East Union soccer coach Victor Polanco watched as the head official raised his hand with eyes trained on his watch and whistle pressed between his lips.
“That’s it,” Polanco said. “It’s over.”
For as much as his Lancers dominated visiting rival Manteca in a 2-1 victory on Monday, Polanco never felt comfortable. East Union (4-2-1 Valley Oak League, 6-2-1 overall) could have — more like should have — won by a wider margin with its considerable 32-4 advantage on shot attempts but instead gave the Buffaloes hope that they could salvage a tie until the end.
“Even when we were up 2-0, that’s not enough for me to relax,” Polanco said. “I know Manteca wanted it really bad and Manteca always gives us a good game. They were ready to play against us.”
Gerardo Romero and Alex Velasquez scored in the 20th and 21st minutes for East Union, and Cesar Torres recorded the Buffaloes’ goal on the final play of the first half with a skillful mid-range volley.
Although outclassed, Manteca (2-5-1, 5-8-1) played with enough grit to hang with one of the VOL contenders. After struggling through the first two weeks of the season, the Buffaloes won two in a row including last Friday’s 1-0 upset of first-place Sierra.
“A win right here would have put us right back in it,” Manteca coach Justin Coenenberg said. “We’re not going to give up, we’re going to keep fighting and hopefully we get a little help.”
Epitomizing Manteca’s never-say-die play was sophomore goalie Matsua Garcia-Mendez. A recent call-up from the frosh-soph team, he shined in his third varsity match and racked up 11 saves.
“He kept us in it and you can tell his confidence is building every minute that he plays,” Coenenberg said. “We’re just really happy with the way he’s coming along. He stepped up and made some big saves today.”
Eric Flores, Romero and Velasquez each had multiple chances to put away insurance goals in the second half but were thwarted by Garcia-Mendez. Manteca was also saved by the crossbar and posts on several occasions. East Union’s final shot taken by Daniel Gomez bounced off the left post in the 79th minute. Just five minutes prior, Gomez lobbed a perfect through ball to Flores, who crushed it for a would-be goal that was negated by an offside infraction.
“We controlled most of the second half but we kept hitting the post,” Polanco said. “That’s the way it is, but we have to finish. We missed a lot of shots.”
The Buffaloes also had some near misses, though they were fewer and farther between. Josh Kong came from the back line to bury a shot on a counterattack but was declared offside early in the first half. Ramon Rojas was later denied by East Union keeper Kyle Niendorf on a breakaway up the middle.
“Even though we didn’t have a lot of shots, we had some other golden opportunities on one-on-ones where we didn’t even get a shot off,” Coenenberg said. “We have to make those, especially when we have few opportunities.”
The ones East Union did convert were beauties.
Manteca was winning the possession battle early on until Romero’s half volley set up by Jesus Hurtado’s accurate cross from the right side put the Buffaloes in a hole. Barely a minute later Velasquez left his mark with an impressive shot from an awkward angle. He bolted through the Manteca defense on the left flank but looked as if he was going to lose the ball out of bounds. Not only did he keep it in play, he surprised everyone — including the referees — by making the shot with his momentum taking him past the end line near the left post.
“I thought he missed it,” Polanco said.
He’s glad he didn’t.
The win keeps his Lancers in line for one of four playoff berths while their padding lead over fifth-place Manteca and Kimball.
Kimball 1, Lathrop 0
Host Lathrop (0-7, 0-13) dropped its fourth one-goal loss of the season, but coach Alfredo Reynaga felt this was one the Spartans let get away.
“We dominated a lot of the game and played well,” he said. “We had a wide-open header on a cross and could not get it in. That’s the story of our life this year.”
East Union 4, Manteca 1
Jacob Garcia, Tyler Saulier, Aaron Manzano and Jonathan Quintana scored one goal apiece as the Lancers rolled to victory.
Lathrop 3, Kimball 2
Logan Gazaway struck twice, and Christopher Almanza added a goal of his own for Lathrop.