Midfielder’s brace, goalkeeper’s clutch PK save at end of game key 3-2 victory as East Bay gains ground on rivals

Diego Lopez stepped up to the penalty spot, ready to level the score in stoppage time and keep the Sonoma County Sol in sole possession of third place in the NPSL Golden Gate Conference.

But he was facing a goalkeeper who apparently has a knack for disappointing opponents.

Marcus Rojas saved Lopez’s late PK and watched a rebound shot fly over the goal as the referee whistled full time, and the East Bay FC Stompers hung on for a 3-2 comeback win over Sonoma County on Saturday night that pulled them into a tie for third place with the Sol and kept them within three points of Sacramento Gold FC.

“I just let him make the first move and trusted my instincts,” Rojas said. “It shouldn’t have been a PK in the first place, but the ball never lies. Just glad to be a part of the win and keep the playoff race alive.”

Jorge Butron scored a pair of goals to power the offense for East Bay, which has won three of four. The midfielder has scored in three straight games.

It was the second time Rojas saved a late penalty kick in the last three games. His save following an 83rd-minute foul against the Gold on May 20 preserved a tie in that game moments before Arturo Gomez’s stoppage-time goal propelled the Stompers to a 2-1 win.

“I’m not surprised with the outcome,” Stompers coach Martin Sierra said. “I’ve said it a million times — these guys are fighters!”

East Bay FC fought back from a 2-0 first-half deficit and took the lead for good in the 70th minute when Butron put away his second goal of the game. Halftime sub Isaiah Dairo rolled a cross from the corner of the penalty area along the top of the 18-yard box, and Butron ran onto it and fired a slicing left-footed shot toward the upper-left corner of the goal that glanced off Sonoma goalkeeper Arturo Ornelas’s glove and into the net for his fourth goal in three games.

“Thanks to my teammates working hard, I got a play played across me outside the 18 on my left foot,” Butron said. “I knew in my mind all I needed was one shot, and so it happened. But it wouldn’t have happened without the help of my teammates.”

The Stompers (3-1-5) tied it in the 60th minute when a Sonoma County defender was called for a hand ball in the penalty area on an East Bay throw-in. Newcomer Ahmed Zaky, who was making his debut for East Bay FC, stepped up to the penalty spot and buried the kick for his first goal in a Stompers uniform.

“I told the men at halftime, ‘Go out there and take what is rightfully yours — three points'”, Sierra said.

Butron’s first goal narrowed the halftime deficit for the visitors to 2-1 just before the whistle. When a Stompers throw-in resulted in a loose ball in the penalty area to the right of the goal. Butron beat Ornelas to the ball and used the outside of his left foot to chip a shot over the keeper (and into the teeth of a driving wind that was present for the entire game) that bounded gently inside the far post in the 45th minute.

“We were down 2-0, and in my mind all I knew was I had to narrow the gap before halftime,” Butron said. “The ball is played long on the opposite side in which I was making the run in behind, and I beat the keeper to it and chipped him.”

Sonoma County (2-4-3) jumped out to a 2-0 lead behind goals by Edgar Amador, whose 30-yard effort in the 19th minute just cleared a leaping Rojas, and Omar Nuno, who got isolated behind the defense on a through ball in the 38th minute and beat Rojas one-on-one with a slow roller just inside the far post.

East Bay FC moves on to host Napa Valley 1839 FC, this season’s Golden Gate Conference expansion side. Napa Valley (0-4-5) remains winless in NPSL play this year after falling 4-0 at Sacramento (3-4-3), a loss that mathematically eliminated Napa from playoff contention. CD Aguiluchos USA (8-1-0) has already clinched the top spot in the Golden Gate Conference and an automatic playoff berth.

Sonoma County has a bye week before traveling to Pioneer Stadium to take on the Stompers on June 24 in East Bay FC’s home finale.

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