Saugus Centurions boys’ soccer faced the challenge of the season on Thursday.
The Centurions headed up to face the Castaic Coyotes in the hail and rain, to battle in a must-win game to clinch a playoff spot.
Saugus fought off Castaic and the inclement weather, winning the game 2-0, officially punching the team’s postseason ticket.
“We definitely needed the win,” Centurions coach Seth Groller said in a phone interview. “We went out there and did just enough to get us in the playoffs. Now we transition into that. We’re curious to see the pairings. We’ll go from there and take it one step at a time.”
The Centurions (4-6-5, 4-4-4) were boosted midway through the first half by Alejandro Zalamea, who netted his sixth goal of the season. Sophomore Lincoln Sullivan made a great run up the sideline before finding Zalamea on a cross to lift the Centurions up, 1-0.
Saugus knew it needed a cushion goal but couldn’t find one until the final 10 minutes of action.
The Centurions had two fantastic through balls needle through the Castaic (1-12-4, 0-10-2) defense and find a striker up top. Saugus wasn’t able to get a shot off on either attempt but was fouled in the box on both plays. Centurion junior Santiago Veizaga was fouled and buried his own penalty kick with seven minutes left on the clock.
“We were struggling with converting,” Groller said. “Castaic played a pretty good game against us, especially defensively, they were there every time we were looking for the attack. They were doing a solid job defensively.”
Saugus junior Lincoln Fritz nearly iced the game shortly afterward, but Castaic keeper Marcus Roberts was able to make a stellar save on the PK.
The Centurions backline played well and only allowed one quality look on goal. The shot was a rocket from well outside the box but sophomore goalkeeper Ethan Murillo was ready to make the save.
“The defense did a solid job,” Groller said. “I feel like the offensive portion of our defensive players’ game was a little bit off in terms of connecting passes. But getting the shutout obviously shows we were doing what we needed to do.”
Although the team will still celebrate the win, Saugus has a tough road ahead in the Division 2 playoffs. Groller was hoping to see the same energy his team came out with in the win over Golden Valley last week.
“I was hoping for that but no, I don’t feel like we carried that same energy in,” Groller said. “It was kind of a more of a broken-up game and we just didn’t get that flow going. I feel like we have seemed sporadic this season. We were OK … After the game, the assistant coach and I told the team, ‘We’ve got to step it up because a performance like this is not going to put us in a good spot, especially in the Division 2 playoffs.’ We’ll be playing against very good teams and I just feel like we weren’t playing that great.”
The Centurions had just two wins to their name until a week ago. Saugus showed its grit, finishing off the season strong and clinching the program’s third straight playoff appearance.
Saugus will likely enter the postseason as a lower seed, and with its regular season record, will likely be overlooked by a higher-ranked team. Groller still believes his guys can compete with anyone in the Division 2 realm and hopes his Centurion underdogs can show out against some tough opponents.
“This has been kind of one of those average seasons in terms of goals scored for, goals against, our record in league is 4-4-4, you couldn’t get more middle of the road if you try,” Groller said. “But what I see is the potential of what this team can do. We’ve had moments whether it’s practice or certain games, there have been moments where we have just been clicking and everything is just perfect. I know we have it in us. If I were a coach that gets paired against us for the playoffs, I look at our record and all that and say ‘Oh, this team’s not going to be that good.’ But I know what our potential is and I think we could be that underdog that comes out and surprises a lot of teams.”
Saugus finds out its postseason journey Saturday morning when the CIF Southern Section releases its playoff brackets.