ALA junior Juan Lugo took a moment to scan the Morgan defensive set before kissing the ball and setting it carefully in the assigned area at the southwest corner of the Eagle soccer field.
He knew his ALA squad sat tied with Morgan with two minutes left on the clock in their 3A state quarterfinal contest, so this corner kick was one of the last opportunities the Eagles would have to move in front in regulation.
Lugo took his measured stride and struck the ball with his left foot, lofting it high to the back post. Trojan keeper Colby Westenskow had made some phenomenal saves and went high to snag the cross, only to have it slip away from him.
It bounced right in front of the post, where ALA super-scorer Joseph Valle was ready to pounce.
Valle deftly tapped the ball into the net and the Eagles held on from there, avenging their 3-2 loss to Morgan in the 2018 semifinals with a 2-1 victory that keeps ALA’s season alive.
“I give it up to Joseph Valle because he scored — but this was not because of me or because of him,” Lugo said. “Coach told us to win as a family and that’s what we did. I give it all to my brothers. That’s why we won.”
He said that seeing Valle get to the ball and finish it was indescribable.
“I just ran to the bench and hugged everyone,” Lugo said. “I was just so happy. I can’t explain the feeling.”
The expertly-placed corner kick was Lugo second brilliant cross of the game that resulted in a goal.
In the 56th minute, he set up to take a free kick from 30 yards out on the west side of the field. That cross was just as flawless, clearing the heads of the leaping Trojan defenders before Valle was able to head it across the line for the equalizer.
Eagle head coach Antonio Mendieta said one of the reasons Lugo was in the game because of his set-piece ability.
“He wasn’t in as a starter but his ability to play with his left on the left side gave us an advantage,” Mendieta said. “He’s also a great crosser and he showed that.”
ALA had to dig deep to find some answers after a lackluster first half. Morgan took the lead when forward Jacob Firby took a cutback pass in the middle of the Eagle box and hit it just hard enough to get through into the goal.
Trailing by a goal and needing a spark, Mendieta said he was pretty straightforward with his team at halftime.
“We were super-slow and we haven’t played in weather like this all season,” Mendieta said. “I told them that this could be their last game in high school, that they could take the opportunity or someone else would. It was a serious conversation.”
Whatever the ALA staff said at the break worked as the Eagles came out and got some momentum on their side.
Still, the home team looked like it might be in serious trouble in the final five minutes.
ALA sophomore keeper Marcus Haston came out to knock away a bouncing ball — only to have it ricochet off a defender trying to get in position and bounce right toward the empty Eagle net.
Before it could go in and give the Trojans back the lead, ALA senior defender Jorge Gonzalez slid in to clear the ball out and maintain the tie.
That set the stage for Lugo to hook up with Valle for the second time and give the Eagles the dramatic win.
ALA now moves on to face the defending 3A state champions in the semifinals.
“This is our third straight year to reach the semifinals, so hopefully the third time will be the charm,” Mendieta said. “We want to change what happened in the last two years and make it through. We need to make it happen. We need to bring the second-half team from today, not the first-half one.”
The Eagles and the Bulldogs are scheduled to play at Juan Diego in Draper at 2:15 p.m. Thursday with a spot in the 3A state championship on the line.