Manolo Piña and Erik Arias lead West Region in Golden Boot race
By Nick Flores/NPSL.com
The West Region of the NPSL, more specifically the Golden Gate Conference, has given fans nonstop entertainment. From a tight race at the top of the table, various notable individual performances and goals galore, the Golden Gate Conference is full of headlines.
Two of the players who were typically among the headlines this season were Sacramento Gold FC’s Manolo Piña and El Farolito’s Erik Arias. Both were in and among the goals this season and led their teams to a first and second place finish respectively.
Up north in Sacramento, Gold FC forward Manolo Piña is no stranger to the scoresheet. He is a NPSL veteran and Sacramento footballing legend having been part of the 2010 squad which was crowned national champions.
Not only did he achieve national champion status that season but he also led the league in goals and was named the league MVP. When recalling that season Piña says that time period was surreal for him and the Gold.
“To be in that situation it was just something you couldn’t believe,” Piña said. “We became national champions in Alabama and we were a team that no one knew who we were, they were doubting us the whole time so just winning everything that year was unbelievable. It was a dream.”
From fulfilling dreams with the Gold in his first NPSL season, Piña went on to spend a total of eight seasons with the team totalling over 60 goals. With 12 years gone since his first taste of NPSL success, Piña is aging like fine wine and his goal contributions this season are to show for it.
During the regular season Piña registered 12 goals and 10 assists in eight games. With that being said he was one of the players out of the West Region who was leading the race for the Golden Boot this season.
At the time of writing Piña finished third in the race with the regular season now over but he led the league in goals at various points of the season. While he may have missed out on winning the Golden Boot he is not too worked up about it as he is a very selfless player.
“I would rather get the win than get myself a Golden Boot or a goal or an assist,” Piña said. “Being that kind of player just makes my teammates feel how comfortable they can play with me on the field so it feels awesome doing that.”
While Piña enjoys being on the scoresheet and being recognized for his goal scoring abilities, the team always comes first in his eyes. One of his personal favorite anecdotes about his selflessness actually comes from this season.
During the Gold’s match on June 11th against Academica SC there was a moment where Christopher Cervantes had scored a goal but it looked as if Piña had tapped it in. When asked by the referee if Piña wanted to claim it he quickly denied and gave the goal to Cervantes.
“I could’ve been like ‘yeah I scored the goal’ just because I knew that I needed more goals to get the Golden Boot, but this guy’s been working hard all season and it’s his first goal this year so he deserved it,” Piña said. “Being who I am, I gave him the goal instead of claiming it myself. He was super happy with himself so it was awesome doing that for him.”
A selfless player and an NPSL legend without a doubt, Manolo Piña may have missed out on the Golden Boot but he gave fans a regular season to remember.
About 87 miles away hails San Francisco native and scoresheet regular Erik Arias.
Arias enjoyed a great season with the first team this year after being part of the U-23 squad for El Farolito. This season he managed to score 14 goals in nine regular season games and in most matches he recorded at least a brace.
At the time of writing Arias is leading the golden boot race and could very well retain his lead. While FC Columbus’ Damani Camara is closing in on Arias’ total with 13 goals, Arias still has a chance to finish the season as top scorer.
Scoring goals is something that has always come naturally to the forward. He’s been playing soccer since the age of four and played with various clubs and even had a stint with the Juventus academy.
In addition to playing since a young age both his father and brother, Jehimy, also play soccer so the sport is in their blood. Given that the two now play together for El Farolito’s first team, Erik is glad to be sharing the pitch with his older brother.
“He knows how I play and how I move so he knows where to put the ball for me,” Arias said. “He knows my virtues so he knows what to do when he gets the ball. It’s cool because not many brothers can have the chance to play together on a competitive team.”
Not only does Arias’ brother know where to find him in space but so does the rest of the team. Arias is one to get in behind and run onto balls played into space given his speed and this is what helps him get on the scoresheet so often.
“I love to go one-on-one with defenders,” Arias said.
When a player of his caliber gets in behind or has a one-on-one opportunity with a defender, there is only one result and he’s punished defenses all season. Some more than others.
In matches against Oakland SC, Oakland Stompers, and Sonoma County Sol FC, Arias scored a total of 11 goals. He scored a hat trick against the Stompers, and he registered four against Oakland SC and Sonoma County.
While a lot of the credit goes to Arias given his name is on the scoresheet, he credits his teammates for allowing him to score so many goals.
“It (scoring) feels great obviously and it wouldn’t have been done without my teammates supporting me and giving me passes for the goals,” Arias said.
With the chance of finishing the regular season as the Golden Boot winner, Arias is in good spirits about his play this summer as his team is now in the playoffs.
“I feel great,” Arias said. “I mean every forward wants to be at the top and score the most goals.”
It may be unclear at the minute if Arias will finish first in the Golden Boot race but regardless if he comes out on top or gets overtaken by Camara of FC Columbus, his talent and goal scoring abilities are undeniable.
Both Arias and Piña are proven goal scoring threats, and this season they lit up both the Golden Gate Conference and the NPSL. While the two are currently in the playoffs it will be no surprise if we see them get their names on the scoresheet again.
El Farolito and the Gold have great talent on their hands with Arias and Piña, and they hope they can continue their goal scoring form in the postseason.
Photo Credit: Vanessa Nelson/Sacramento Gold FC and Holy Names University