Tolleson falls in state final on late goal

Shane McOwen's picture
ARMANDO VALDEZ, left, of Tolleson attacks the ball Feb. 11 as Gilbert’s Michael Johansson approaches. Despite playing with a man advantage for the second half, the Wolverines lost the 6A state championship game 1-0. View photo by Ray Thomas
ARMANDO VALDEZ, left, of Tolleson attacks the ball Feb. 11 as Gilbert’s Michael Johansson approaches. Despite playing with a man advantage for the second half, the Wolverines lost the 6A state championship game 1-0. View photo by Ray Thomas

Gilbert’s 73rd-minute goal denies Wolverines’ title challenge

Tolleson boys soccer conceded a late goal against Gilbert in the 6A state championship game Feb. 11 at Campo Verde High School in Gilbert, denying the Wolverines their first state title since 2009.

Gilbert’s Danny Baca scored on a counterattack with a little more than six minutes remaining in the game, giving Gilbert the 1-0 victory.

It’s the first time all season Tolleson didn’t end up as victors of a match. The Wolverines finished the season 21-1, the 6A conference runners up.

I told the boys in the huddle [following the game], it’s going to hurt right now,” Tolleson coach Ben Andronic said. “It’s going to hurt so bad. It’s going to hurt next week, too. At the end of the day, this is probably the second best team in Tolleson history, and that’s a lot of years. First team to make it to the championship in the first division. There’s nothing to hang our heads on, but yeah, it’s going to hurt.”

Tolleson had to parry away a few Gilbert attacks in the beginning of the game, but eventually found its footing and made some offensive moves of its own.

Just a few minutes into the game, Rolando Oropeza made an amazing save at the goal line, keeping the ball from crossing with a header that then deflected off the crossbar to keeper Alan Cazares, who was able to catch the ball to squash the Gilbert chance.

We weathered their storm in the beginning, and started to fight our way back in,” Andronic said.

Tolleson was denied a great goal-scoring opportunity late in the first half when Ethan Sotak tackled Armando Valdez from behind and failed to get the ball. Valdez had a one-on-one opportunity shaping up before the foul, so Sotak was sent off with a red card, forcing Gilbert to play with 10 men for the rest of the match.

In the second half, playing a man up, Tolleson created multiple chances to score, but just couldn’t find the back of the net. Before Tolleson went on the attack, it had to withstand a Gilbert penalty kick.

Cazares came up big, blocking and then diving on Baca’s kick.

Tolleson’s attack from that point found open lanes, but not the elusive goal.

The red card helped us, but we just couldn’t finish,” Andronic said. “There, for the second half, we were definitely pushing.”

Valdez and Luis Uribe each had two great chances for a goal in the second half, only to be denied by Gilbert keeper Noah Rivera each time. Miguel Vasquez also hit the post in the corner from distance late in the half.

Gilbert capitalized on Tolleson’s aggressiveness, with a defender clearing a ball long to the forward, Baca, who got behind the defense for his own one-on-one chance. Baca converted to give Gilbert the 1-0 lead with 6:22 remaining in the game.

That’s the cruel part of this beautiful game,” Andronic said. “If you don’t put them away with a man down, it’s going to come back to bite you. That’s what it did.”

Tolleson pressed for the final six minutes, but couldn’t get a good look at goal to equalize before time ran out.

Semifinal victory

Tolleson had to battle back from being down twice against Brophy en route to the state final. It was the third time in three playoff games the Wolverines overcame a deficit on the way to victory.

We played probably the hardest road to get to the final, but it was worth it,” Andronic said.

Tolleson came from behind to beat Chandler, 3-2, in the first round; Corona del Sol, 3-2, away in the quarterfinal round; and Brophy, 2-2 (4-3 Penalties), in the semifinals.

Brophy took the lead once in each half, only to see Tolleson come back to equalize each time Feb. 7 at Campo Verde High School.

Brophy got on the board early by converting a corner kick. Sam Tolson’s kick went across the mouth of the goal without a Tolleson player able to clear it, and Tobin Shanks was able to get his right foot on it and beat Cazares to give Brophy a 1-0 lead in the fourth minute.

After settling in, Tolleson started taking control of the midfield. Six minutes later, the Wolverines tied the game.

Emmanuel Rayas collected the ball in the penalty area from a Brophy deflection, and with his back to the goal, Rayas made one touch and fired it into the right side of the net for the equalizer.

Tolleson again surrendered an early goal in the second half. Brophy had four shots blocked by defenders before Carter Clemmensen finally squeezed one through for the goal, giving the Broncos a 2-1 lead in the 45th minute.

Tolleson had various opportunities to tie the game up, but couldn’t connect. The Wolverines were rewarded for their attacking play when Valdez was clipped from behind by Deric Hall inside the box, resulting in a penalty kick in the 74th minute.

Cesar Martinez converted to even the score, 2-2.

We really had our backs against the wall, and then we really picked up,” Andronic said. “Before we were rewarded that PK, we got a second wind. Just like in boxing, we got a second wind and we just kept fighting.”

Tolleson’s attack kept coming after the equalizer. Moises Palacios missed a strike in front of the net in the 78th minute, and he had a chip shot saved by Wills Rice in the 79th.

Neither team was able to score in overtime, sending the game to penalty kicks. That’s where Cazares shined brightest.

Tolleson hit all four kicks attempted, and Cazares saved shots from Hall and Clemmensen to cement the victory.

Andronic said he knew Cazares was special when he joined the team his freshman year, but because of various circumstances — backing up upperclassmen his first two years and playing club last season — he didn’t have a chance to make his mark on the Tolleson program until this year.

It’s awesome to have him back,” Andronic said. “He’s been the rock for our defense.”


Tolleson previously won a state championship in boys soccer in 2009, winning in penalties over Tucson Rincon in the 5A-II final.

Andronic said it would have been a special feeling to accomplish that feat in the state’s highest conference, but even without the title, the team has helped put Tolleson’s name on the map.

We talked about it. We came here seven years ago [in my first year] and teams asked, ‘Where’s Tolleson at?’” Andronic said. “That’s been our motto for the whole program. Just show them where Tolleson’s at.”

Tolleson will lose nine seniors from this year’s squad, but will be able to return nine juniors, three sophomores and a freshman for next season.

The team will lose top goal scorers Cesar Martinez, 21 goals, and Armando Valdez, 18 goals, but will return Uribe, Rayas and Kelvin Guerrero to next year’s squad. The trio scored 46 combined goals: 19 for Uribe, 16 for Rayas and 11 for freshman Guerrero. Tolleson will also lose goalkeeper Cazares to graduation. Cazares kept seven clean sheets in 19 wins, and saved four of eight penalty shots in the playoffs, including the shootout against Brophy.


Shane McOwen can be reached at or on Twitter @ShaneMcOwen.

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