Manteca High striker Marcus Montano trotted off the field with about five minutes left in Wednesday’s match.
The three-time All-Area striker earned the early exit after ensuring the Buffaloes’ 3-1 victory over Ripon High with two goals and an assist.
Montano scored the bookend goals for Manteca (1-1-1) and assisted on the eventual game-winner — a dipping cross to the on-charging Kevin Rodriguez in the 58th minute.
Rodriguez finished with a whiz-bang header, leaving goalie Johnathan Soto flat-footed and helpless.
“Marcus has been an important part of our offense here going on four years. He usually attracts a lot of attention, so we have to make sure he keeps working hard off the ball,” Manteca coach Justin Coenenberg said. “He creates opportunities not only for himself but other people.”
While Montano looks to be in midseason form, the cast around him is still developing … much to Coenenberg’s chagrin.
That learning curve played out in Wednesday’s match as the bigger, stronger and more apt Buffaloes struggled to put away the shorthanded Indians, losers of four of their first five games.
The Buffaloes outshot Ripon 21-5 and dominated possession of the ball, but missed several point-blank opportunities.
Coenenberg understands that the season is still young, but he also expects a little more explosiveness from an offense that returns much of its talent – and adds a playmaker in center midfielder Alexis Hernandez.
Then there’s the Montano factor.
“When he draws so much attention it leaves some other guys open,” Coenenberg said. “We got to make sure those guys capitalize as well.
“With the talent we have it is a little disappointing that we’re not capitalizing on those opportunities. Several times, we’d break them down the sideline and turn the corner. I had guys getting into the box, but they’d go and stand behind defenders. I need to get them to step in front, lay a ball off and then finish. We’ll definitely be working on that.”
The Indians have their own concerns. Ripon started the game down five starters, including two that missed the team bus to Manteca.
Leading scorer Thomas Sidtikun and sweeper Emmanuel Sanchez didn’t enter the game until the 12th minute. By then, Manteca had already outshot the visitors 5-0, effectively tilting the field in its favor.
Continuity and fitness have been coach Jaime DeBruyn’s biggest worries in the early going.
The Indians have played five games in five days and lost senior Noah Lehmann to an ankle sprain in Tuesday’s 7-2 victory over Waterford. DeBruyn said Lehmann, who was injured after recording a hat trick, will miss at least a week.
Ripon sorely missed his presence on Wednesday.
Victor de la O scored in the 65th minute to make it 2-1, but the Indians failed to capitalize on the momentum. Ripon mustered just two second-half shots.
Sidtikun was limited to just one shot – a low-struck attempt in the first half that was punched away by goalie Eduardo Aguilar.
“I got three starters out hurt. … I got guys hurt and guys moving around. We played a tournament on Saturday and a game yesterday, so I got preseason tired legs going on over here,” DeBruyn said. “Once we get guys healthy, we’ll be OK.
“We have to find out who’s going to score. Last year, I had five guys that could put the ball in the net.”
As long as Manteca has Montano, it should be fine. He has scored 44 goals in the past two seasons, and once again demonstrated his potency against the Indians.
Man-marked for most of the game, Montano broke free from the defense in the 27th minute on a through ball from Ramon Rojas.
He skipped a right-footed shot inside the opposite panel for the 1-0 lead. He later closed the scoring with a back-door finish off a cross from Braulio Solis.
Manteca 3, Ripon 0
Alexis Ochoa, Jackey Tang and Josue Nunez found the back of the net for the Buffaloes, who snapped a two-game losing streak to start the season.