Valencia High goalie Daniel Rodriguez took a deep breath, exhaled and delivered the truth.
Avoiding typical athlete mumbo jumbo about nerves of steel and unfailing confidence, Rodriguez described how he really felt as he stood between the posts for a Hart penalty kick in the 70th minute of a battle for first place in the Foothill League.
PHOTOS: Valencia battles Hart in first-place showdown
“I was nervous, scared. I knew I owed my teammates something,” Rodriguez said.
The junior had an inkling Hart’s Jaden Nguyen would shoot low and left. He did, and Rodriguez pounced on the ball preserving the lead in a 1-0 Valencia win at Hart on Tuesday.
“Coach always says, ‘Choose a side and dive,’” Rodriguez said. “I chose a side and dove.”
The save preserved the Vikings’ second straight road win over a Foothill contender — this one all the sweeter being only Valencia’s second victory over Hart since 2010 (six losses and seven ties).
“Beating Hart on their home field is not an easy task,” said Valencia coach Tony Scalercio.
Rodriguez, who only recently became Valencia’s starting goalkeeper, made two other crucial saves in an evenly played game between teams that had mostly crushed their other league competition.
Entering Tuesday, Valencia (12-2-3 overall, 5-0-0 in Foothill) had outscored Foothill opponents 17-3, highlighted by a 4-0 win over upstart Saugus on Friday.
Josh Ferguson scored the Vikings’ lone goal against Hart (13-5-2, 3-2-0).
It came on Valencia’s best attacking sequence of the day, Ian Young beating two defenders, working a give-and-go with Sean Kim and then sending a cross to Ferguson deep in Hart’s 18-yard box in the 19th minute.
It was a reversal of roles from when the teams last met. On the last day of Foothill League play in 2016, Hart scored in the first 80 seconds, and Valencia never found the equalizer in its only league loss.
Tuesday, Hart regularly worked the ball up the field in the second half but never drew even thanks to the dexterity of Rodriguez.
Hart had lost just once in its last 10 games entering the day and had gotten to 3-1-0 in league by outscoring its last three opponents 10-2.
That set up a nearly must-win game if Hart was going to dethrone Valencia.
Now, that seems a long shot.
“It could have gone either way,” said Hart coach Adonay Jovel. “If we don’t miss that PK, the game changes. But this is soccer, and you never know what’s going to happen in the game until it’s over.”
When it was over, Valencia mobbed Rodriguez in celebration.
Saugus 3, Canyon 0
Centurion Tanner Brown scored off a free kick, and Josh De Leon and Patrick Elliot followed with goals of their own.
Saugus is 10-5-3 overall and 4-1 in Foothill League play. Canyon is 0-13-5 and 0-4-1.
West Ranch 3, Golden Valley 1
Emilio Santamaira, Jacob Gendein and Connor Desser each scored for the Wildcats.
West Ranch improves to 4-5-1 and 2-3 in league, while Golden Valley is 1-11-2 and 0-4-1.