Valencia battled through adversity to bring the match to a 2-2 draw against Golden Valley Thursday afternoon at Golden Valley High School.
For a majority of the second half, the Vikings (4-6-3 overall, 0-2-2 league) had to play down a player. Senior forward Brandi Reid received a direct red card in the 51st minute after getting tangled up in tussle for the ball. Reid was ejected from the match for alleged unsportsmanlike conduct.
“I’m proud of the team,” said Valencia head coach Kevin Goralsky. “We were down one player from the red card, then we went down a goal, but instead of putting their heads down, they kept fighting.”
The Grizzlies (4-5-3, 0-2-2) had a dream start to the match. Freshman forward Kaia Usher sent a long through pass down the right side of the pitch in the second minute. Junior forward Kayla De La Merced picked up the pass as she broke the Viking backline. De La Merced struck low as a ground ball rolled past junior goalkeeper Danielle McNeil into the left side of the goal.
“I feel like after we scored, we slowed down,” De La Merced said. “I feel like once we were ahead, we were like, ‘Oh, we have a chance to win. We can do this.’ I guess we were motivated.”
Golden Valley kept up the pace and applied pressure to the Vikings defense through the first 10 minutes of the match.
The Vikings were able to turn the tables in the 12th minute. Sophomore forward Jackie Victorio took a shot from the middle of the penalty box towards the left post. The shot ricocheted off of the post and slowly rolled behind Golden Valley goalkeeper Eziekella Okereke.
“She’s a good goalie, so I just took my shot right away and it got in,” Victorio said. “I was in shock because it hit the post and we needed the goal. We needed that right away. I stood there waiting and once it went in, I jumped up.”
After Victorio’s goal, the pace of the game slowed significantly on both sides of the pitch and the wind began to pick up while the temperature dropped.
“We were sluggish,” said Golden Valley head coach Freddy Wheeler. “It’s not the type of game that we train for. It’s freezing out here, so the temperature didn’t help. It felt like we were playing with ice blocks on our feet or something.”
The slow pace kept through the rest of the half except for a brief moment where the Vikings attempted to break the 1-1 tie. Senior defender Cory Greer took a corner kick for the Vikings in the 19th minute.
She rolled it to senior forward Isabelle Goralsky who sent it into a swarm of bodies. The ball popped out and past Okereke, but the score was negated on an offsides call.
The Vikings’ woes continued in the second half. Goralsky had another chance at a goal, but her shot bounced off the crossbar. The rebound landed right at her feet. She took another shot but missed just over the same spot.
The half quickly turned into a nightmare for Valencia. Reid’s ejection put the Vikings at a disadvantage and aggressive play set the Grizzlies up for a set-piece play.
Golden Valley’s sophomore defender Emma Amaya took a free kick at the top of the 18-yard box for the Grizzlies. She sent it towards the goal. A header from Usher kept the play alive and senior midfielder Isabella Montiforte finished the play, knocking the ball into the back of the net in the 53rd minute.
Down a player and down a point, Valencia scrambled to create offense. The Vikings took a missed opportunity and turned it into good fortune in the 58th minute.
Golden Valley disrupted a Valencia attack and the ball began to roll toward the end line. Victorio showed impressive speed as she chased down the ball and kicked it back into position. Junior forward Lauren Huntsinger was in the perfect position for the pass. She booted the ball into the top-right corner of the goal for the equalizer.
“I knew we needed a goal. I had to get that ball,” Victorio said. “I knew it could have been one of our last chances to score. (Lauren) was perfect placement right there. She was able to contain her shot and place it right into the corner which is good.”
In the remaining minutes of the game, each team had one more significant attempt at stealing the win from each other. A shot from Valencia’s Greer in the 78th minute went over the crossbar and a header from Golden Valley’s Mariah Garcia went wide right in the 79th minute keeping the game at a 2-2 draw at the final whistle.
“To break that tie and go up 3-2 would have been huge,” Goralsky said. “We wanted it. We weren’t playing to tie today. It’s just unfortunate it didn’t happen.”
Both teams will go on the road to continue league play on Tuesday. Golden Valley will try to take the next step and grab its first league win at West Ranch to play at 3:15 p.m. Valencia also attempt to break its tie streak under the lights at Canyon at 5 p.m.