The 4-seed Sacramento Gold FC nearly rallied from multiple two-goal deficits, but ultimately was defeated 4-3 by the 6-seed CD Aguiluchos USA in the 2015 NPSL West Region title game Saturday at Capital Christian High School.
Danny Mititelu, Abrahm Prado, and Manolo Piña tallied for Sacramento, while Leopoldo Morales led Aguiluchos with two goals. Adan Martinez and Jesus Morales also scored for CDA.
Aguiluchos got the scoring started in the 32nd minute thanks to a ball into the box which was headed towards the left side. Martinez pounced in the loose ball and fired a shot by Sacramento goalkeeper John Connolly in the right side of the net to make it 1-0 for the visitors.
CDA doubled its lead seven minutes into the second half when Mititelu was called for a foul just above the right side of the box. Morales fired a kick which snuck below the defense and inside the near post to make it 2-0.
Six minutes later, Sacramento cut the margin in half off a corner kick. Danny Lomeli sent the ball to the right side of the box, where Mititelu (for the second game in a row) got his head to it. The ball sailed into the left side of the goal to put the score at 2-1.
The hosts tied the score in the 71st minute off a free kick. Standing above the center of the box, Piña fired a kick at goal. Aguiluchos goalkeeper Kevin Gonzalez couldn’t field it cleanly, as Abrahm Prado collected the rebound and fired it in to knot it at 2-2.
It took only two minutes for the visitors to retake the lead. Ross Middlemiss took advantage of a mistake by the defense and ran through to goal on the right flank. With Connolly and the defense out of position, Middlemiss found Morales in the middle, where he made the east shot to restore the Aguiluchos lead at 3-2.
Four minutes later, Middlemiss got another run at goal. Weaving by a trio of tackles, Middlemiss drew the defense and fed Jesus Morales on the left side of the box. Morales slotted it by Connolly to make it 4-2 Aguiluchos six minutes after Sacramento tied the game.
The Gold got one back in the 84th minute. After another shot bounced off a pair of attackers and defenders, the rebound was collected by Piña, who smashed it in to cut it to 4-3. Unfortunately for Sacramento, its final efforts were just short and the score would remain as it was.
After both teams warmed up in the early going, the first dangerous chance of the game came in the ninth minute. A clearance by Connolly ricocheted off a defender and fell right to Middlemiss on the left side of the box. Middlemiss sent a screamer barely over the crossbar.
Three minutes later, Piña sent a long cross to Cuco Martinez on the left side. Martinez made a nifty move to get by the defender and fire a shot at goal. Gonzalez was able to make the save, as well as move quickly to collect the loose rebound by the penalty spot.
In the 29th minute, Piña attacked the defense on the right flank before crossing to Martinez on the left side. Martinez dished it to Jason Jones in the center of the box, though Jones’ quick shot was saved by Gonzalez.
Aguiluchos nearly added to their lead with two chances around the halftime mark. In the 41st minute, Middlemiss and Simon Rawnsley led a breakaway up the middle. Middlemiss dished to Rawnsley on the left side before Rawnsley gave it back to Middlemiss in the middle. However, Middlemiss missed the ball on his shot from the middle, as Sacramento was able to reclaim possession.
Four minutes into the second half, Rawnsley was played through on the right side. Rawnsley sent a sharp shot at goal, though it went wide left. Despite the close chances missed, Aguiluchos would eventually capitalize a few minutes later.
As Sacramento attempted to cut into its second two-goal deficit of the night, Aguiluchos had a pair of opportunities to make it 5-2. In the 81st minute, substitute Flavio Ramos got a one-on-one with Connolly up the middle. This time, the Gold goalkeeper was able to make the save. One minute later, Middlemiss fired a rebound off a corner kick at goal. Again, Connolly was able to make the quick save.
After the Gold brought it to 4-3, the visitors nearly put the game away twice at the end of regulation time. In the 86th minute, Ramos intercepted a pass and found fellow substitute Michael Molinari, though his shot was wide left. Two minutes later, Middlemiss got the ball alone at the top of the box. However, his shot was just over the crossbar.
Sacramento came inches away from tying the game in its dying moment. Late in stoppage time, the Gold sent a ball into the right side of the box, where it eventually found the feet of Lomeli. Lomeli fired a shot to the left side of goal, but it rolled inches wide of the post. Thus, in heartbreaking fashion for the home squad and the large raucous home crowd, the Gold comeback ultimately fell short.
Aguiluchos will continue its dream postseason into the NPSL national semifinals. After winning its first West Region title in its first postseason appearance, CDA will be given the 4-seed at nationals and travel to face the 1-seed New York Cosmos B on Saturday, August 1. The winner will battle either 2-seed Chattanooga FC or the 3-seed Indiana Fire for the 2015 NPSL National Championship.
For the Gold, the loss means the end of a season which saw Sacramento nearly make history. Sacramento turned a second place finish in the Golden Gate Conference into a third consecutive spot in the West Region Final. With returning young players with tremendous experience gained this season, Sacramento looks to make an even bigger splash in 2016.