Lance Eber can’t have many complaints.
His Golden Valley High School boys soccer team sits atop the Central California Conference standings after three games, with the Cougars not yet playing their best. The offense has stalled a bit, becoming predictable at times and making life easier for opposing defenses. Despite the attack not flowing as freely as a couple of weeks prior, the Cougars have still found a way to earn results.
That ability was put on display again at Veterans Stadium on Thursday night as Golden Valley picked up a 1-0 victory over El Capitan. The win set up a battle of unbeatens Friday night as the Cougars (8-3, 3-0 CCC) were to host Turlock (8-4-1, 2-0 CCC).
“It’s just the last few games where all of a sudden we get into the attacking third and we’re struggling to even get a shot off,” Eber said. “We’re doing a nice job winning the ball and distributing to our midfielders. It’s just in the last third of the field that we seem to be struggling with ideas right now.
“It’ll turn around, but the good thing is we’ve managed to get wins in the meantime. We probably played direct too much still tonight, but I thought there were signs of us breaking out of it. Their keeper made some great saves or it could have been a much easier victory.”
After 20-plus minutes of limited action, Erick Gomez nearly opened the scoring when he was played in at the top of the Gaucho 18-yard box. Gomez attempted to drill a ball into the near post, but El Cap goalkeeper Juan Valdovino got a piece of the shot with a diving effort. His deflection redirected the ball off the crossbar and kept the match level.
It was the start of a fantastic evening for Valdovino, as he made eight saves to keep the Gauchos (4-6-1, 1-2 CCC) in striking distance.
His team almost took advantage five minutes later when Nestor Montes ran free down the right sideline. Montes drilled a dipping shot over Golden Valley goalkeeper Austin Vang, but it didn’t dip fast enough, hitting the bottom of the crossbar and caroming out. The two shots off the woodwork were the only real chances in the first half.
“We had our chances. We can’t complain about that,” Gauchos coach Ray Abarca said. “I thought we played well. As much as you don’t want to take too many positives from a loss, Golden Valley is one of the top teams in the league and we were right there with them.”
The breakthrough came off of the opening play of the second half.
Junior wing Bryan Robles chased down a pass in the right corner and delivered a dangerous cross into the El Cap 6-yard box. Valdovino said he lost the ball temporarily in the lights and an unmarked Andy Abarca took full advantage, heading home the winner.
El Capitan had an excellent opportunity to equalize three minutes later when Montes beat his man down the left wing and crossed a ball to an open Michael Saldana at about the penalty spot. Saldana didn’t get a cooperative bounce off the turf, however, and his half-volley attempt sailed over the bar. The Gauchos didn’t produce anything to challenge Vang (three saves) the rest of the way.
“Our goal came directly from a drill that we work on in practice every day, so that made me happy,” Eber said. “It was one of the few times we got the ball wide and got a good cross in. I wish we’d done it more.
“The other thing we need to work on is changing our mindset when we have the lead. If it’s 0-0, you go all-out attack. But if we have a lead late, we need to do a better job of possessing the ball and not just handing it right back to the other team with bad passes.”