CORONA DEL MAR — The handful of times the assistant referees raised a flag to signal an offside call on Corona del Mar High, players and fans lashed out. They complained the Sea Kings were onside, in position to strike, only to see a flag stall their team's attack.
Despite not getting those calls, the Sea Kings still dominated most of the match against Irvine on Friday.
None of that mattered. When it ended, the Sea Kings were in an unfamiliar position when it comes to Pacific Coast League play.
They suffered their first setback, a 1-0 loss. The defending league champion Sea Kings left their field knowing they missed a chance to take the lead in league.
"We would've had the leg up," CdM Coach George Larsen said of the competition.
The race for first place in league is tight. All of it will be decided next week, the final one of the regular season.
While most teams only play twice next week, CdM has three matches because rain postponed a match last week. The Sea Kings, who are 3-1-3 in league, trail first-place Woodbridge (4-2-2).
The Sea Kings have nine points, one back of the Warriors. The two teams meet Monday.
"We control our own destiny," said Larsen, whose team is on the road Monday, at home Wednesday against Beckman and on the road Friday in a make-up match against University. "If we win all three games next week, we'll win the league. [Going] 2-0-1, maybe [we can still win league]. We have to think that we have to go 3-0 next week."
In just one week, the Sea Kings look to double their league win total. They're in that spot due to their inability to finish scoring chances against Irvine.
While the Vaqueros didn't create many scoring opportunities, they put away their best one.
Five minutes into the second half, they earned a corner kick. Mark Chaikovsky sent the ball toward Doug Brantley, who leaped and headed the ball in for a goal.
Minutes earlier, during halftime, Larsen warned his players of the Vaqueros, telling them, "If they're going to score, it's going to be on" a set piece. The goal was enough to put Irvine back in contention.
"We need all of them," said Vaqueros Coach Gary Berry, referring to Irvine winning its final league contests against Northwood and Woodbridge next week for a shot at first place.
The Vaqueros owe their goalkeeper, Alex Xiao, for allowing them to stay in the hunt. Xiao made save after save and Irvine is now 2-2-4 with eight points, one behind CdM and University, which is 4-2-1.
Xiao stood in the way of both CdM and University this week. Irvine won those matches largely because of him.
When his gloves weren't enough to stop the Sea Kings' shots, Xiao used his body to keep players away from the ball. He collided in the air and on the ground with players.
The last blow Xiao endured kept his shutout intact.
As CdM striker Conor Roche raced after a pass, Xiao rushed out of the box, making sure Roche didn't get to it before he did. The end result was Xiao going down hard just outside the top of the box.
For a couple of minutes, Xiao stayed down in obvious pain. There was no way he was coming out, not with 12 minutes left to play.
"We didn't have a backup keeper," said a smiling Berry, whose team became the first in league to hold CdM scoreless this season.
Irvine has played CdM tough in league this season, earning a tie and victory.
The only time CdM has been able to knock off the Vaqueros was during the Christmas break in a tournament. In that one, the Sea Kings ran away with a 6-0 win.
"Maybe that works against us a little bit because you beat the team easily," Larsen said.