LINCOLN CITY — Before Wednesday’s first-bracket 4A state soccer playoff match, Central Linn was an enigmatic dynamo that took second in their own league (6-2-4) but was a blank slate for the title-hungry Tigers.
“We didn’t know anything about them, except they could win a lot of games,” acknowledged coach Ryan Ulicni, reflecting on how the Cobras became Taft’s ninth shutout victim of the season, 11-0. “We were just prepared to play our game, pressing them hard and supporting each of our players on the field.”
Taft now moves to the quarterfinals with a back-to-back home-field advantage Saturday, Nov. 9, as they face Riverside, another shadowy rival with flashy credentials. With a 10-3 record, Riverside will arrive undefeated on the road for the 5 p.m. game. They’ll likely be cocky, too, as the team that eliminated Taft by one goal in the 2017 playoffs.
“They’re one of the top three in District 1, but other than that we really don’t know too much,” Ulicni stated. “So we’re expecting a good match — better yet, a rematch that will give our guys extra motivation to win.”
The competition’s bonafides hardly matter to the Tigers, anyway, who typically unleash their run-and-gun passing game at the whistle in order to bend the opposition to their will. That was the case Nov. 6 in the first round of playoffs as Taft dominated scoring with five unanswered goals in the first half and six in the second.
Edson Fuentes, the team’s leading scorer, opened the shutout on a Mauricio Rivas pass with an 18-yard, left-footed shot to the back of the net. Central Linn threw a four-alarm defense against Fuentes, shutting down the college-bound senior while allowing the Tiger roster to score at random.
Sammy Vasquez led the scoring with three goals, while William Caulderon and Alex Del Valle each sank two for the night. In his one goal-making effort, Rivas found the net with a penalty kick. It was Ivan Cortez’s eye-popping boot from 30 yards out to close the first half that most fans will remember.
The last goal of the game came from a freshman who was just elevated to the varsity ranks, Diego Gomez. Ulicni figured he needed the experience, and Gomez delivered.
“He really stepped up, was aggressive and worked his way ahead into a nice corner kick in his first state playoff game,” the coach said.