La Quinta earned the Desert Valley League title Friday night with a 2-1 win over Cathedral City, controlling a majority of the first 65 minutes, then hanging on for the final 15 minutes of regular time and 10 nerve-wracking minutes added on for stoppages.
The victory gives the Blackhawks (13-0-3, 9-0 in DVL) the league title with three matches to play, including another DVL showdown against rival Palm Desert on Monday. But after Friday’s win, coach Gary Nadler’s team will be playing for pride and CIF seeding, rather than a pressure-packed rivalry game with the league title on the line.
“We knew they were going to come out fast, but we stuck to what we wanted to do,” said Nadler. “We got a couple of opportunities, and we took advantage of them. We knew that last 15 minutes was going to be tough, and it was.”
As Nadler expected, the Lions started off the first half on the front foot. However, by the time the halftime whistle blew, the home team was demoralized after conceding two goals in the final 10 minutes of the half.
An energetic first 10 minutes produced several robust shoulder-to-shoulder challenges, and fearless collisions in pursuit of 50-50 balls. Cathedral City had the best chances to open the scoring, as senior defender Jose Corona shot into the side netting in the fifth minute after being contested by the Desert Valley League’s leading scorer, sophomore striker Leyvar Guzman. Five minutes later, senior striker David Velez fired just past the far post from the top of the penalty area, and the match remained scoreless.
Cathedral City progressively gained territorial advantage, and continued to fire warning shots at the Blackhawks through the first 20 minutes. Velez got another chance to give the Lions the lead in the 23rd minute when he tracked down a long pass at the top of the La Quinta penalty area, and just pushed his shot wide of the left post.
However, it was La Quinta that took the lead against the run of play. Cathedral City goalkeeper Blake Gonzales made a big save after the Lions back line let off, appearing to anticipate an offside call after the referee’s assistant waved his flag, but no call was given, leading to a La Quinta corner kick.
After the referee spoke with Lions’ coach Saul Chavez for about two minutes, the Lions seemed to switch off again during the ensuring corner. La Quinta senior midfielder Anthony Ruiz took possession of the short corner, pressed down the touchline, and fizzed the ball across the face of the Cathedral City goal, where senior midfielder Andrassy Teran had the easiest of tap-ins to give the visitors a 1-0 lead in the 31st minute.
The Lions seemed to drop their collective shoulders afterward, and paid a heavy price, giving up a second goal seven minutes later. La Quinta senior center forward Lucas Rosales came up with a loose ball in the Lions penalty area and fired a shot off the right post. In the ensuring scramble, the ball seemed to bounce off Lions’ senior defender Jose De Loera and just inside the right post, giving the Blackhawks a 2-0 lead in the 38th minute.
Rosales had a breakaway chance to make it 3-0 in the 54th minute, but Gonzales came off his line quickly to deny him. As fate would have it, Cathedral City took its best chance to get back in the match with a direct free kick at the top of the La Quinta penalty area with 15 minutes left. Sophomore midfielder Erick Guzman curled the kick over the Blackhawks’ wall and into left side netting, drawing the Lions back to within one and setting up a grandstand finish.
The final 15 minutes, plus 10 minutes added on for stoppages, alternated between La Quinta possession and Cathedral City near-misses. The Lions shouted for a penalty with 10 minutes left after Teran bravely went in for a clean tackle on Guzman in the Blackhawks’ penalty area. Minutes later, La Quinta junior goalkeeper Logan Prescott, solid for much of the night, spilled a cross in the area but his teammates were there to sweep the loose ball away from danger. Then, with only four minutes of regular time remaining, Cathedral City got its last best chance to equalize when Guzman fanned on a shot from point-blank range after a loose ball found its way on to his right boot.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Lucas Rosales showed why he wears the captain’s armband by going nearly all 80 minutes for La Quinta while providing style, stability and influence. Rosales led the La Quinta attack from the center-forward position in the first half, eventually causing enough problems to force a second goal for the Blackhawks.
THE SUPPORT: The trio of La Quinta junior defender Steven Poole, junior defender Gustavo Esquivel and sophomore midfielder Edward Quintero shadowed the DVL’s leading scorer, Leyvar Guzman. Guzman oozed quality whenever he was able to get on the ball, but as soon as the ball arrived, one of the La Quinta defenders was quickly on his back side to close down and minimize his impact.