 matches left to go in the season. Cal FC came to the game as the better side as they were in 3rd place with 17 points, 5 wins, 2 draws, and 1 loss with a goal difference of +5. A win would be crucial for a playoff spot as they are behind 2nd place Santa Ana Winds by 1 point and OCFC by 3 points. Meanwhile, IEFC is slightly lower in most regards but still is in a playoff hunt. Being in 4th place, IEFC has 14 points with 4 wins, 2 draws, and 2 losses with a goal difference of +2. A win alone with 2 games remaining is not enough for the Inland Empire team. In terms of form, Cal FC is on a 2 game winning streak with a 6-2 win over USA Soccer Stars last weekend. Meanwhile, for IEFC, they are also on a 2 game winning streak but are on a 5 game unbeaten record with a 4-1 win at home last weekend over Warriors FC.
On a breezy Sunday afternoon at Ralph Lewis Sports Complex in Fontana, a crowd of around 40 people came to see Cal FC take on IEFC. Cal FC played a calm style of play, building from the back and calm under pressure. Even when the defenders pass back to their keeper, he didn’t hesitate when a forward comes rushing in. It seemed to work for Cal FC in the first 10 minutes or so, but IEFC came in with a much higher intensity trying to intercept the passes and pressed high. It seemed to work for the Inland Empire team as Cal FC was passive and slow when moving to the next phase of attack after building up in their final third.
IEFC pounced on the opponent’s leniency and attacked after winning a turnover by nipping a standing tackle when a Cal FC player was slow to receive or send a pass. Yet Cal FC continued with their building out of the back strategy; they didn’t press offensively in the first half at all. They invited the pressure that IEFC was doing and hardly ever made efforts to attack. In some moments, they did, especially on the right-wing, but the players seemed to hesitate and didn’t hustle to make more plays. However, defensively Cal FC was solid; they had 6 players on their backline, and they were good at shutting down IEFC when they came to the box. They blocked most of their opponent’s shots and crosses. For IEFC, they were their main point of attack; transition off a Cal FC turnover, counter-attack with the wingers going into space and sending across. They had more hustle and intensity all around, but it seemed like Cal FC invited it and managed to keep the half 0-0.
The second half kicks off, and Cal FC seemed to not change from the first half. On the attack, they used the right-wing and still blocked IEFC shots on goal inside the box. However, IEFC didn’t change their game plan either. Once they had possession, they decided to build up and relax compared to turning over the ball and run to counter-attack. Their waves of attack happened more and more as the forward take shots from further distance to avoid getting their shots blocked.
Meanwhile, IEFC was very verbal, from the players telling directions to other players to staff reminding the referees about specific calls and noncalls to the point where the ref had to say to the staff to calm down. Finally, IEFC breaks the Cal FC defensive with their first goal. A pass to a runner goes in the box, and the IEFC forward goes 1v1 with the goalkeeper, and the lone man places it to the left side to break the deadlock. Yet after the goal, IEFC still pushed and wanted to get a second goal with staff and players yelling “cero a cero” in Spanish, which translates in English to “zero-zero,” the same way they did it when they led Warriors FC in their last match.
In contrast, Cal FC carried on with business as usual and didn’t seem to look for a comeback. Just like that, IEFC gets their 2nd goal with a ping to the right-winger who shoots off a bouncing ball. It gets blocked by the keeper, and it lands to an IEFC forward who had time to fake the keeper and places the ball down the main street to double the IEFC lead. Much of the second half carried on the same way of IEFC attacking in waves and Cal FC clear for safety.
Towards the end of the match, Cal FC started to get chances and kept the ball in IEFC own half for a bit. It pays off by getting a penalty on the right side of the box. The Cal FC shoots from the spot, going left, and they break the lead in half. Not much celebration as the restart was delayed by the IEFC staff protesting the penalty call before the players can resume. It didn’t matter much as once the play started, IEFC held on to the led and got the 3 points.
It’s an important win for the local team in their hopes of getting a playoff spot against a tough and bunkered Cal FC. Although they stayed in 4th place, the victory is just one of the two tough matches they faced. IEFC are now 5-2-2 with 17 points and a goal difference of +3, just one shy of Cal FC. Their next match will be on the road versus 1st place OCFC, who haven’t lost a game all season. It’s a must-win if IEFC ever wants to earn a playoff spot. On the flip side, Cal FC came to this match to hold off their opponents and didn’t seem to aim for a win. This may be because the team had a mid-week game in Colorado for the USASA amateur cup and their depth wasn’t 100%.
They are still in 3rd place now with the same record and points as IEFC but with a GD of +4. Their next match is against 2nd place Santa Ana Winds on the road. It is quite the race in the UPSL Premier SoCal North for who gets playoff spots as only these top four teams, OCFC, Santa Ana Winds, Cal FC, and IEFC, will learn their fate next weekend.