Tempers flared early and often between the Manteca Futbol Club Under-23 United and the Pacific Soccer Academy Storm of Los Gatos Wednesday night at Woodward Park, and for good reason: The championship was on the line.
Heading into the second to last contest of the 15-team US Soccer Club Northern California Premier League play, Manteca (8-1-2) stood atop the standings with 25 points, and Los Gatos (7-2-2) claimed second with 22.
With an opportunity to clinch the title outright, Manteca came into the contest looking to rebound from its first draw of the season, and send Los Gatos into a meaningless situation Saturday.
But after battling to a bruising 2-2 tie, Manteca will now have to win Saturday to claim the championship.
“Our team lacked discipline (tonight),” Manteca head coach Luciano Silveira said. “Mental discipline. Game discipline. We had the red card early, and it was a weak call, it should have been a yellow. But going down early, that was not good.”
Just five minutes after Agustin Mota Colina was called for a ticky-tack red card at midfield in the 26th minute of the first half, Los Gatos peppered the back of the net for an early 1-0 lead.
But Manteca countered in first-half injury time when Bronil Koochoie found space in the Los Gatos box and slipped a nifty left-footed boot past the Storm keeper.
Koochoie celebrated with style, as he ripped his jersey off and sprinted the entire length of the field to a group of friends waiting in the opposite corner.
After receiving numerous high-fives from his friends, Koochoie was given a friendly yellow accompanied by a pat on the back from the lead official.
Manteca keeper David Carlile (7 saves) did well to thwart a Los Gatos 9-6 first-half shot advantage, collecting five saves, including a one-on-one opportunity.
The keeper stopped another one-on-one in the second half as well.
Los Gatos was chippy from the start, Manteca felt disrespected, and both sides were extremely physical throughout.
Los Gatos racked up three yellows and a red after a player wrapped his forearm Ernesto Carranza’s neck deep in Los Gatos territory.
Carranza took exception a yellow he was called for on the play, sprinted to the official, ripped the card from away and tossed it to the ground before walking straight to the sideline, cognizant of the impending red headed his way.
“The second red card was again, lack of discipline. Two times,” Silveira said. “Not good. Although the boys hung on and we were fortunate to tie.”
Carranza’s brilliant footwork gave Manteca an early second-half lead when he shook the Los Gatos keeper out of his socks and beat two more defenders with a far-post screamer on the carpet.
The goal, which came at the eight-minute mark, stood as the potential game-decider for 30 minutes until Los Gatos answered with a set piece header seven minutes shy of injury time.
Manteca stopper Jordan Ferrell played well on the defensive end, as did most of his teammates, but a lapse in focus with the clock dwindling was the difference between a championship and second straight draw, regardless.
The whistles were fast and furious in the second half, as Los Gatos had nine fouls to Manteca’s six.
There was no love lost in the postgame meeting at midfield, as members of both teams had to be restrained to preserve the peace.
“Coming out with a draw is good, we get another point,” Silveira said. “Next game seals the deal.”
Manteca plays for the championship at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, again at Woodward.
The Sonoma County Sol (3-5-0) will look to play the role of spoiler.
To contact Brandon Petersen, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (209) 249-3543.