COSTA MESA — On crutches, Bryan Middleton tried to coach the Corona del Mar High girls' soccer team while sitting down. He didn't last long on the bench Saturday.
The match was too intense for the always active and vocal Middleton to stay put. With the help of crutches, he rose to his feet to guide the Sea Kings in a Pacific Coast League match against University.
Eight days out from right knee surgery, he was his usual self, yelling out fouls to make sure the referees caught what he saw from the sideline. Middleton wore a knee brace and he's not the only person from his team that's recovering from an injury.
A player missed the match because of a groin injury, another because of her knee, and one because of her Achilles. Then late in the first half, Middleton saw another player leave the match with an ankle injury.
While the Sea Kings keep losing key players to injuries, they're not losing many battles on the field. They stayed undefeated in league play with a 1-0 victory at Estancia High, the Sea Kings' new home.
The reason for moving the rest of CdM's home matches to Estancia is that the field at CdM is in bad shape.
"Our field conditions at CdM are like almost a liability," Middleton said.
What's bizarre is none of the injuries his players have suffered can be blamed on CdM's field.
Playing on Estancia's turf field for the first time in a match this season, the Sea Kings didn't have to worry about clumps of dirt. They just had to adjust to competing without midfielder Annie Alvarado (groin), defender Brianna Westrup (knee) and defender Molly Keasey (Achilles), plus goalkeeper Kat Hess and midfielder Monica Venturini, who were out of town playing in Las Vegas at the Region IV Olympic Development Program championships and visiting Cal Poly Pomona, respectively.
CdM (10-2-2, 2-0-0 in league), ranked No. 3 in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 poll, just keeps finding ways to win.
The turf at Estancia plays to the Sea Kings' strength of possessing the ball. They controlled the action for much of the second half, putting together scoring chances in bunches during the first 16 minutes.
In the 57th minute, CdM finally found the back of the net. Birkley Sigband gave her team a 1-0 lead with a shot goalkeeper Coryna Ogenseitan stood no chance at stopping.
From near the top of the box, the sophomore midfielder saw the ball come off teammate Chloe Rice, after a cross by Miranda Stiver. Sigband wasted no time with the ball near her feet. She struck it, beating the keeper with a shot toward the left corner.
The goal was the second for Sigband in league. She was in position to make the play, thanks to Middleton moving her from the right to left side in the second half.
The switch opened up CdM's attack. Once CdM went ahead, the defense was on its way to holding its seventh opponent scoreless.
The shutout almost didn't hold up for the defending league champion Sea Kings.
Late in the match, the Trojans (6-3-3, 1-1-0) made one last run. They did it without two standouts, midfielder Chloe Hemingway and defender Reema Bzeih. University Coach Dominic Fratantaro said the two juniors were in Las Vegas competing at the Region IV Olympic Development Program championships.
His team almost pulled out a tie. Marissa Kazzi dribbled from the right side and sent a beautiful cross, setting up striker Hanna Ghamari. She was on the doorstep. All she had to do was tap the ball in, but her shot went wide left, far away from CdM keeper Kendall Mulvaney, who only had to make four saves.
"You can't have a letdown," said Middleton, referring to his defense, which with defenders Alana Hunter, Brynn Motal and Elise Roche, who replaced Alexa Mamatas after she exited with an ankle injury in the first half, didn't have many breakdowns against the Trojans. "It almost happened. If it would've bit us, it would've been a learning experience.
"Ultimately, this team, our goal is to get [the program's first] CIF championship. It can come together, if everyone's healthy, and the ball bounces your way, and you get a little lucky in the playoffs. That's what it takes."