Molinari’s header keeps East Bay FC within striking distance of playoff berth

East Bay FC fought back late to grab a point from a 1-1 tie against Napa Valley 1839 FC on Saturday night when Stompers captain Jesse Kehoe found the head of Michael Molinari on a free kick in the 88th minute, resulting in a goal that dashed the hopes of a 10-man Napa squad that was seeking its first NPSL win.

Sacramento Gold FC handed Golden Gate Conference leader CD Aguiluchos USA its first loss Sunday afternoon by a 3-1 final and remains alone in second place, five points clear of East Bay FC. The Stompers must defeat Sonoma County Sol at home on Saturday, then win at Sacramento on July 1 to overtake Gold FC for a guaranteed playoff spot.

The game was deadlocked at 0-0 for much of the contest until the 78th minute, when Napa’s Bryan Marin managed to put a rebound in the back of the net to give Napa the lead. For the next several minutes, it appeared the visitors might finally earn their first win since joining the NPSL this season.

Despite earning a point on the road, Napa head coach Jesus Medina lamented his team’s inability to finish out the game with a victory.

“Really, [the feeling] is more frustration,” Medina said. “The team played fantastic, but there is always a sense of losing when you tie in the 88th minute.”

The result felt disappointing for both teams.

“We should have come out with all three points,” said Stompers head coach Martin Sierra. “We missed a good six or seven one-on-ones. You put two of those in and we come out a winner.”

The Stompers (3-2-5) looked to be in better position to score for most of the contest, but shot after shot went wide or hit off the post for East Bay. Napa goalkeeper Javier Valdez put in an incredible performance, turning away several Stompers shots that threatened his goal.

It was a gutsy show from Napa (0-5-5), which was forced to play a man down for the entire second half when defender Adrian Maldonado saw his second yellow card in the 43rd minute after a poor challenge against Stompers midfielder Jorge Butron. Maldonado received his first yellow in the 16th minute after using both hands to tip aside a Stompers throw-in out of frustration.

The performance, one of Napa’s best on the season, showed the team’s resilience as it bounced back from last week’s 4-0 loss to Sacramento (4-4-3).

Napa Valley finishes out its home schedule Saturday, playing host to CD Aguiluchos USA (8-1-1), which has already clinched the Golden Gate Conference’s top playoff seed. Sonoma County (2-4-3) had the week off.

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