Sierra felt like this was one that slipped away, unable to capitalize on a 14-5 shot advantage (7-3 on goal) and 6-1 edge on corner kicks.
The Lancers of East Union left enemy territory thinking it was taken away from them.
So ends the first week of what is shaping up to be a wild and competitive Valley Oak League season.
A disputed call led to the equalizing goal in the final minutes of Thursday’s grudge match at Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium, as Sierra battled back from a two-goal deficit to salvage a 2-2 draw.
It’s another wake-up call for defending conference champion East Union (0-0-2, 3-1-3 overall), a 2011 Sac-Joaquin Section playoff finalist that also battled Lathrop to a 2-2 tie in the VOL opener on Tuesday.
“I expect for these games to be this way all season,” EU head coach Victor Polanco said. “We come out and respect the teams we play, but with referees like this you cannot play soccer like that.”
The controversy surrounds a six-second violation that went against East Union keeper Lupe Flores (6 saves), who was having a phenomenal game up until that point. The rule, which was enforced with about two minutes remaining, is in place to help prevent stalling but is one that is rarely called.
It was recently brought to light in a high-profile match between the U.S. and Canadian women’s Olympic teams. The Americans benefitted from the call, allowing them to tie the semifinal contest late and ultimately win in overtime, 4-3.
“I don’t think anybody (calls) the 6 seconds anymore,” Polanco said.
It was called Thursday, and Sierra’s Erick Noriega cashed in on the indirect kick from Ruben Lopez. The ball was placed at the top of the 18-yard box.
“I just shot it and hoped it would go in,” Noriega admitted.
It was his second goal of the night, and his first was a beauty.
Noriega halved the deficit on a direct kick in the 54th minute, delivering a nasty left-to-right bender from about 30 yards out.
“I practice those shots all the time, so that when we come to the games I expect to make them,” he said.
East Union did well to weather an early barrage of goal-scoring opportunities mounted by Sierra. The Lancers have Flores to thank, as he deflected away several short-distance shots to keep it scoreless.
The Lancers got on board in the 22nd minute, when Jairo Baires led a counter attack down the left flank and crossed it to Alfredo Solorzano for the deflection.
Then in the first minute of the second half, defender Alejandro Perez crashed the goal area for a head shot off Jordan Kron’s long throw in. Moments later, Derek Souza nearly increased the lead to three when he nailed the crossbar from distance.
It was all Sierra from there.
It was a physical and chippy match from the outset. Twenty-three fouls were called, and seven cards were issued — including a red charged to an East Union player after the contest. One Sierra player was tagged with a double-yellow ejection, forcing the Timberwolves (1-0-1, 3-1-3) to play a man down for the final 17 minutes.
That didn’t stop them from keeping the pressure on EU’s back line.
“Overall we finished well, even with 10 men,” Sierra co-head coach Jose Montes said. “We passed the ball better than when we had 11, so we have a lot to work on there.”