Editor's note: The Burlingame goalkeeper's name has been corrected to Jackson Kriner.
It became evident early on in the Menlo-Atherton-Burlingame boys’ soccer game that the Bears were going to be the aggressors and the Panthers were content to absorb that pressure.
So while it led to lopsided possession time and shots for M-A, Burlingame calmly repelled wave after wave of M-A attacks.
The Panthers did not have a lot of opportunities, but they took advantage of their best chance to post a 1-0 win. It gives the Bay Division-leading Panthers a four-point cushion over the second-place Bears with two games left in the regular season.
“It was a good win for us,” said Burlingame head coach Anthony Dimech. “[M-A is] a good side.”
Dimech doesn’t necessarily like to pack it in on defense and depend on the counterattack for his offense, but with M-A needing the win more than Burlingame, Dimech figured the Bears would come out with heavy pressure.
“We definitely wanted to sit back a little. … We didn’t want them to get behind us,” Dimech said. “We’re not used to sitting back as much. … I knew they’d come out hard the first 15 (minutes of the game).”
M-A (7-3-2, 23 points) wasted little time going on the attack as in the first minute the Bears sent a long ball up top that got over the head of the Burlingame defender and sent Matias Giomi on a chase of the ball.
Burlingame goalkeeper Jackson Kriner beat Giomi to the ball by a step to clear it away, but it proved it was not going to be an easy game for the Panthers’ defensive line.
“I told the guys, if we want to win the championship, we have to win (Friday),” said M-A head coach Leo Krupnik.
Yet the combination of Kriner in goal — who, despite a couple of shaky stops, was solid and finished with six saves — and the play of outside fullbacks Javier Contreras and Anthony Soto was enough to hold off the Bears.
“Those guys played really well,” Dimech said.
While Burlingame (8-1-3, 27 points) absorbed the pressure, it did have a couple of looks early in the half and had the best opportunity of the opening 40 minutes when Burlingame midfielder Marcus Grundmann used some fancy footwork to escape a pair of M-A defenders and then beat a third off the dribble to find some space in the Bears’ penalty box. He put a solid shot on goal, but M-A goalkeeper Charlie McKay parried the shot away and was cleared out of danger by the Bears’ defense.
The Bears came right back down the field, with Miguel Tostado sending a long cross that found Manny Preciado stationed at the far right post. He headed a cross to the middle of the goal box, but Giomi could not contort his body to get a shot off.
It went that way for the rest of the half for the Bears as several more opportunities went by the wayside.
“We had so many chances,” Krupnik said.
Although Burlingame managed to gain a little more possession in the second half, it was M-A that was still dictating tempo and still creating chances, getting off 10 more shots over the final 40 minutes.
But in the 55th minute, all the pressure was put on the Bears as Burlingame found the back of the net off a free kick. Grundmann was taken down near the left sideline, about 15 yards from the end line, drawing what was essentially a corner kick. Grundmann bent a cross to the far right post where he found Liam Griffin, who threw his body at the ball and knocked it in with his torso to give the Panthers a crucial 1-0 lead.
“We’ve been working on free kicks and focused a little bit more on it in practice [Thursday],” Dimech said.
Over the final 15 minutes, Kriner came to the fore for the Panthers. In the 69th minute, Giomi let loose a shot from 30 yards out that Kriner pushed over the top of the goal at the last moment. Two minutes later, M-A’s Axel Valle made a run into the Burlingame penalty box and unleashed a shot from about 10 yards out that was turned aside by Kriner.
“We had plenty of opportunities. We just can’t find a guy to put the team on his shoulders and score goals,” Krupnik said. “It’s frustrating to watch from the sideline.”