PALMDALE, CALIFORNIA – Hollywood United clinched the NPSL Western Conference regular season title with a 6-0 victory over Rattlers FC at Palmdale High School’s Jim Riewer Field. Despite the game kicking off in near 100 degree heat, despite wearing their dreaded pale blue road uniform, and despite being forced to start without their first choice striker Brent Whitfield who was late arriving to the game, the Hitmen bounced back from their disappointing loss to Hasental on Tuesday and overwhelmed their opponents with a clinical display of finishing prowess.
Within minutes of the kickoff Hollywood was applying pressure to Rattlers keeper Zach Brunner, Emanuel Bentil sending a 20 yard snap shot just wide of the post. Andy Contreras, Whitfield’s replacement in the starting lineup, was the focus of most of Hollywood’s attacking play, but for the first 15 minutes the through-balls to him were a little wayward. The Rattlers played a high-line offside trap which took a while for Hollywood’s forwards to work out, and on several occasions Contreras and his strike partner Jesus Flores found themselves being flagged by the linesman.
Hollywood almost took the lead on 19 minutes; Oscar Sims crossed from the right wing into a crowded six yard box, and ball fell to Rene Corona, but his flick-cum-shot was smothered by Rattlers keeper Brunner. Sixty seconds later, however, Hollywood got their breakthrough when Andy Contreras received a neat ball down the left wing from Nick Blanco. Contreras wrong-footed Rattlers defender Derek Dodrill, cut inside, and sent a powerful low shot past Brunner to give the Hitmen a 1-0 lead.
Half way through the first half there was a worrying moment when Nick Blanco was overcome by the heat and dehydration, and after being led shakily to the sidelines, was replaced by Jose Miranda. (Defender Oscar Sims succumbed to similar symptoms as the half time whistle blew, and was replaced in the second half by Antonio Meza).
There was a period of confusion on 34 minutes when referee Jesus Munoz gave, and then called back, a second Hollywood goal after Rattlers keeper Brunner picked up a back pass from Oswaldo Lopez. The referee appeared to give an indirect free kick to Hollywood, and while the Rattlers defense argued their case, Arturo Albarran and Jose Miranda took the kick quickly, and Miranda put the ball in the back of the net. The referee initially gave the goal, but after being called over by his assistant, he inexplicably reversed the decision and gave a goal kick to the Rattlers, subsequently explaining that the assistant saw the ball come off Lopez’s knee rather than his foot, and as such had not been a back pass in the first place.
Despite this setback Hollywood continued looking for the second goal. They dominated possession in the midfield, most notably via the calm distribution of Rene Corona and Emanuel Bentil, and the intelligent off-the-ball wing play of the wide men. At one point Hollywood strung together a 35-pass passing maneuver, frustrating the Rattlers. The second goal finally came two minutes before half time, again via the impressive Andy Contreras, who received a ball out wide on the left from Bentil, took one touch to bring the ball under control, and unleashed a shot from 20 yards which beat Brunner into the top corner.
Rene Corona almost made it 3-0 in first half stoppage time when he was put clean through on goal by Albarran, but his goal-bound shot hit the base of the post, and the Hitmen finished the half with a 2-0 lead.
It was 3-0 within minutes of the re-start when substitute Miranda received a beautiful pass from Contreras, sprinted clear of the Rattlers defenders, and slotted home a cool finish from the edge of the box. Hollywood were rampant now; Corona had a shot smothered by Brunner moments before Miranda scored his second and Hollywood’s fourth, a fortuitous stab into the top corner from five yards off Contreras’s driven cross.
The Rattlers came close to pulling one goal back in the 61st minute when Mathayo Huma, a half time substitute for Martin Galvan, beat Carlos Carillo down the right wing and cut inside, but sent his low shot just the wrong side of the post.
As the game progressed, Hollywood made more changes. Carlos Morales tweaked a groin muscle and was replaced by Leo Alvarez, while goalkeeper Calderon, Corona, Bentil and Flores came off for Romero, Acevedo, Sanchez and Whitfield as they tired in the relentless heat.
Contreras completed his hat trick on 79 minutes; the fresh-legged Brent Whitfield sprinted down the right wing, easily beat Rattlers left back Richard Galvan, and sent in a low cross from the bye line which Contreras swept home from 10 yards. Edwin Acevedo added emphasis to the rout six minutes from time with a powerful header off a Miranda cross which Brunner let squirm through his fingers. The Rattlers almost scored a consolation goal in stoppage time off a Derek Dodrill header, but the ball was cleared off the line by man-of-the-match Contreras, adding an excellent defensive play to his three goals and two assists.
The victory seals Hollywood’s position at the top of the NPSL standings, ten points ahead of Sacramento in the Northwest Division, nine points clear of San Diego Flash in the overall Western Conference table, and guaranteed the #1 seed for the playoffs, which begin next weekend (July 9th-10th). Hollywood completes its regular season campaign on Sunday, June 3rd, when they travel to Westview High School in Poway to take on second-place San Diego Flash. Kickoff is at 3:00pm.
20th min, Andy Contreras (HOL)
43rd min, Andy Contreras (HOL)
49th min, Jose Miranda (HOL)
55th min, Jose Miranda (HOL)
79th min, Andy Contreras (HOL)
84th min, Edwin Acevedo (HOL)
Hollywood United lineup: Raul Calderon (Luis Romero); Oscar Sims (Antonio Meza), Marcus Watson, Carlos Carillo, Carlos Morales (Leo Alvarez); Rene Corona (Edwin Acevedo), Emanuel Bentil (Estuardo Sanchez), Arturo Albarran, Nick Blanco (Jose Miranda); Jesus Flores (Brent Whitfield)
Rattlers FC lineup: Zach Brunner; Miguel Guillen, Oswaldo Lopez, Derek Dodrill, Pablo Nunez (Richard Galvan); Matt Niescierowicz, Martin Galvan (Mathayo Huma), Jose Garay, Alex Anderson; Roberto Mariscal, Miguel Ibarra.
Referee: Jesus Munoz