Juan Carlos Gomez has played a major role on offense and defense this season for Valley’s boys soccer team.
Thursday was no exception.
Gomez notched the decisive goal and then stopped a crucial free kick late in the second half as the Vikings held on for a 2-1 win over visiting Canyon Springs to take sole possession of first place in the Northeast League.
“The atmosphere was a little different today, a playoff atmosphere,” Valley coach Frank D’Amelio said. “Both teams knew the importance of the game, so both teams came out fired up.”
Canyon Springs’ Victor Gines scored to tie the match at 1 just past the midway mark of the first half.
But the teams didn’t stay level for long, as Gomez blasted a shot from the right side of the penalty box that glanced into the back of the net.
“When they scored, I was really mad,” said Gomez, who was playing a midfield role when the Pioneers tied the match. “We let our guard down, and they scored.
“But I wanted to win the game, so I just put it back in.”
Julio Borjas scored the first goal of the match midway through the first half, picking up a pass from Tony Velazquez to blast a left-footed shot to the far post past diving Canyon Springs goalkeeper Sixto Lucero, who allowed only his seventh and eighth goals of the season Thursday.
“He brings leadership, not in a vocal sense, but in a playing sense and his technical ability,” D’Amelio said of Borjas. “He feeds off everybody else. Him and Juan Carlos have been huge for us in scoring goals. Juan Carlos was a big surprise.
“Julio can play attacking midfield, holding midfield; wherever you need him, he’ll play. He’s just that type of player, great to have on our team and a nightmare for the other teams.”
Gines took advantage of a Valley defensive lapse to tie the match, stealing the ball from the defense and spinning around for a quick goal from the top of the box. The goal was Gines’ 11th of the season.
The Pioneers outshot the Vikings 14-13, with each team putting seven shots on goal. But Canyon Springs failed to take advantage of seven free kicks.
Gomez replaced starting keeper Jesus Barrientos midway through the second half, and the midfielder made a huge stop late.
Canyon Springs’ Mickey Rodriguez stepped up to the spot from just outside the left corner of the penalty box and spun a ball over the shoulder of Valley’s three-man wall in front of him. Diving to his right, Gomez tapped the ball with a finger — and Valley cleared the ensuing corner kick.
The win gave Valley (8-1-6, 7-0-5, 26 points) a two-point lead on Desert Pines (9-3-3, 7-2-3, 24 points) for first place in the Northeast.
Canyon Springs (8-3-3, 6-3-3, 21 points) fell into fifth place, one point behind Eldorado (8-7-1, 7-4-1, 22 points) with two games left.
“As they say in the World Cup, this is the Group of Death, pretty much,” D’Amelio said with a laugh. “At this point, it doesn’t matter how pretty the wins are; it’s the results that matter. You just want to keep fighting, keep plugging away. “Our fate right now is in our own hands. If we keep winning, we’ll be on top of the league.”