Twelve up, 12 down and 10 to go.
Manteca High’s boys soccer team managed to keep its perfect record intact with its 2-1 win at rival Sierra’s Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium on Tuesday.
It hasn’t been easy.
The Buffaloes — now 3-0 in the Valley Oak League — have won five matches by one-goal margins against quality opposition. Sierra (1-1-1, 5-2-3) definitely made them earn it in what was an impressive display of high-caliber soccer from whistle to whistle.
“I feel like we still have a lot of room for improvement, but this is the best game we’ve played all year,” Manteca coach Justin Coenenberg said. “Everything came together and the kids were fired up.
“Obviously it would be nice to win out and go undefeated, but there’s a lot of league left. We’re just taking this one game at a time.”
It’s a good approach to take considering the parity in the VOL this year. Through three games, it’s been proven that anything can happen.
“You have to give it to Manteca, they’re hungry,” Sierra co-head coach Jose Montes said. “We have to play like Manteca does. They’ve been knocking on the door for like the last three years.”
The match was evenly played throughout, with both sides mounting good scoring opportunities only to have them thwarted by clutch goalkeeping. It came down to capitalizing on mistakes.
Manteca struck first in the 60th minute when Manuel Nuno converted a penalty kick. The Buffaloes were awarded the shot after he was taken down by Anis Guedoir inside the 18-yard line.
Sierra was in the clear for a moment. Manteca’s Luis Orozco originally fired the penalty kick but had it blocked by goalie Manuel Garcia (four saves), who was whistled for coming off his line prematurely.
“That was a tough call,” Montes said. “Our goalkeeper makes a good save but they get to re-kick it. That’s momentum for the other team.”
Sophomore sensation Marcus Montano doubled the lead for Manteca just eight minutes later, using speed and hustle to do so. He stole the ball and raced past two defenders for an easy one-on-one opportunity.
“Anytime you’re in a rivalry game you don’t want to be up by just one,” Coenenberg said. “Marcus, during that last 20 minutes, was just going. He was running down every ball and was kind of in one of those zones where he was not going to be denied.”
Erick Noriega gave Sierra hope in the 76th minute. After getting fouled near the top of Manteca’s penalty box, he lofted a well-placed direct kick over the wall and into the upper-right 90.
“When Nori (Noriega) had the ball I kept telling the defense not to foul him and not to let him shoot,” said Manteca goalie Abdiel Chiquito.
Chiquito otherwise produced a masterful performance in goal for the Buffs, coming up with five saves. During one three-minute stretch early in the second half, he deflected three point-blank opportunities.
“Chiquito is a special goalie,” Coenenberg said. “I think people see his size, but he’s one of the most athletic kids I’ve ever coached. He has no fear and makes some great saves.”
For Sierra, it was the second straight match in which Noriega scored on a direct kick. In the East Union game he scored twice on set pieces.
“We’re struggling with scoring,” Montes said. “We can’t rely on Nori making direct kicks, we have to put the ball in the back of the net.”
Manteca 4, Sierra 0
Gino Mercado and Izzy Lopez both converted penalty kicks for the Buffaloes (2-1), who also got scoring contributions from Raul Marquez and Jose Perez.