East Union’s game plan was to apply pressure on the Manteca back line from the opening whistle Monday at Guss Schmiedt Field.
Head coach Victor Polanco knew that with his Lancers’ speed on the attacking third scoring chances would eventually present themselves.
“We didn’t expect it that early,” he said.
James Rendon set the tone for the opportunistic Lancers. Not even 30 seconds had past when he stripped Manteca defender Carlos Belmonte of the ball near the top of the 18-yard line and blasted it by goalie Eduardo Aguilar.
East Union built on the early momentum for an important 5-3 victory that vaults it into contention with the Valley Oak League’s top three. Gerardo Romero was the match’s lone multi-goal scorer, as he struck for two in the first half. He also assisted the final goal of the contest.
At the halfway point of league play, the Lancers (4-2-1 VOL, 6-2-2 overall) trail second-place Manteca (5-2, 10-3-1) and Oakdale by just two points. Weston Ranch, still unbeaten in the VOL, now sits more comfortably at the top of the table.
“This is a big win,” Polanco said. “We worked hard on Friday for this game because we knew that if we could beat Manteca we would (be motivated) to be even better for the rest of league. That’s the second (place) team in league. They’re there because they’re good.”
Coming off a rebuilding campaign in which they finished seventh in league with a 3-13-4 overall record, the Lancers just proved worthy to be in the conversation.
It was a back-and-forth affair between cross-town rivals that played at a brisk pace throughout. The Buffaloes were quick to respond to Rendon’s surprising goal. In the ninth minute, Kevin Rodriguez brought down Braulio Solis’ cross with a chest trap and slipped it past East Union goalie Bryce Lew for the equalizer.
It wasn’t tied for long.
East Union was on the run immediately following the reset. With Manteca still in high spirits from its goal, Romero found an opening in the defense as Rendon delivered a well-timed through ball his way. That set up an easy 1-on-1 with a keeper and the go-ahead score.
“When you pressure the defense like that right away they’re not going to expect it,” Rendon said. “Usually some teams let a goal bring them down but we kept our heads up. I saw (Romero) open and just gave it to him.”
Manteca responded in the 17th minute with a Jareth Guzman head shot off Marcus Montano’s corner kick. East Union recaptured the lead for good in the 25th minute when Romero buried his second goal on a direct kick from nearly 30 yards out.
It was an uphill struggle from there for Manteca, which trailed 3-2 at halftime. Uriel Flores scored on a rocket shot from distance to double East Union’s lead in the 54th minute, and Eric Flores capped the final score with about 8 minutes remaining with a header.
“It was just a matter of silly mistakes, mistakes that we just can’t make back there in a game like this,” Manteca coach Justin Coenenberg said. “We came out flat and it just kind of snowballed from there.”
East Union was able to survive an onslaught of shots from Manteca early in the second half. Jason Maravilla and Montano began the half with a nice combination sequence down the left sideline, ending with Montano booting a short-range shot that was blocked by EU keeper Jose Modesto.
Montano had another try about 3 minutes later with Maravilla sending a cross from the right corner, but his powerful half-volley blast bounced off the left post. Montano had several other cracks at it but came up empty handed. He did finally settle one into the net on a penalty kick in the 57th minute, but the Buffaloes still trailed, 4-3.
Manteca had three shots on goal in the first four minutes of the second half and had eight in all over the final 40 minutes. Modesto finished with seven saves.
“Their goalies came up with big saves,” Coenenberg said. “It’s a credit to them, they have some very good goalies.”
Both teams ended up with 15 total shots, 11 on frame for Manteca against eight for the Lancers. The two teams combined for 30 fouls, and two players from each were booked for yellow cards.
East Union has a good chance of cracking the top three Wednesday when it heads to winless Central Catholic. Meanwhile, Manteca hosts defending VOL champion Oakdale.
“We have to get refocused here pretty quickly because we have Oakdale here on Wednesday,” Coenenberg said. “It was a competitive game the last time we played them so we have to be ready. We have to eliminate the mental mistakes, especially in the back. We’re scoring goals we’re just giving away too many.”