On Halloween, local youth soccer coach Jonathan Slusher opened his door to find five of his players, still in their jerseys, out trick-or-treating after the team’s historic Area Tournament victory earlier that day.
“Did you guys have a big game today or something?” Slusher joked with the boys. “They didn’t even know it was my house. It was just such a great Coastside moment.”
The Half Moon Bay American Youth Soccer Organization under-16 boys team won the championship against Redwood City, 5-4, in penalty kicks, after playing to a 2-2 draw in both regulation and overtime. The win was the first for any Coastside team in an Area Tournament for boys or girls of any age in the program's 25-year history.
Redwood City got off to a strong offensive start, scoring twice in the first 12 minutes and securing an early 2-0 lead. Gregory Owen turned the game around for Half Moon Bay by scoring on a deflected shot from outside the penalty area and putting the team’s first goal on the board, 2-1. At the end of the half, Yago Casal-Jouaux tied the game up, 2-2, on a pass from Asher Harris with a shot from the far post of the penalty area.
Half Moon Bay continued to play strong offense in the second half but wasn’t able to pull into the lead.
“We dominated the second half,” said Slusher. “We should have got the ball in, but we didn't, so it ended in a tie.”
The game went into two five-minute overtimes but neither team found the net, so the game went into penalty kicks. Goalkeeper Lukas Slusher put an end to the match by stopping Redwood City’s sixth penalty kick, after Half Moon Bay's Quin McAnerney scored to put the team in the lead, 5-4, on penalties.
Niko Lincoln, Justice Fidel, Harris and Elijah Yee also hit from the penalty spot during the shootout. Half Moon Bay missed its second attempt, but drew even at 3-3 in penalties after Redwood City missed its fourth shot. Shooting fifth, Yee scored as did his Redwood City counterpart, to set up McAnerney for the game-winning shot and Slusher’s match-deciding save.
“I was a little worried because my son is the goalie,” said Slusher. “I was just thinking, if this goes bad, it could be a really long drive home.”
Other members of the winning team were Emil Al-Shaikh, Nick Davis, Michael Escalante-Muniz, Jonathan Lopez, Edwin Meza, Elan Nagengast, Aidan Saunders, Kai Tsutsumi, Jonah Weber, and Brian Ya Cervantes.
“It was hard to watch but afterward the kids were so excited, the parents were excited,” said Slusher. “It was cool to just stand back and watch everyone celebrate. It was all around us.”
Dylan Ragozin, AYSO division coordinator, came to watch the game and brought an old trophy, just in case they won, so they’d have something to hold up and celebrate with.
“Super proud of the boys,” said Ragozin. “More important than their success, just watching them, in games and in practice, just the way they interacted with each other and just had fun.”
The 19 athletes that made up the team were a mix of more experienced soccer players and some that were developing.
“Everybody contributed,” said Slusher. “They all mixed together and the more experienced players helped the developing ones. We had 12 different players score this season. I think that was my favorite part of the season.”
The team went 6-3 during the regular season but went on to win all four playoff games to win the championship.
“This was probably the least amount of coaching I've ever had to do,” said Slusher, who has been coaching for 11 years, including two in Germany. “The kids all got along really well. I mostly stayed out of their way and let them play. They were just fun to watch.”
The Half Moon Bay soccer program had a record turnout this season with 604 players across the teams — a 33 percent increase over the average from the three prior pre-COVID-19 seasons.
“There are larger schools and larger populations (over the hill) and we have to overcome that,” said Ragozin. “I think this shows that we can compete. We need to celebrate and it may not happen all the time, but it obviously shows we can win, and hopefully encourages the growth of the program.”