Manteca High’s boys soccer team is perfect no more, but the Buffaloes were jubilant after their hard-fought 1-1 stalemate with visiting Lathrop at Guss Schmiedt Field Tuesday.
That’s because they were moments away from suffering their first loss against a hungry squad in search of its first Valley Oak League win of the season.
Ricardo Marin helped Manteca (4-0-1, 13-0-1 overall) salvage the tie in the 80th minute. Manuel Nuno lofted an indirect kick into a crowd of bodies after he was fouled about 15 yards outside Lathrop’s penalty box. Marin elevated above the rest to head it backwards and over goalkeeper Omar Guzman (nine saves), who was otherwise outstanding in protecting the Spartans’ net.
“They willed that goal in,” Manteca coach Justin Coenenberg said. “I just had this feeling that we weren’t going to come out of it with a loss.
“Would a perfect record have been nice? Yeah, but that really wasn’t our goal at the beginning of the season,” Coenenberg added. “Our goal is to win the Valley Oak League championship.
“Maybe this takes some pressure off, I don’t know, but it was huge for us to come away with a tie. A loss would have been tough with how competitive the league is.”
The Spartans (0-1-4, 6-3-4) were devastated by the result. It was their fourth tie in five league matches. They battled defending champion East Union, Sonora and Weston Ranch all to 2-2 draws.
“It’s frustrating,” Lathrop coach Lenny Lial said. “The guys play hard only to not get any of these close ones. This one falls right until the end. All it would have taken was us holding the ball onto the corner for a few seconds here and there and that could have made the difference.”
Lathrop also scored on a set piece, as Ulysses Almahza touched it to Felipe Gomez for the go-ahead goal in the 57th minute.
Gomez could have doubled the lead just minutes later. Manteca keeper Abdiel Chiquito got in front of a cross intended for Gomez inside the penalty area but dropped the ball. With open net in front of him, Gomez shanked it well right of the target.
“I slipped a little, that’s why it went up like that,” Gomez said. “I thought we had (the win). I had a couple more I could have finished.”
Lathrop’s last best shot at extending the lead came in the 75th minute, but Gomez’s attempt from short range just missed the crossbar.
To their credit, the Spartans weren’t satisfied with sitting on the one-goal lead in the second half, continuing to apply pressure on Manteca’s end of the pitch.
Manteca dominated possession in the opening half and created some nice scoring opportunities, but for the most part Lathrop’s back line played air tight defense despite missing starter Andres Garcia, who served a one-game suspension for an accumulation of cards.
“Without him we had to reshape the defense and we actually may have found our defense the rest of the way out,” Lial said. “Now we can probably put Andres in the midfield to give us more offensive options.”
Perhaps that can help Lathrop get over the hump this Thursday, but it has another tough assignment in Sierra.
“The level of play and the progress are there,” Lial said. “We just need to move forward and come out strong against Sierra. It doesn’t get any easier for us. This is a tough league from top to bottom. There are no cupcakes.”
Manteca 5, Lathrop 1
Braulio Solis recorded a hat trick for the Buffaloes (4-1, 7-3). They also had scoring contributions from Raul Marquez and Juan Valdovinos.
Jose Cerda accounted for Lathrop’s lone score.