LATHROP — East Union was relentless in the attacking third during the first half, pressuring the Lathrop defense into mistakes with precision passing and outstanding individual play.
In the second half it was the visiting Lancers on their heels, for the most part, but by then the damage had already been done. Gerardo Romero registered a hat trick during a torrid 13-minute stretch, and East Union held off Lathrop 4-1 in an important Valley Oak League match at Bennie Gatto Field.
Thomas Suarez set up Romero’s first goal with a long through ball for an easy breakaway. Jaime Castaneda and Gustavo Vazquez combined to assist his second goal, with Castaneda centering it from the right corner and Vazquez pushing it to the wide-open Romero near the opposite post. Less than a minute later, Vazquez stole the ball near midfield and delivered it to Romero inside the penalty box to complete the hat trick.
Suarez made it 4-0 with a penalty kick in the 77th minute. Estevan Lopez scored off a cross from Ulysses Almanza or Lathrop’s lone goal in the final minute.
“We were all working well together,” said Romero, who struck in the 15th, 27th and 28th minutes. “We were connecting with our passes and everything — we were just on in the first half. In that second half, I guess we were just tired.”
East Union coach Victor Polanco forgave the second-half letdown considering the energy his squad showed over the first 40 minutes. It was an all-around better effort from the Lancers (2-1 VOL, 4-1-1 overall), who were coming off a 4-0 setback at first-place Weston Ranch.
“That’s what we talked about after that Weston Ranch loss,” Polanco said. “If we want to win in the VOL we have to work hard. We cannot play those kinds of games anymore. I think maybe they had too much confidence, and second thing is we were not ready for that game.
“Today, they were ready from the beginning. We want to win the game in the first half and it worked out today.”
Lathrop (0-3, 7-6-1), to its credit, raised its level of play in the second half. The Spartans attempted 11 shots (seven on frame) compared to just one in the opening half and dominated possession as East Union settled for counter-attacking runs.
Too little, too late for a team that has dropped its first three VOL matches after winning its final three pre-league contests.
“The kids just woke up late,” Lathrop coach Alfredo Reynaga said. “We played a different game in the second half. Unfortunately, that’s how our first three league games have gone. We’re trying to find that trigger to get these kids motivated right from the beginning because when they play they can compete with anybody. The problem is that we show up too late and we’re always playing from behind.”
While East Union’s first-half goalie, Jose Modesto, had little action, Bryce Lew (six saves) had reason to stay on his toes during his stint. Lathrop keeper Roni Hafed (10 saves) was under duress throughout and did well to keep East Union from doubling its final goal total.
“We have to make some minor fixes on defense because we’re putting our goalie in very difficult positions,” Reynaga said.
Lathrop continues its brutal stretch to start league Wednesday when it heads to Weston Ranch, this after losing to Sierra and defending champion Oakdale by a combined 9-1 score last week. It doesn’t get any easier for East Union either, as it travels to Oakdale.