Tied at the half, the defending co-Foothill League boys soccer champs, Hart and Valencia, battled it out in a highly-anticipated second league game of the season at Hart High School on Thursday.
Valencia’s Julian De La O scored first by capitalizing on a Hart mistake, but the Indians came back to score three and take a two-goal lead in the second half. Down two goals, the Vikings scored two unanswered goals on penalty kicks by Alexei De Vita in the second half to draw with Hart 3-3.
“It’s like a championship game. This will set the tone for the rest of the games and the games after that,” said Valencia assistant coach David Juico. “It’s a huge, huge thing that we got this tie.”
The Vikings (3-2-3 overall, 1-0-1 Foothill League) dictated the pace of play from the opening whistle by appearing to be hungrier and more aggressive, while the Indians seemed lackadaisical, expecting the game to come to them.
Early on, Valencia’s De Vita and De La O tried their luck with long-range shots keeping Hart’s goalkeeper Lucas Enriquez on his toes.
At the same time, De Vita emphatically communicated with his team to win balls and get back on defense.
Keying in on Hart’s Lawrence Luna, the Vikings forced other players to step up and be the facilitators. Joseph Ochoa welcomed the challenge, but had difficulty building the attack through a physical Vikings backline.
With 12 minutes left in the first half, the Vikings capitalized off a free kick to give them a 1-0 lead. De Vita tried his luck with a direct shot which Enriquez was able to save, but the rebound bounced in front of the Hart goal and Julian De La O was there to clean it up for the Vikings.
“Defensively, they are very good and they don’t make many mistakes because they don’t play with it, so they kick it forward,” said Hart head coach Adonay Jovel. “They are disciplined. Their game is to defend and they do it well and they counter. The biggest thing for them is their set pieces. If you learn to control their set pieces, you kind of control the game or don’t give them any set pieces. Either one will work.”
Letting their guard down on a corner kick by Hart (11-1-1, 1-0-1), just before the halftime whistle, Luna crossed a ball into the Valencia penalty box towards Nathaniel Bello. Bello wasn’t able to get a clean touch on the ball and it bounced past him, but Ryan Lopez was there to head in the game-tying goal heading into the half.
Moving Luna to up to a more forward position to give him more freedom to operate, the Hart attack looked revitalized as Ochoa and Cameron Castañeda built the attack on the right flank.
“We switched them and put Lawrence up top to get him a little bit more free and we put Nathaniel (Bello) in the center,” Jovel said. “I felt that gave us a little more strength and flexibility for him to move, not just Lawrence, but Nathaniel played a great game too.”
In the 51st minute, Jesus Alfonzo spotted Bello making a run at the edge of the Vikings’ 18-yard box. Bello was taken down by a Vikings defender setting up a penalty kick which Ochoa put in the back of the net.
Nine minutes later, Luna saw his chance to get on the stat sheet.
From about 30 yards out, Luna struck a ball that was destined to end up in the back of the net to take a commanding 3-1 lead.
Down, but not out, the Vikings mounted an attack that caught the Indians off guard, forcing them to take a Vikings player down inside their own penalty box for the second PK of the game.
De Vita, calm and collected, stepped up and hit a right-footer that flew past Enriquez and into the right side of the goal.
With the game winding down, in the final minutes of play, the Vikings made a push to tie the game. As the ball was sent towards the Hart goal, it took an awkward bounce and hit a Hart player’s hand and as a result, the ref awarded the Vikings their second PK of the half.
Just like the first, De Vita stepped up and sank the goal to tie the game.
“It’s tough to score two PKs in a game,” Juico said. “It’s very rare that we even get two PKs and (De Vita) definitely came up, walked up to the spot and capitalized on it. We are grateful for that.”
Both teams are on the road on Tuesday. Valencia takes on West Ranch at 3:15 p.m., while Hart plays Canyon at 5 p.m.