DESERT HOT SPRINGS
Only 16 of 23 players dressed for Friday evening’s game against Desert Hot Springs, yet Cathedral City still managed to add a 12th win to what is quickly becoming a noteworthy season for the Lions.
Cathedral City came back from an early deficit to claim a 2-1 victory in the annual non-league game that has become a rivalry in recent years.
“This is turning into a rivalry game,” senior forward Kaessen Nolan said. “We’ve known a lot of these guys and played against them for a while now.”
The Lions, winners of six of their last seven, entered the match with several players out with flu-like symptoms and others nursing various injuries. For the first 20 minutes, their absence was evident.
Reynaldo Gutierrez put the Lions (12-2-1, 2-1 Desert Valley League) on their heels with a goal for Desert Hot Springs in the 17th minute. The score came off the rebound when Cathedral City goalkeeper Adres Islas deflected a corner kick that likely would have found the back of the net.
Later in the first half, Nolan tied the score when he converted a penalty kick.
As the match progressed, multiple yellow cards were issued as chippy, physical play took over. On more than one occasion, players exchanged shoves and had to be separated.
In the final minutes of the match, Lions midfielder Luis Castellanos was issued his second yellow card of the game and will miss Cathedral City’s next match — a critical one Tuesday at La Quinta.
In the 38th minute, just before the half, Cathedral City defender Edgar Diaz used his 6-foot frame to power the ball past the defense on a header coming off a corner kick. His goal proved to be the game-winner.
On the kick, Diaz was the target on a designed play that took a lot of practice to make it work perfectly.
“We’re really getting more comfortable with each other,” Nolan said. “A lot of us have played together for seven, eight years, but even this season we’re getting more comfortable as we go.”
In a back-and-forth second half, DHS had a number of chances to tie the score but failed to slip one past Islas.
The closest the Golden Eagles (4-7-2) came was when forward Joseph Lorey found himself with the ball roughly five feet from the goal. But the quick Cathedral City defense collapsed and the ball bounced hard off a defenders foot.
The Lions currently sit in a three-way tie for third place in the ultra-competitive DVL, yet have already doubled their win total from last year when they were a playoff team.
Lions head coach Rafael Ruiz points out that there’s still a lot of work to do to earn a postseason bid, but the Lions are proving that they could be a force this season in key league games.
“Everything is falling into place,” Ruiz said. “We still have some work to do, but we are happy with the results we are getting.”