Christopher's Uriel Gonzalez tries to steal the ball from

First-year Christopher High boys soccer head coach Ricardo Espinosa demands unwavering commitment from his players. He has preached the importance since Day 1. So when certain members of the team showed little interest in attending practice on a consistent basis during the two-week winter break, Espinosa re-iterated his stance, benching the offenders for much of the first half in the Cougars’ Monterey Bay League opener Wednesday in Gilroy.

“We are trying to build a long-term program here and we can’t deviate from that,” Espinosa said. “There is no bigger statement than to send a message at an important time like the first league game.”

The Cougars (1-7-1) took the field with just seven (goalie included) of the normal 11 players against Monterey. Espinosa kept hammering home his point as he paced stern-faced along the sideline, turned to the six players on the bench and said, “Look at what your teammates are doing for you.”

CHS withstood a barrage of Toreadors shots, goalie Ivan Ortega made six saves and held the visitors scoreless through the first 20 minutes of the half. The Cougars encountered difficulties in clearing the ball past midfield. Having only six players to do so, against the Toreadors 10, made the usually routine task a dubious endeavor. Monterey broke through in the 21st minute, eventually tallying three times before intermission en route to a 5-0 victory – a lesson learned, indeed.

“We didn’t set out to lose this game,” Espinosa said. “Unfortunately, it was the first thing after the break, but we had to do it now and immediate. And that’s what we did.

The kids have to learn to fit into our system as coaches, not the other way around.”

Freshman forward Uriel Gonzalez, who Espinosa characterized as the team’s “little engine,” was forced to play defense during the shorthanded first half but did manage a pair of shots on goals in the second half. Ortega made 11 saves in all.

“I was mad because we started like that. I got frustrated because we didn’t get the ball so much (on offense,)” Gonzalez said.

With the objective to regroup in order, the Cougars travel to Watsonville for an appointment with Monte Vista Christian on Friday at 3:30 p.m.

“I think the guys are getting it,” Espinosa said. “We have a strong core and will move forward from here.”

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