In the rubber match between OEC rival Golden West for the second round of the SoCal Regionals, Fullerton loses via a penalty shootout (4-5) after playing 120 minutes to a 1-1 draw.
The motto of “Faith. Family. Futbol.” carried out by the Hornets throughout their historic season remained a constant on and off the field. These sentiments have never meant so much during the worst moment of their season for a group of players that bonded together over time to become brothers, in what would be their last game together as a team.
Hornet forward Danny Abrego-Fulton’s late goal in the second half was a defining moment in the game that highlighted their faith in each other to overcome any obstacle the game of soccer has to offer.
Abrego-Fulton’s goal came from an epiphany the Hornets had when they allowed the Rustlers to score first early into the second half.
There was no love lost between the two sides when the game started. Animosity from their last matchup when the Hornets beat Golden West 2-0 for the OEC Championship hovered all game in Tuesdays playoff game.
Despite no goals being scored in the first 45 minutes, the first half was still an eventful half, to say the least. Hornet assistant coach Kenny Castellanos received a yellow card by the referee when coach Castellanos kept pointing out to the referee about the missed foul calls against Golden West.
Although the Hornets started the match even more aggressive with their attack to combat the first half woes that plagued them towards the end of the regular season. The Rustlers were able to weather the storm by taking advantage of counterattack opportunities that naturally presented themselves due to the Hornets playing style.
“So the first half was kind of hard to get a grip on, as there was a bunch of kicking and shoving that made this a physical game,” Hornet captain midfielder Steve Perez described.
However, a different story would be told in the second half. It was the Rustlers who came out looking for a goal and initiated the attack. In various games, the Hornets have been able to command the second half, but that was not the case.
As a result, Golden West struck first and scored off a corner kick that sent immediate shock waves across the field. This stunned the home crowd.
Instead of feeling discouraged by the Rustler’s goal, the Hornets were motivated and determined to level the score again and try to push their chances of advancing in extra time.
Momentum quickly shifted back in favor of the Hornets. The Rustlers seemed to play conservative by being content with their 1-0 lead and began to show their fatigue, having played 120 minutes in their 1st round game.
The Hornet took advantage of the Rustler’s fatigue as Hornet freshman defender Marco Polo dribbled past the Rustler defenders all the way inside the penalty box. From there, Polo used his off foot to place the ball for Abrego-Fulton to shoot.
Abrego-Fulton’s initial shot struck the right goal post. He was aware enough to stick with the ball and gather the rebound to finish the game-tying goal, 1-1. It seemed like for the last 10 minutes of the game, the Hornets were able to pull off a comeback victory without having to use the extra time.
However, the Hornets weren’t able to capitalize any further on their opportunities to exploit a fatigued Rustler team when the extra time came around.
During the penalty shootout, the Hornets converted their first three kicks (Perez, Wood, Aldana) to only two converted kicks by Golden West. But the Hornets weren’t able to finish out the Rustlers having missed two out of their next three shots. The Rustlers made all three of their shots and got their revenge to beat the Hornets.
“Our guys fought hard and came back to get themselves back in the game. They left it all out there and that’s all we can ask for. I was extremely proud of them to overcome all the adversity as the odds were stacked against them. That’s just the true testament of their characters,” Hornet head coach Greg Aviles stated.
“This year meant everything. We had a dream three years ago of what we wanted this to be and they forever changed the community, the culture of this program, and unified our campus by bringing everyone in and embracing them. They really showed the true definition of family,” Aviles added.
Departing sophomore forward Aj Yazid was candid when speaking on his feelings after the game and what the program offered him during his time at Fullerton.
“It sucks. I’m heartbroken to see everybody with their heads down, but I mean it happens. This is soccer and this is how it goes. We always have it in us to come back and win a game. I knew we were going to come back before the end of the first half and were so close in completing the comeback victory,” Yazid said.
“It changed my life for the most part. I got a lot more offers from colleges, so this season was definitely the season to play my best. It was my last season too, so it only made sense to play my hardest,” Yazid added.
An emotional Steve Perez, freshman captain midfielder broke down as he shared his thoughts about the game and how he plans on using this defeat to fuel his motivation for next season.
“It’s kind of sad you know? We were in the lead during penalties and I assumed we were going to win as I already had it in my head. That’s what happens when you get ahead of yourself. That’s the game of soccer. Sometimes you dominate teams, and sometimes you outplay them in every way. But the outcome and result are not what you wanted,” Perez uttered.
“We’ve been through a lot together, so this finishing is sad. The sophomores and freshmen are gonna go different ways and we’re going to get new incoming freshmen to see what we can make of it. No matter what, brothers forever!,” added Perez.
There is no doubt, the foundation has been laid out by the 2018 Hornet men’s soccer team to cultivate future success under head coach Aviles and pass along their meaning behind the phrase “Faith. Family. Futbol.”