It may have been just one point in the standings, but it was so much more for the Napa Valley 1839 FC soccer team.
The first-year squad scored in the 90th minute to secure a 2-2 draw with the perennial powerhouse Sonoma County Sol Saturday evening at Memorial Stadium in the first Wine Country Derby.
Francisco Mendoza was the hero of the match for Napa Valley (0-2-2), with the midfielder rocketing a breakaway shot into the top right of the net past veteran Sonoma goalkeeper Sean Taufer.
“Even though this isn’t a win, it feels really good,” Napa head coach Jesus Medina said. “It is a great feeling not to lose the game. To tie this game, it feels like a win.”
The Sol (2-1-1) have been a dominating force in the Golden Gate Conference since its start in 2004. Sonoma has reached the National Premier Soccer League finals four times, with its most recent trip coming last year while also winning the title in 2009.
Napa Valley 1839 FC is still looking for its first win of the season, but achieved the first home points in front of another large Napa Valley crowd.
“You can see we play some of the top teams in the nation and we can hold them,” Medina said. “We can compete with them and the talent level in Napa has always been recognized everywhere. So this (Napa Valley 1839 FC) is a consolidation of all the talent around here.”
Saturday’s game started in the worst possible way for the 1839’s, with the Sol scoring during the third minute of the game on Sonoma’s first shot. Diego Lopez raced down the left sideline before placing a cross to the middle of the Napa Valley box that Taylor Vamadore smashed with a header into the right side of the net.
Lopez spent time with Sacramento Republic FC, a member of the United Soccer League, in previous years. Vamadore, an Analy High School-Sebastopol graduate, is one of the top goal scorers in the GGL, with the 24-year old striker tied for second overall with three goals on the young season.
Vamadore’s impact for the Sol was short-lived on the windy Saturday evening, as the Sonoma star had to leave the game in the 10th minute after colliding with a Napa Valley defender on another attacking play.
“We started the game off really slow,” Napa’s Francisco Mendoza said. “Sonoma is a really solid program all around, but once (Vamadore) left that was our key to pressure them to our advantage.”
The Sol scored its second goal in a strange fashion, with defenseman Justin Ferreira attempting to launch a long-range pass to a Sonoma teammate up the right side. Ferreira blasted the ball from behind the halfway line and caught Napa Valley goal-keeper Roberto Llamas out of position, scoring in the 22nd minute.
Even with the two early goals, the 1839s controlled the pace of play for most of the first half.
“We had a really tough start to the season, but we have a lot of talented guys on this team,” Mendoza said. “As the season has gone along, our chemistry is coming along and we are playing as a team now.”
Fortunes changed for the Napa Valley squad during the second half. The 1839s defensive unit held strong, only allowing one shot from the Sol after the break.
Napa Valley 1839 FC made a change in goal during the second half, with Javier Valdez-Raya making his first appearance of the season.
Bryan Marin found the back of the net in the 48th minute for Napa on a cross from the left side from Gabriel Borges. Marin is the leading scorer on the season for the 1839s with three goals and is tied with Vamadore for second in the league.
“Fortunately for us, the players realized at halftime that we needed to pick it up,” Medina said. “With this type of attitude, we can go anywhere and play with the top teams.”
It was an extremely chippy first Wine Country Derby, with seven yellow cards given out between the potential future rivals. One player received two yellow cards and that was Napa’s Marin, after the striker was called for a late slide tackle in the 85th minute to receive a red card.
Napa Valley 1839 FC achieved its game-tying goal on a counter attack, with Borges playing a well-angled pass to Mendoza.
With main striker Marin out of the game, Mendoza took over the attacking role and on the breakaway slammed home the tying goal.
“It is never good to be a man down. I saw everyone’s heads go down and I wanted to lift our energy,” Mendoza said. “The coach decided to put me as a striker and I used that to my advantage. I have been told I have a pretty good shot, so I struck the ball really well and got the goal out of it.”
With back-to-back ties, Napa Valley 1839 FC is now in sole possession of fourth place. Up next for Napa will be a trip to San Leandro to take on undefeated CD Aguiluchos USA (5-0) on Saturday.
“A score of 2-2 is not what we expected today,” Mendoza said. “But after being down 0-2, it is better than losing the game outright.”