Sierra is moving on, as is Joey Velasquez.
The senior forward played his last game for the Timberwolves on Tuesday and assisted the lone goal in the 75th minute of a 1-0 win over 13th-seeded Christian Brothers. No. 5 Sierra (17-3-2) advances to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III semifinal and heads to top-seeded Patterson (18-0-1) on Thursday.
Today, Velasquez will report to Barça Residency Academy in Arizona where he will finish the rest of high school and get top-notch training that is likely to land him a college scholarship or a professional contract.
“Hopefully they can go all the way,” Velasquez said of his now-former Sierra teammates. “I wasn’t here the whole season, so they have it in them.”
He hasn’t featured in much of Sierra’s games this season because of commitments with the Olympic Development Program.
Although he was unable to net a goal of his own in his final appearance for Sierra, and it wasn’t for a lack of opportunities, he is glad to have set up the game-winner for longtime friend Juan Lara. Velasquez drew a foul near the top-left corner of Christian Brothers’ penalty box and served a curling free kick to the back post. Lara leaped high for the head shot, bouncing it off the turf and past Falcons goalkeeper Demonte Robinson.
Velasquez had a good feeling about that cross and knew it would be Lara on the other end of it.
“Every time,” he said. “He’s the biggest guy out there. Ever since we were little he has always been my main target. Any time I get a chance right there from the top of his box it’s going to his head.”
It’s the second straight game that Lara, a central defender and team captain, put the Timberwolves ahead with a late goal on a set piece. Last Thursday, he headed in the go-ahead goal in the 70th minute, and Sierra went on dispatch El Capitan in the first round, 2-0.
Lara was glad to have one last celebration with Velasquez.
“It’s a bittersweet moment, because we’ve played together for about 5-6 years and we’ve made so many memories together,” Lara said. “It’s cool to have one last good memory and send him off with a good one.”
Velasquez put his skills on display in his last hurrah at Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium, dazzling defenders with his quick feet and movement,
He could have had other big moments in the second half but had two perfect crosses get wasted by wide shots and two breakaway opportunities were thwarted by Robinson (four saves), who may have been the best players for the Falcons (8-7-4) of Sacramento.
“Before the game I felt like I had to get one to send me off on a good note, it just didn’t fall for me,” Velasquez said. “That’s how the game goes.”
Sierra was the dominant team, for the most part, outshooting Christian Brothers, 15-6. The Falcons’ best opportunity came in the 70th minute and led to a double ejection. Sierra goalkeeper Anthony Ayala collided with Christian Brothers players after saving a clear look at goal, but tempers soon flared inside the penalty box.
Ayala was sent off with a double yellow, as was Christian Brothers Graham Muskopf, who had been booked earlier in the contest.
With each team down a player, neither could take advantage of the extra space in the run of play, and Sierra back-up keeper Aiden Dolin-Lira was never tested.
“I thought we were in control throughout except for a couple mental mistakes here and there, but our main thing was that we did not finish,” Sierra coach Joe Pires said. “How many opportunities can we miss? Finishing has been the weaker side of our game.
“Defense does well, midfield does well, but all season (finishing goals) has been off and on. Today, it kept the spirit up for the other side because they’re still in it and anything can happen. We’ll have to do better (on Thursday) because Patterson is going to be a challenge.”
The good news for Sierra is it will have striker Audie Garza back. He served a one-game suspension after he earned double-yellow in the Timberwolves’ postseason opener.