Two early goals and a stellar effort by goalkeeper John Connelly gave Sacramento an ideal start to the 2015 NPSL regular season, as the Gold topped the SF Stompers 3-0 Saturday at Lowell High School.

“Today’s match was an exciting display of counter attacks as both teams had near misses from start to finish,” Sacramento Gold head coach Ruben Mora Jr. commented.  “The final score was not indicative of the flow of an evenly matched game. We are happy to come away with three points.”

Manolo Piña led the way for Sacramento with two goals, while Jason Jones added a goal and two assists.

Before the game, both teams held a moment of silence in memory of former San Francisco Stompers player and coach Shane Kilby, who tragically drowned last summer. To start, San Francisco played with 10 men in honor of Kilby. Off the kickoff, Sacramento played the ball out of bounds so San Francisco could get its eleventh player on the field.

Though Sacramento had failed to score in both of its preseason games, it didn’t take long for the Gold to find the back of the net in the regular season. Taking advantage of a defensive miscue, Piña poked the ball away from goalkeeper Isiah Castro and into the net to give Sacramento a 1-0 lead just two minutes into the game.

The Gold doubled its lead just four minutes later. Carrying the ball towards the center line, Jones lobbed the ball over the defense to a streaking Piña on the left side. Piña managed to sneak the ball past Castro to increase Sacramento’s early lead to 2-0.

San Francisco got a great chance in the 16th minute when Joel Castillo broke free down the right side. Running through the box, Castillo fired a shot destined for the upper right corner of the net. However, Connelly made a fantastic reflex save to deny the Stompers.

Two minutes later, Jones managed to muscle by a defender, but was brought down in the box. However, it wasn’t deemed worthy of a penalty kick, and Castillo collected the loose ball.

Jones would eventually get his in the 33rd minute. Off a throw-in from Jose Martinez on the far left side of San Francisco’s goal, Jones turned a defender to let the ball go past. He then cut back towards goal and fired a quick shot which beat Castro near post and made it a 3-0 advantage for the Gold.

Tempers began to flare just two minutes later. A San Francisco foul in Sacramento’s end of the field led to a confrontation in front of the box. Pushes and shoves eventually turned into a bit of a scuffle, with multiple players needing to be restrained. San Francisco’s Khalid Arramdani was given a yellow card and substituted off shortly after.

The Gold nearly added to their lead in the 41st minute. Piña was able to steal the ball from Castro and fire a shot on goal. However, Castro was able to deflect the ball out for a corner kick.

Nothing came of the kick, and the half ended with Sacramento up by three goals.

The second half almost started just like the first. Jones was able to take the ball away from the defense and earn a one-on-one at goal. However, Castro was up to the task and saved Jones’ effort.

As the game passed the hour mark, the Stompers began to increase their offensive tempo. A nice through ball left Joel Sandoval with a one-on-one with Connelly. However, Connelly managed to put out the trouble.

Only a minute later, Gustavo Tavera-Rico sent a hard shot into the net. Unfortunately for San Francisco, it was the outside netting.

A foul deep in Sacramento’s end gave the Stompers a dangerous free kick opportunity in the 67th minute. Eder Guzman whipped the free kick to the right post, the ball banging off the bar and out of trouble for the Gold.

A minute later, Sandoval was given an even better change with a solo charge at goal through the middle of the box. Connelly again managed to produce a fine save to keep San Francisco off the scoreboard.

The Gold finally broke their offensive stall with a great chance in the 74th minute. Fernando Cabalas whipped a beautiful ball from the right to an open Edric Soltero in front of goal. Unfortunately for Sacramento, Soltero couldn’t get clean contact, as the ball skipped out for a goal kick.

The Stompers continued to attack the goal to get back in the game. Another free kick deep in Sacramento’s end was easily dealt with by Connelly in the 82nd minute. The next minute saw Tavera-Rico with another good chance, as well as another Connelly save.

In the 86th minute, Zach Ulrich went down with cramps. With no field players remaining, Sacramento was forced to call on backup goalkeeper Max Herrera to step onto the field and keep the teams even.

Thankfully for the Gold, the danger had passed, as Sacramento closed out the game for a solid win to begin the regular season.

“Sacramento Gold is a very good team and showed why they are still the team to beat in the Golden Gate Conference,” SF Stompers General Manager Billy Forte concluded.  “The attack duo of Jones and Piña is going to be a problem that most teams will find difficult to solve.  Their goalkeeper John Connelly came up big on several occasions that any one of them could have been a turning point in the match.  After settling in to match we played solid in defense and created numerous chances.  We have to play more sound defense for 90 minutes and start making those chances bounce off the post and in instead of off the post and out.”

In the other match, the Sonoma County Sol earned a 4-3 win over CD Aguiluchos USA thanks to goals by Tyler Hurst (2), Angel Acevedo, and Edgar Amador.  CDA countered with two goals from former Sol star Ross Middlemiss and a single goal from Simon Rawnsley.

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