Juan Carlos Gomez used to be tasked with keeping goals out of the net for the Valley High boys soccer team.
But lately, he’s been the Vikings’ go-to guy for scoring goals.
Gomez notched an equalizer with 15 minutes left in the first half to give Valley a 1-1 draw with host Canyon Springs on Monday.
“Some people depend on me to put that ball in the net,” said Gomez, a former goalkeeper for the Vikings (3-1-4, 2-0-3 Northeast League). “Instead of keeping the ball out, now I have to put it in.”
After Canyon Springs’ Victor Gines gave the Pioneers the lead less than five minutes into the match, Gomez headed in a cross from teammate Eddie Flores.
“Once I saw the ball up in the air, I just jumped up and it went in,” Gomez said. “It felt good, because that’s what we needed. We needed to put our heads in the game, and that goal put us back in it.”
Gomez has provided a much-needed spark in the offensive third, also scoring a goal at Desert Pines to salvage a key road draw for the Vikings.
“He’s our scoring threat right now, settling in up top,” Frank D’Amelio said. “He’s starting to find it a bit, and he’s scoring for us. Right now, he’s the only one scoring, so that’s good, or else we’d really be struggling.”
Gines kept the Pioneers (4-0-2, 3-0-2 Northeast) unbeaten, taking pass from Erik Ruiz inside the fourth minute and bouncing a shot off the post and into the net for his 10th goal of the year.
The Pioneers almost took the lead again in the 31st minute when Jose Vidal tried to sneak a ball from point-blank range into the bottom right corner, but Valley goalkeeper Jesus Barrientos made the save.
Canyon Springs added another close call seven minutes into the second half. Omar Franco blasted the ball from inside the penalty box, but Barrientos made a leaping save to push the ball over the crossbar.
The Vikings outshot the Pioneers 10-7 in the second half, but put only four shots on goal to Canyon Springs’ three.
The Pioneers remain tied atop the Northeast League standings with Desert Pines, which edged Las Vegas 2-1 on Monday. Third-place Valley sits two points back.
It’s a surprising start for the Pioneers, who finished with only two league wins last year and barely ahead of last-place Sunrise Mountain in the league standings.
“It’s a change of attitude in the program,” first-year coach Dan Myers said. “There’s been a lot of complacency in this program since we’ve opened. But with the change in coaching staff and a rededication, we’ve put demands on the soccer players to be at practice every day, to be eligible and to be around every day.”
Gomez’s goal was the first one allowed by Canyon Springs keeper Sixto Lucero, who finished with four saves. The Pioneers have outscored opponents, 28-1.
“He’s tremendous,” Myers said of Lucero. “He didn’t play last year; he wasn’t even in the program. But he’s a 6-foot-3 kid built like an octopus — I’m keeping him. He’s a very talented keeper. He’s not afraid to get on the guys (when they mess up), but he’s also not afraid to be the first guy down to congratulate a goal scorer.”