Ties don’t get much more exciting than this.
After giving up three unanswered goals Wednesday, visiting Sierra scored twice on penalty kicks in the final two minutes to force a 4-4 stalemate with Valley Oak League-leading East Union at Dino Cunial Field.
There were four penalty kicks taken in the highly-intense duel between contending sides from rival schools. Sierra (4-1-1, 8-4-2 overall) was awarded three of them, and the last two were set up by questionable calls in East Union’s view.
In the 80th minute, East Union goalkeeper Trent Rivera collided with Sierra’s Carlos Mendez on a 50-50 ball near the right edge of the box and was called for the foul. The Timberwolves gave the nod to freshman goalie Luis Acosta to take the PK.
“I just went out there and wanted to help my team out,” Acosta said. “I just blocked out the fans and the players, focused on the PK.”
Junior defender Gerardo Sanchez converted on Sierra’s previous two penalty tries, but Rivera was able to get a hand on the ball both times. His second PK attempt was awarded after an East Union player was called for a handball in the box.
Sanchez was denied the opportunity for a hat trick, a decision that paid off for Sierra coach Joe Pires and his staff. Acosta didn’t give Rivera (three saves) a chance, blowing it by him to the lower left corner.
“The keeper was starting to read,” Pires said. “We figured that the keeper was already figuring out the side he was going to go and we did not want to take that chance. Our keeper has a strong left foot and we had confidence in him.”
It was a “frustrating” way to finish, said East Union coach Ronnie Green, who disputed the big calls that went against his squad in the end. Green is in his first year coaching at his alma mater after serving as an assistant for Sierra.
“They came out wanting to beat me,” Green said. “It was emotional both ways. It’s different playing against them. I know most of the players; a lot of them played for me either for club or while I was at Sierra.”
His Lancers overcame a sluggish start to dominate much of the second half. They scored three straight goals in an eight-minute span starting with Jesus Hurtado’s penalty kick that tied it at 2-2 in the 62nd minute.
Attacking midfielder Oscar Soto punctuated the surge with two sterling give-and-go plays. He led a counterattack up the middle in the 66th minute, drawing the Sierra defense as Angel Guizar sprinted to an opening along the right sideline. Soto pushed it wide to Guizar, who then sent it back with a cross to the far post. With his back to the goal, Soto tapped it in with a heel kick.
“I felt like if I wouldn’t have done that the ball would went past me,” Soto said. “It just happened naturally.”
He struck again three minutes later, this time connecting with Jacob Garcia on the 1-2 combination. East Union continued its assault and nearly expanded the lead some more when Gerardo Gallegos hit the crossbar on a long-distance direct kick. Garcia followed it up, but his goal was negated by an offsides infraction.
“We had the game,” Soto said. “We were all playing well. They’re a good team, we just made some little mistakes. We have to keep playing through it.”
East Union was fortunate to not be trailing after the first half. The Lancers were chasing for most of the first 40 minutes while Sierra had lengthy possessions, oftentimes playing it back to their keeper.
Sanchez broke the scoreless tie with the first PK in the 24th minute after Mendez was tripped up in the box. Sierra outshot the Lancers 6-1 in the opening half (14-8 for the game). East Union was able to score on its lone attempt, which was set up nicely by Jesus Hurtado’s heel pass inside the box. Garcia pulled the trigger on the first touch and got a fortunate deflection as a Sierra defender came sliding toward his feet. The ball arched high into the air and fell well beyond Acosta’s reach.
The Timberwolves took their final lead six minutes into the second half on Mendez’s short-range blast following a corner kick from Christian Tapia.
“We were playing very well, doing what we want to do,” Pires said. “We had some good looks in the first half. In the second half we broke down in a couple of spots and they took advantage of it. They’re a good team. I knew they were always going to be in it.”
East Union heads toward the midway point in league leading Sierra and Weston Ranch by a point in the standings. The Lancers head to last-place Manteca this Friday looking to put their back-to-back draws — Lathrop tied them 3-3 last week — behind them. Sierra and Weston Ranch will square off next Monday.
“Every team can beat any team in this league, I believe that,” Green said. “Everyone is playing us tough. We’re the ones to beat, so everyone is trying to knock us off.”
East Union 3, Sierra 1
The Lancers (6-0, 16-0-2) finished strong to remain unbeaten.
Following a scoreless first half, Sierra’s Manny Magana landed the first blow off an assist from Adib Guedoir. East Union answered with goals from Noe Martinez, Alex Arroyo and Chris Avila.