Noe Martinez wasn’t going to be denied on his only shot of the game Tuesday night — not even by his East Union teammates.
The junior midfielder insisted on taking the free kick just outside the top of Sierra’s penalty box in the 78th minute and curled it over the wall and into the upper-left corner. The Lancers escaped the usually-contentious Valley Oak League showdown with a 2-1 victory at Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium.
“All my teammates wanted to shoot but I told them I got it,” Martinez said. “I practiced those during the summer. The goalie was far on the right side so I just went for the opening and made it.”
Lancers coach Ronnie Green was glad he took the initiative.
“My philosophy is I don’t decide who takes the kicks,” Green said. “The players on the field decide who has the hot hand and I want someone who is confident.”
The action went back and forth throughout, and there were of course tense moments in this scrap between intracity rivals and league contenders. They had already met on Dec. 8 in the third-place match of the Lancer Pride Cup, with East Union prevailing, 3-2.
Reigning champion Sierra (1-1, 4-5) was in control at the outset of the rematch, pressuring East Union into making mistakes and easily winning the possession battle. That all changed in the 22nd minute when German Gonzalez chipped it high over Sierra keeper Luis Acosta for a goal set up by a slick give-and-go sequence with Giovanni Padilla.
Just like that it was the counterattacking Lancers (3-0, 10-2-2) on the offensive. They nearly doubled the lead five minutes later when Andrew Ramos missed an open-net opportunity.
Sierra repelled East Union’s barrage and eventually tied it on Joel Velasquez’s long-range free kick in the 36th minute.
“Last time we came out with the intensity, but this time they turned it on us,” Green said. “They were more hungry in the beginning of the game and then we finally settled down. The second half was more 50-50, but to be honest I don’t think either team dominated. Both teams had looks.”
The pace was slowed on several occasions in the second half, even if the intensity ramped up a few notches. A player on each team got involved in a shoving match after East Union was called for a foul, leading to a scrum that escalated on Sierra’s sideline.
There was a six-minute delay in action as the officials sorted out the mess, which led to a Sierra player getting ejected. The Timberwolves did well to stay competitive for the next 15 minutes despite playing a man down, even producing some legitimate scoring chances.
“We did well at times, but they just lost their head on that stupid play,” Sierra coach Joe Pires said. “They have to know that after a foul is called you move on. That’s when it went south.”
An East Union player earned a double-yellow ejection in the 66th minute, and another was tagged with a straight red in stoppage time. With just nine players on the field to Sierra’s 10, the Lancers held on for the win.
Three players on each team were booked in all, as were both sidelines.
“We knew it was going to be a physical and chippy game,” Green said. I’m very happy with the result and getting the win here, but I don’t like all those cards.”
They’ll meet again on Jan. 31 at East Union’s Dino Cunial Field.
“This is only one game, but with this being at home of course we wanted to get the win,” Pires said. “We would have been fine with a tie because they’re a good team.”
East Union 3, Sierra 0
Cristian Perez provided much of the action offensively, scoring two goals and assisting the other to Damian Naranjo.
Defenders Jonathan Ramirez and Jagmeet Gill helped keep the sheet clean for East Union.