Two was the magic number in Hayward on Saturday night, when a dramatic stoppage-time goal by Arturo Gomez lifted East Bay FC over second-place Sacramento Gold FC 2-1, officially putting the Stompers on a two-game winning streak.
It looked as if disaster was going to strike for the Stompers just minutes before, but East Bay goalkeeper Marcus Rojas guessed correctly on Robert Mendoza’s penalty kick attempt and turned away the shot.
Rojas had taken the legs out from under Sacramento midfielder Daniel Cuevas in the penalty area, forcing the referee to award the Gold a PK and a chance to break a 1-1 deadlock in the 83rd minute.
“It was either take a chance with the penalty or let [Cuevas] shoot on an open net, so I had to take my chances and see what happened,” said Rojas, who was named Man of the Match for East Bay. He is now 2-0 between the sticks for East Bay FC this season.
Rojas wasn’t the only Stomper who turned in late-game heroics. Minutes after the denied penalty kick, the game turned fully in East Bay’s favor when halftime sub Gomez took a centering pass from Tommy Rodda and fired a left-footed shot from the top of the penalty arc that raced along the ground, off the fingertips of Gold keeper John Connolly, and into the back of the net to give the Stompers a 2-1 lead and seal the victory.
“They gave me my left foot, I took my space and thought ‘I’ve got to shoot it,’” said Gomez. “I just had to take a chance, and I took the chance, and luckily it went in.”
The match was a gritty one, with plenty of fight from both teams. The Stompers (2-1-4) took a 1-0 lead in the 30th minute when Jorge Butron took advantage of Jesse Kehoe’s pass through the defense and powered a shot past Connolly. But the short-staffed Gold (2-3-3) equalized in the 54th minute when Cuevas attempted a cross that took a fortunate bounce off a Stompers defender and into the net.
“It was a tough game,” Gomez said. “They were very organized … we just kept fighting and kept fighting and we came out with the win.”
For the Stompers, the win suddenly puts them back in the playoff hunt. Winless as of two weeks ago, they now sit just one point behind the Sonoma County Sol (2-2-2), who lost 5-3 on Sunday to league-leading CD Aguiluchos USA (7-1-0), and two points behind the Gold.
“They believe again,” said head coach Martin Sierra of his players after the win. “It’s just up from here.”
The Stompers will put that belief to the test at home next Saturday against the Aguiluchos in the third and final leg of this year’s Alameda County Derby. The Gold will look to rest and recover with a bye week before returning against the Sol on June 3.