It was just two years ago that East Union captured the outright Valley Oak League crown and played for a Sac-Joaquin Section championship for the first time.
Weston Ranch, meanwhile, was in its eighth varsity season and still struggling to keep up with the VOL’s elite.
Times have since changed.
The once-beaten Cougars visited East Union’s Dino Cunial Field Thursday and came away with a commanding 3-0 victory that leaves them in a first-place tie with Oakdale through two VOL matches.
“We’re making the statement that this year is different,” said sophomore midfielder Joseph Mayorca, one of several talented underclassmen who led Weston Ranch to the league’s frosh-soph title a year ago.
Second-year head coach Francisco Cisneros cautions his players to not get too confident, adding that there is plenty room for improvement. As dominant as Weston Ranch (2-0, 10-1-1 overall) was Thursday, Cisneros called his team’s play “a little sloppy” in a second half in which many scoring opportunities were wasted.
“It’s early in the season,” he said. “We can’t get too excited.”
Three different Cougars scored. Sophomore Kevin Medina landed the first blow with a free kick in the 17th minute. Omar Centeno, yet another sophomore, later missed a penalty kick, keeping East Union (1-1, 1-5-2) in the hunt down one by halftime.
“That (penalty kick) could have settled things a little better in the first half, but I like how we responded in the second half. They just came out ready to play. I thought our passing and finishing could have been better, but I’m proud of how they stepped up when they needed to.”
East Union keeper Abel Lopez, who was relieved by Bryce Lew in the 63rd minute, had two big saves in the opening six minutes of the second half but could not hold off the relentless Weston Ranch attack for good. Mayorca finally broke through with an insurance goal in the 49th minute, converting a breakaway set up by Arthur Garcia’s through pass. The goal was Mayorca’s team-leading 14th for the season.
Eight minutes later, Mariano Perez — yes, a sophomore — buried the third goal from the 18-yard line with Medina providing the assist.
“It’s a big advantage,” Mayorca said of Weston Ranch’s balanced scoring. “We play as a team. If someone doesn’t have an opportunity they just find the next guy who does have an open opportunity.”
East Union didn’t have enough of them, while Weston Ranch failed to make good on three one-on-one opportunities in the second half. Julio Rangel blasted to open shots from distance in the final minutes, but Weston Ranch keeper Jose Avila was otherwise untested over the final 40 minutes.
“We just couldn’t connect,” East Union coach Victor Polanco said. “We are working hard on communication and connecting passes, but I think it was a little bit of (over) confidence from Tuesday’s win in Sonora. They might have thought this game was going to be easy but it was not.
“There are no easy games; everybody (in the VOL) is really good.”
We can now count Weston Ranch among the “really good.”