The SaberCats have been gunning for the signature win to get their soccer season percolating, and they got just that Tuesday, winning 2-1 at North after an inspired second half of defense against a suddenly formidable wind.
Buoyed by a 2-0 halftime lead after a pair of goals late in the process, Vela carved out the positive result, withstanding a stiff breeze and a late charge from the Cougars, who scored with three minutes left and might have equalized had it not been for expert defending from left-back Gael Hernandez inside the final minute.
Coach Rodolfo Pichardo was happy with the way things turned out, to say the least. He had been working the psychology angle with a Vela side that had come very close to breaking through in the past several fixtures.
“I want them to be able to visualize out there, to see themselves making a pass, making a tackle, scoring a goal,” said the first-year coach, whose group had taken four points from the last two matches heading into Friday’s action against Econ. “They have to believe in themselves, we can prepare them, but only they are out there on the field, and they need to be able to see themselves doing successful things and do them. This was big for us, at their house, against the wind the second half, and we were able to do it.”
North came to war ensconced in fourth place in 31-6A and looked at times like it was going to run to another victory. But strong Vela defending against star Roberto Ruiz was the key to holding the Coogs without a goal until late.
“It’s all about communication back there,” said senior center back John Van Hook, who had his usual roughneck captain’s performance. “You hear me talking a lot out there because it really does help, we have to know where each other are, we have to communicate.”
The Sabes communicated with the North net twice in the closing ticks of the first half. First, it was Orlando “DiMaria” Aguirre running under a ball off a re-start to slot home 3:49 from the interval. Then, teammate Edgar Hernandez took off on a terrific run from the midline, down the middle of the park. He got to within 15 yards of goal and rolled one by the keeper at 2:53 to give Pichardo’s crew a two-goal advantage.
With lanky Miguel Solis all over midfield, especially in defending the athletic and deceptively strong Ruiz, Vela dug in for the final 40 minutes. Playing without outstanding offensive threat Emiliano Luna, this team found a way to get it done. North got extreme effort from Dylan de la Garza in back and Axel Loera upfront, but it was Ruiz who pulled one back at 2:19 after he wheeled around a defender and sent one soaring to the good. Later, Hernandez of Vela was on the spot and came through with two clearances, and Tristan “Clay” Palacios made the final boot upfield to clinch a superb result for the Blue and Black.
VELA GETS REVENGE ON NORTH
It didn’t seem like it was meant to be, after they fell behind 2-0 on the road Tuesday, following two fine goals from Deyanira Rodriguez of the Lady Coogs, the first coming 15 minutes in and the second early in the second half. About then, it looked like Vela, winner of five in a row in district, would once again fall to the North Jinx.
But in a flash, with lightning threatening in the distance, the Lady Sabes found their mark twice in two minutes to tie the match, and eventually would emerge with two hard-won points by winning the penalty kick session.
The first blast was a Campbell Special, a 30-yard free-kick from junior Taylor Campbell that dented the usually impregnable North twines. This came at 34:23, 36 seconds after Rodriguez had given the Lady Coogs a two-goal cushion with an absolute bullet from the right-wing.
Vela wasn’t done, as winger Lauren Vega sent a ball into the box and a corner ensued. At 32:15, senior Danna Cantu – who played an outstanding match in the back, all night – leaped to head the equalizing goal home.
From there Vela was on the front foot, creating attempts and seeking to stay in first place in 31-6A. The Lady Sabes had hit the woodwork three times in the first half with North equal to the challenge led by defenders Yajaira Rodriguez and Brenda Ricardez, in support of the gutty keeper, Gaby Cano. Cano gloved a Campbell bomb up high at 25:40 of the second, and North dodged a bullet when Odessa Leal of Vela ran onto a sweet backward flick-on head pass from senior Danya Selber and narrowly missed the go-ahead tally at 18:40. Cantu had another header try that went to the keeper and with 13 minutes left, Vega had a decent look from the left.
With North scrambling and the Lady Sabes firing on all cylinders, things were manic. Jaleina Carrillo, who was excellent all-around Tuesday, whipped a shot just wide at 9:07 and down the stretch, Ricardez and the North gang held off their bitter foe to force the PK routine. In it, Vela got off well with a 3-1 lead but the Lady Coogs rallied to knot it up, necessitating a sixth round of kickers. Vega slipped one in and then senior GK Ashley de la Cruz came up with the money block to ice the result, only the school’s second in eight matches against North in recent times.