The first-ever Wine Country Derby between Napa Valley 1839 FC and Sonoma County Sol ended in spectacular fashion Saturday night in Napa Memorial Stadium. In the waning minutes of the game, Napa was down 2-1 when striker and captain Bryan Marin found himself sent off with a second yellow card for a slide tackle on Sol forward Omar Nuno.
Without their leading scorer, Napa appeared destined to add a tally to the loss column until the 89th minute, when Francisco Mendoza received a through ball all alone on the right side of the box. Catching goalkeeper Sean Taufer off of his line, Mendoza powered a shot past him into the goal, and the stands erupted as Napa equalized in the game’s dying moments, netting them a point in the Golden Gate standings.
“I have been working on this shot for many years,” said Mendoza after the game. “I still can’t believe it…I’ve never done something like this before in my life.”
For Mendoza and Napa, it was a draw that felt like a win due to the second half comeback. The first half was all Sonoma, starting in the third minute when Taylor Varnadore headed a cross past Napa goalkeeper Roberto Llamas, giving the Sol an early lead. Varnadore would eventually leave the game after suffering a serious cut on his face, and would be taken to a nearby hospital for stitches. His injuries were reported not to be serious.
Despite losing their goal scorer, the Sol found a second goal in the 23rd minute when center back Justin Ferreira sent a long ball into the box. Instead of finding a teammate, the ball sailed farther than Llamas anticipated, and as he attempted to deflect it away was caught off guard, giving Sonoma a 2-0 lead going into the half.
Napa came charging back in the second half, with Marin scoring a goal just minutes after play resumed. The Sol continued to attack, but neither team could mount enough pressure to net another score until Mendoza’s heroics in the final minute.
After the match Napa coach Jesus Medina lamented his team’s first half troubles, which have been a trend throughout the club’s inaugural NPSL season. “So far we have given the first half to every single team,” said Medina. “We come back in the second halves, but it is kind of late, so we need to work on closing out the first half and playing a full 90 minutes at that intensity.”
For Sonoma, the chance to secure three points slipped away. “It is disappointing,” said Sonoma head coach Vinnie Cortezzo after the match. “You feel like that is a game we should win, especially when we go up two and they go down a man. I thought we just got caught out of position at the end on the final goal…we just have to be a little more organized.”
Next week Sonoma returns home on April 29th to face the Sacramento Gold, who currently sit just below them in the standings. Meanwhile Napa, still searching for its first win, will have to wait until May 6th when they return to action, also against the Gold.