PETALUMA – On a cold and windy evening in Sonoma County, the Napa Valley 1839 FC men’s soccer team played to a 1-1 draw against the Sonoma County Sol in the second Wine Country derby of the season at Casa Grande High School.
The 1839’s, who continue on in their quest for their first win in franchise history, have shown steady improvement over the last month of play.
“I see good improvement, which is good for us,” goalkeeper Javier Valdez-Raya said. “But at the same time, we still want to get that first win. We are battling every practice to get better and it has shown in the games that we can compete with these teams.”
Napa Valley 1839 FC has had a trend recently of starting one of its halves strongly and, for the game on Saturday, it was the beginning of the game. Napa Valley 1839 had two weeks to prepare for the Sonoma County Sol, as Napa took its second bye week of the season after the East Bay FC Stompers’ game.
Napa dominated the first 20 minutes of the contest, with 1839’s using strong midfield play to create scoring opportunities.
After some early chances didn’t find the back of the net for Napa, Gabriel Borges took control. With the attacking midfielder taking the ball up the left side of the field on an impressive run, Borges finished off the play by burying a shot past Sol goalkeeper Sean Taufer in the 15th minute.
“Having Sol so close is good for us and for the conference as a whole,” head coach Jesus Medina said. “Whenever we play them, it gives us extra motivation.”
Though these teams had only played each other once previously during this season, the bubbling rivalry is already starting to take shape on the pitch. The play was physical from the first whistle, with eight yellow cards given out during the contest.
Valdez-Raya has been a welcome addition to the team. Since the 29-year old goalie took over during the second half of the last Sonoma Sol game in late April, the Napa squad has had a vocal leader.
“I just work hard and bring a vocal presence to every team,” Valdez-Raya said. “I help organize the backfield of our team and be supportive.”
After Taufer allowed the first goal of the game, the Sol goalkeeper returned to his status as one of the top goal stoppers in the Golden Gate Conference. Taufer finished the evening with nine saves.
The Sol started to gain momentum toward the end of the first half and broke through in the 41st minute. Sonoma got its lone goal of the game after a hard struck ball from outside the box hit the top of the cross bar. Valdez-Raya dove for the ball and the rebound went right to the feet of Sol forward Tyler Hurst, with the Piner High School and Santa Rosa Junior College alumni easily able to crush a shot into the back of the empty net.
Less than five minutes after squaring up the contest, the Sol found itself down a man as midfielder Edgar Amador was sent off for his second yellow card of the game.
“A tie with Sol at their place is not bad,” Medina said. “Though not taking advantage of them having only 10 men leaves a bad taste.”
Napa Valley 1839 FC used the bye week to try some new tactics with star striker Bryan Marin. The St. Helena High graduate is an attacker, with the 24-year-old using through balls to create fast break opportunities with his top-end speed. Over the last few weeks, this has made the 1839’s attack predictable, with the East Bay FC Stompers forcing Napa offside eight times two weeks ago.
Medina put into motion an attacking philosophy that would take the 1839’s offense into a more complex one, focused around Marin, Borges and Francisco Mendoza. This forces the opposing defense to have to deal with three major threats, not just one.
“We want to integrate Bryan (Marin) into the formation and we practiced that this week,” Medina said. “He is a pain for the other team to deal with.”
The second half was all about missed opportunities, with both squads getting ample scoring chances.
Napa Valley 1839 FC had 14 shots in the second half, with six on goal. Down to only 10 men, Sonoma had fewer shots, with eight, but landed five on frame.
The best chance for Napa came near stoppage time, when 15-year old Eduardo Blancas rocketed a shot from outside the 18-yard box that bounced off the top crossbar.
Napa Valley 1839 FC has only four regular season games left in the 2017 National Premier Soccer League season, but the local squad can still climb up the standings.
The Sonoma Sol is tied for second place in the Golden Gate Conference at nine points with Sacramento Gold FC. Napa Valley is in fifth place with four points from its four ties on the year. The potential for a top-half of the league finish in its first year is not out of the question, but the focus for Napa will be on securing its first win in franchise history.
Napa Valley 1839 FC take its third bye week of the season, before returning to action on June 10 to take on the Sacramento Gold FC at Capital Christian High School.