Robert Gonzalez’s streak of goals came to an end on Thursday, but that didn’t stop Weston Ranch from continuing its winning ways in the Valley Oak League despite a thoroughly dominated first-half by defending champion Sierra.
The visiting Cougars instead looked to their midfielders to provide some scoring punch in this lively first-place showdown at Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium. Bryan Rodriguez scored twice to ignite Weston Ranch’s 3-2 come-from-behind victory, and defensive midfielder Jesus Vega netted the deciding goal in the 63rd minute.
Sierra (4-2 VOL, 7-6 overall) owned possession in the first half and had far more chances throughout, but the Cougars (6-0, 11-6) made their fewer looks count with all of their converted shots catapulted from beyond the penalty box. The Timberwolves finished with 15 shots against seven for Weston Ranch — 5-3 on goal.
“They came out more aggressive than us, and honestly they were the better team for a long stretch there,” Weston Ranch coach Francisco Cisneros said. “I have a lot of seniors who have been through a lot of battles, so that experience really helped us out today.
“They kept their cool, for the most part, and kept battling and battling. Luckily, we were able to leave here with three points. In a race where it’s really tight at the top, these three points may be huge in the end.”
Vega’s game-winning crack came off a soft clearance from the Sierra defense. It was just the third shot on frame for the Cougars at the time, all of which found the net.
“When it was headed out, I thought that no matter what just shoot it if it comes to me,” Vega said. “And I saw it was coming right to me.”
Vega didn’t hesitate, blowing it past outstretched keeper Luis Acosta on the first touch.
It was physical and emotion-filled tilt that included 33 fouls and 11 bookings. Sierra ended the match with just nine players on the field after two earned double-yellow ejections but still managed to pressure goalie Francisco Vega (three saves) and the Weston Ranch defense.
Sierra had two great chances on the same play two minutes after the Cougars went up for good. Tristan Gonzalez banged a free kick from the top of the 18-yard line off the crossbar, and Brayan Nunez sailed the uncontested follow-up over the goal entirely.
The result is understandably frustrating for Sierra after it had an impressive start.
Freshman Joel Velasquez opened scoring 39 seconds into the match, finishing a cross from Gerardo Magana. The lead was doubled in the 18th minute on Juan Lara’s short-range blast set up by Magana’s lobbed delivery with a bicycle kick shortly after a corner kick.
“They’re a quick team and they were connecting well,” Cisneros said. “We had a tough time with their speed in the beginning and we had to adjust.”
Sierra was well in command with the 2-0 lead but could have been ahead by more. Miguel Villaseñor had a point-blank half-volley shot but hit the left post in the 15th minute, receiving a perfect cross from Nunez.
“I think (missing) so many good opportunities in the first half and in the first 15 minutes of the second half, that started getting in our head,” Sierra coach Joe Pires said. “They were able to get some goals on freaky plays, but we still had chances after that. We talked about taking advantage of those key opportunities or they’ll come back to haunt you, and they sure did.”
Weston Ranch was limited to just two shot attempts in the first half. Rodriguez lifted the Cougars’ spirits with his heads-up try in the 38th minute. Kevin Urrutia-Hernandez made a threatening run down the right flank but lost the ball, which found its way to Rodriguez. With the Sierra keeper well off his line, Rodriguez took full advantage as soon as he garnered control.
“I just saw an opportunity to shoot it, so I took it,” he said. “I felt like that gave my team the momentum for the second half.
“We started off on the wrong foot. We weren’t communicating as much, we were lost. We were just bad.”
Rodriguez tied it up in the 55th minute, and it was Gonzalez who centered it to the open midfielder as he drew the attention of the Sierra defense. Gonzalez leads Weston Ranch with 17 goals and scored at least one in each of the team’s last five matches.
“He didn’t score tonight but he got an assist, which was huge,” Cisneros said. “You’re not going to score in every game, it’s a tough league. Today, his job was more to distribute the ball and he did a great job with that.”