Cougars drop game 2-1 in first international game in program history
The College of the Canyons men’s soccer team had a historic night Saturday, hosting the Tahiti U20 national team in what was the first international game in the program’s history.
The Cougars would end up losing the game, 2-1, via a Tahiti goal in the dying seconds of the second half.
“It’s amazing,” Cougars head coach Phil Marcellin said of the experience. “I mean, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these guys. And obviously, when we got the call to have an official match, it was great.
“It obviously didn’t turn out the way we would like it, right, but soccer is not always about what you deserve. It’s kind of how it works.”
COC took the lead with just under 23 minutes to go in the first half on redshirt freshman Julian De La O’s first collegiate goal, coming on an assist from sophomore Drew Leskin. Tahiti then drew level with just over eight minutes left in the first half, and after a second half that saw both teams create chances but unable to finish them, Tahiti finally got the winning goal just before the final whistle.
The game, which counted as an official match for COC but was an international friendly for Tahiti, drops the Cougars to 0-2 on the season after they also dropped their season opener Friday at Pasadena City College, 3-1.
“It’s hard luck, because I don’t think they created as many chances, I think, as maybe we created, but it’s the nature of the game, right,” Marcellin said. “I think in certain moments, they were a little bit more athletic than us. But we coped with it with organization and shape.”
Marcellin said that he was able to put the game together through connections he had made when bringing in some players from France.
“One of the gentlemen that was helping me communicate with them to get them registered for school has a connection with this group,” Marcellin said. “And so he just called me said, ‘Hey, would you like to do this?’ And I said, ‘Absolutely.’ We were trying to expand our reach, increase the experience for the guys in this program and bring in a little bit more different cultures and aspects to it. It kind of worked in our favor and on a little bit bigger step than what we thought before.”
The two teams exchanged gifts both before and after the match, including signed balls for each team to take home.
Tahiti is currently in preparations for U20 World Cup qualifiers and is touring parts of the United States to gain more experience. The U20 World Cup will be held in the summer of 2023 in Indonesia.
“We have them tactically speaking,” Tahiti head coach Bruno Tehaamoana said via translator Nils Niwe Nsabimana, one of three French players on the COC squad. “So [we] applied things that we’re working on back home, and [we] apply to them here. And [we] feel like they’re on the right way moving forward.”
Much of the first half saw Tahiti possess the ball far more than the Cougars, though De La O’s goal certainly helped to give the Cougars more confidence. De La O was happy to get his first goal of the season after missing last season due to injury, and he sees more improvement to come throughout the season.
“We’re coming together really well,” De La O said. “Practice has gone pretty well. We have our moments of ups and downs, but this season will be good for us.”
Leskin, a returning All-Western State Conference South Division first-team selection from last season, was happy to see De La O perform as well. It’s an important thing, too, as it looks like the Cougars will be without sophomore Josh Swanson, a first-team all-conference selection last season, for the rest of the season. According to Marcellin, Swanson suffered a fractured leg in Friday’s loss.
“I was super, super proud of [De La O},” Leskin said. “Especially after the year he had last year with injury and having a redshirt. Him staying dedicated and committed to this team, coming out all last fall, all spring and all summer, and just working his butt off. I’m super, super proud of him and I’m really happy that he got to have that moment.”
Leskin and De La O are both graduates of Santa Clarita Valley schools, Leskin from Canyon and De La O from Valencia, with COC having a total of 23 players from SCV schools. Also hailing from Canyon are freshmen Jacob Reyes-Silva, Andy Delgado and Dimitri Marikta, as well as sophomore Ivan Ledezma. De La O is joined by fellow Valencia graduate Ivan Kerum, a sophomore goalie.
From Saugus, COC has freshmen Jason Nakoud, RJ Haring, Alec Fryer and Braden Salazar to go along with sophomores Josh Truong and Roger Sandino. Out of Hart are sophomores Steven Metzler, Edilson Ramirez and Andranik Soghomonian. Golden Valley has three representatives in freshman Jacob Davila and sophomores Cesar Perez and Jason Arana, while West Ranch has four in freshmen Matthew Swanson and Diego Arreola, as well as sophomores Niko Marquez and Josh Swanson.
Marcellin only sees good things coming from having so many players who have both played together and against each other for much of their lives.
“That’s one of the things I like, having as many local kids as possible, the chemistry is there, the relationships are there, and so we just have to kind of turn it up,” Marcellin said. “We’re well represented from almost all the good high school and club programs in this community.”
COC will look to get its first victory of the season Tuesday when it hosts Moorpark at 4:30 p.m. That game will be followed by the women’s soccer team also playing Moorpark, with kickoff set for 7 p.m.