The College of the Canyons Men’s Soccer team hosted history at its home field on Saturday, Aug. 27 with the Cougars welcoming the Tahitian U20 National Team to Santa Clarita for the first international match in program history. The 2-1 result went to the visiting side but provided a memorable experience for players, coaches and fans alike.
The two squads used the first 20 minutes to feel each other out before Canyons eventually got on the board in the 23rd minute on a goal from Julian De La O, the first of his Cougar career.
“This is something I’m probably going to remember for the rest of my life,” said De La O, who redshirted a season ago but has earned starts in the first two matches of the season. “It’s been an incredible experience.”
The goal was assisted by Ivan Ledezma and Drew Leskin and brought an emotional reaction from the Canyons squad. Leskin was quick to dedicate that score to teammate Joshua Swanson, who suffered a season-ending injury in the Cougars’ season opener on Friday, by shouting a message of encouragement for his fallen teammate toward the live stream broadcast team.
Tahiti responded in the 37th minute on a score from Metai Papaura, which was set up by touches from Anapa Debruyne and Tekaki Sangue.
The goal prompted an equally emotional response from Tahiti, which is currently preparing for a potential qualifying run leading up to the FIFA U20 World Cup, scheduled for next summer in Indonesia.
The two sides entered the break tied at 1-1. Canyons goalkeeper Ivan Kerum (0-1) started the game and recorded three saves in the opening period.
COC and Tahiti played a mostly defensive second half with scoring opportunities relatively limited. The Cougars earned one corner down the stretch while Tahiti managed to come away with two in the second half.
With the match seemingly headed for draw status late in the game, Tahiti was able to put together an effective attack that led to shots on three consecutive runs.
The first came in the final seconds of the 87th minute and sailed high over the COC net.
In the 88th minute it was Canyons freshman Alejandro Chavez making a tremendous defensive save to keep the match even, after COC goalkeeper Matthew Swanson was taken out of position on the play.
The Canyons back line continued to hold strong until a stoppage time goal by Heinoa Aurentz got past Swanson to put the game at 2-1, just a few moments before the final whistle eventually blew.
Swanson (0-1) took the loss after recording two second half saves.
Despite the seemingly deflating result both teams were quick to gather and congratulate each other at midfield after the match. The two coaching staffs exchanged gifts and both teams posed for pictures to complete the unique international experience.
“This will be a tremendous experiential opportunity for our student-athletes,” said COC men’s soccer head coach Phil Marcellin in the days leading up to the game.
“It’s exciting any time you can take the field against a quality opponent,” added Marcellin. “But for our players it’s also a chance to make a connection, and compete against guys that are the same age, but from a different country.”
Canyons (0-2) returns to action on Tuesday, Aug. 30 to host Moorpark College in a non-conference meeting. That match is scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m. and will be followed by the women’s team vs. Moorpark at 7 p.m.
Both games will be live streamed to fans free of charge on YouTube via the Cougars Sports Network.
Stay up to date on all this season’s action by following the College of the Canyons Athletic department at COC Athletics.
–Photo by John Soto/COC Sports Information