They had something to prove, did the Jags, even though this was just a non-district match early in the season. The opponent coming to town Tuesday was Brownsville Rivera, which has been a thorn in the Eastside for many years. Last year in fact, the perennially powerful Raiders defeated Econ, 5-1, so the Orange did not mince words in the pre-game huddle.
“How bad did they beat us last year?” asked one Jag, whereupon someone answered with the score. “Alright, let’s show them that we’re not that bad, that we are going to play hard and play well.”
Led by a brace from senior Chris Garcia, the Jags indeed did go well and hard, rebounding from a two-goal deficit to post a solid 3-3 draw against a club that has been the gold standard – along with other Brownsville teams plus Sharyland, Hidalgo, and Valley View – through the years.
Coach Sam Gonzalez went to war without two key starters, Jose Trejo and Orly Rodriguez, who are injured. But he got fine performances from the rest of the gang as the Jags, the gold standard in town for many moons – gave a gutty effort against a terrific foe and survived to tell about it.
“We made some mistakes, which is understandable, considering we were down a few starters,” said Gonzalez, the long-time Econ manager. “We’ll look at the film and correct some of those mistakes. I think this result shows that we can be competitive once again, when district comes around.”
The Raiders, who had lost four times to upstate teams during the early tourney season, started well Tuesday with possession and touch and notched two goals in a 5-minute span midway through the first half, offset pieces. But Econ refused to fold, using strong clearances from rangy defender Edwin Galicia and the midfield fluidity of bespectacled Kevin Mendez to come back.
With 15 minutes left in the half, the stocky Garcia hopped on a loose ball in the box and slotted home to pull one back. As the seconds ticked off, sub-Charlie Lara made a run down left and was fouled in the area, leading to an equalizing Garcia penalty winner at 3:55. Keeper Brian Amaya came up with a tremendous diving save at the wire and the Jags went to the interval in high spirits.
Last year Rivera defeated the Jags and EHS, North twice, and have dominated city sides for decades, especially in the playoffs. But Econ put the history out of mind to begin the second half, stunning the visitor with a leaping header by defender Evelardo Lucatero just 1:17 into play. Lucatero elevated to score off a free kick by the crafty Mendez, and the former also displayed a powerful leg on goal kicks and the ability to clear with alacrity.
But just as it seemed the upset was on, Rivera came down to equalize less than four minutes after the Lucatero goal. From there the teams dug in, the Raiders again beginning to capture run of play with their patented potency via pass, playing out of the back with skill and creating chances in the attacking third. But Amaya was equal to every challenge and helped parry seven Rivera shots on goal in a 20-minute span.
Meanwhile, Econ’s offense was stifled until Jose Angel Raya carried down the middle of the park, getting stopped right outside the box at 13:30. Then Mendez tracked back to thwart a dangerous Rivera run and in the last stages of the game, Lucatero was outstanding with three separate challenges to stop the onrushing Raiders.
The Jags then advanced over to Donna for a tournament, where they eventually faced city rival EHS Friday, losing 1-0. Econ registered three wins in four over the first two days while the Bobcats did the same, dropping a decision to Eagle Pass, beating Econ 1-0. The Bobcats came into the tourney at 2-3-2, against a pretty salty schedule but advanced all the way to the title match at Donna before losing to P-SJ-A Memorial, 2-0 Saturday.
Last week the Review decided that Vela’s new coach was named Picharlo. The truth is, as we readily admit, the mentor is one, Rodolfo Pichardo … with the new year comes the residue of rust, a thousand pardons extended (lo siento, profe).