But they mark a time to gain valuable experience and figure things out before league play. That was definitely the case Thursday afternoon as host Burbank, playing its second game, took on nonleague opponent La Cañada, playing its first, and did just enough to come away with a 1-0 win.
Burbank (2-0) scored six goals in its season opener against Monrovia and, with Spartans junior Miranda Dimase-Nording starting in goal getting her first live action ever at the position, the Bulldogs seemed to be set up for another large portion of offense. That did not play out, however, as the Bulldogs scored on their first shot of game, but never again, instead relying on a stout defense to achieve the shutout victory.
“We stepped up. It’s good we had a close game. We know, defensively, we can stay in the game,” said Montoya, whose squad gave up two goals in their first game.
La Canada (0-1) gave up a goal less than 10 minutes into the game. Clarrissa Guerrero dribbled the ball deep down the side of the penalty box to the Spartans goalkeeper’s left before crossing the ball back diagonally on the ground into the middle. The ball barely skipped over a Spartans defender’s foot and found Victoria Rondinella. The senior then blasted a hard-rising shot into the back of the net to Dimase-Nording’s left. It was a high-quality goal and a shot that no keeper, experienced or not, likely could have been expected to stop.
“We have a goalkeeper who had never played goal in her entire life,” La Cañada Coach Louis Bilowitz said. “She became a goalkeeper two or three weeks ago. She just volunteered because we had nobody else and she did a very good job.”
Just before that, the Spartans’ novice netminder had gotten her first touch of the ball when she came out to the edge of the box and fielded an over-the-top pass from the Bulldogs.
“At first I was terrified, but I gained confidence as it went on,” Dimase-Nording said.
Rondinella’s early goal was the only one Dimase-Nording, who made four saves, and the young Spartans team would surrender. The defense, anchored by junior captain Olivia Leyva, did a good job of limiting shots and the Bulldogs never really seemed to be able to test the Spartans’ new keeper.
“At halftime I was telling them to test the keeper, test the keeper,” Montoya said, “but we were playing too compact and we just didn’t get any opportunities for the forwards to play the midfield back and take the shots on goal.”
However, the Burbank defense was strong, limiting the visitors to three shots total. The Bulldog back line was led by the skillful and efficient play of sweeper Natalie Muller, who consistently broke up La Cañada attacks by getting to the ball much more quickly than the Spartans, who were missing key players Megan Decker (out of state with her club team) and Natalie Ragusa (illness).
“That’s why I call her ‘Truck,’” Montoya said of Muller. “She’s a truck. She is strong, smart, she reads the game, I mean, she’s awesome.”
The one La Cañada forward who was most aggressive was the lone senior on the squad, Kara Lankey, who moved from defense to striker this season to match her position in club play and where she will play in college. Lankey’s tackling skill led to the only Spartans shot of the first half, but it was easily saved by Bulldogs goalie senior Sarah Rangwala, who caught the shot that was directly at her.
“We lost to [La Cañada] last year, so I’m ecstatic we beat them this time and got a shutout,” Rangwala said.
The Spartans’ best chance to score came 12 minutes into the second half. Leyva tracked down the rebound from her own free kick and dribbled the ball deep down the left side of the field before sending a pass along the ground across the goal mouth just a couple feet out. Francesca Mor came in flat to receive the cross and was unable to get a foot on it, squandering a point-blank scoring chance.
“Today this was almost like a win,” Bilowitz said. “I told the girls I’m absolutely thrilled. I don’t care about the win-loss record in preseason.”