The four-seed Sacramento Gold FC used some veteran skill and the magic of youth to advance to a third straight NPSL West Region Final with a 3-1 win over the two-seed San Diego Flash Saturday at El Cajon Valley High School.
Like he did in the Gold’s win over five-seed FC Tacoma last week in the region quarterfinals, Jason Jones led Sacramento with a pair of goals Saturday. Danny Mititelu’s first goal of the season proved to be the game-winner, while Nico Gonzalez chipped in with two assists. Sergio Valle Ortiz scored the lone goal for the Southwest Conference champs.
Three minutes into the second half, Gonzalez made a run into the right side of the box and sent a cross into the middle. Jones ran and met the ball head-on, knocking it past San Diego goalkeeper James Stroud and putting Sacramento up 1-0.
The lead would last only five minutes. Evgeni Sorkin made a nice run down the left side, beating Mititelu twice to get at the goal line. Sorkin dished it to Duach Jock, whose shot from the right was blocked by Erick Vega. However, the rebound fell right to Ortiz, who blasted it by Sacramento goalkeeper John Connolly to tie the game at 1-1.
Mititelu found redemption a mere six minutes later. After helping earn a corner kick, Gonzalez whipped in a long cross to the left of the box. Mititelu timed his jump perfectly, rising up and heading the ball off the right post and in. The goal made it 2-1 for Sacramento and capped a run of three goals in 12 minutes.
Jones finally sealed the game by taking advantage of a Flash mistake in the 86th minute. With Jones running after the ball in the box, a San Diego defender slid to try to clear the ball. The attempt failed, Jones stole the ball, and a simple finish cemented the 3-1 win.
Despite the high scoring, the regional semifinal started off slow. Both teams struggled to adjust to the turf field conditions and the extreme humidity, which wasn’t helped by severe rains earlier in the day. Aside from a Gold free kick which went straight at the keeper, the game’s first dangerous chance didn’t come until after the half hour mark.
In the 32nd minute, San Diego was given a free kick just outside the Sacramento box. Ortiz stepped up to take the kick, sending a sharp shot to the left of the goal and forcing Connolly to make a diving save. On the ensuing corner kick, the Flash got a head in the ball in the middle of the box. However, Connolly was again up to the task, catching the attempt.
The Gold nearly took the lead three minutes before halftime. Abrahm Prado made a nifty move to spin past a defender on the right side. Running into the box, Prado sent the ball to a wide open Cuco Martinez. However, Martinez’s shot was wide left.
Martinez was also involved in the second half’s first opportunity. Going after a loose ball in the box, Martinez appeared to be brought down by the goalkeeper as he side-stepped him. However, the referee instead issued Martinez a yellow card for embellishment. The Gold would finally break through shortly after this miss, with two more goals to follow later.
Mititelu’s goal sparked a flurry off offense after the hour mark. Only a minute after the goal, San Diego’s Brandon Zuniga sent a scissor kick at Connolly, who was able to make the save. On the ensuing counter attack, Andrew Robles found space for a shot from the middle. However, Robles’ shot was saved by Stroud.
In the 62nd minute, Jones again found himself with space in the box. Dribbling himself free on the left side, Jones sent a through ball to Prado, whose shot was claimed by Stroud. A minute later. Ortiz centered to Jock, who had not one, but two shots deflected and saved by Connolly.
Sacramento was given a free kick just outside the box in the 65th minute. Stepping up to take the kick, Mititelu’s attempt struck the crossbar but went over the net. Three minutes later, Sacramento got a mini breakaway. Leading the charge, Gonzalez dished to Robles, whose shot from outside the box was wide left.
The Flash nearly tied the game in the 70th minute. Mititelu’s headed clearance of a San Diego centering ball was collected by Blake Milton on the left side of the box. Milton fired a laser which seemed destined for the upper left corner of the net. However, Connolly had enough speed to force the ball out for a corner kick.
Late in the second half, Jock became a menace to the Gold defense. After a deflected pass fell to Jock’s feet in the 78th minute, it took a stellar stop from Connolly to deny the San Diego striker. In the 85th minute, Connolly and the seven-foot Jock jumped up for two consecutive header attempts, with the defense finally able to make an escape soon after.
Two minutes later, Jock got on the end of a cross and whipped a header towards goal. However, it was just wide of the left post. In the 89th minute, San Diego got one last chance when a free kick somehow slipped through Sacramento’s defense to Nick Hamilton’s head. The attempt was stopped by Connolly, as Sacramento was able to close out the victory.
For San Diego, the loss means a season which saw the Flash overcome personal tragedy to reach great success. After CEO Clent Alexander passed away in February, the Flash carried on his legacy by reaching a fifth straight postseason and claiming the Southwest Conference crown.
Sacramento now advances to its third consecutive West Region Final. The Gold will play host to the six-seed CD Aguiluchos USA, who followed their upset of three-seed Deportivo Coras USA with a shock win over the one-seed Sonoma County Sol on penalties. The region final will take place on Saturday, July 25.