NAPA — The neighborhood around Memorial Stadium was buzzing Sunday afternoon, with fans patiently waiting for the international soccer friendly between Napa Valley 1839 FC and Monarcas Morelia to commence.
Dozens of kids were running around the neighborhood in joy and a scattering of tailgate parties were in full swing an hour before game time.
A heavy amount of Monarcas Morelia jerseys flooded the inside of Memorial Stadium, giving the large crowd pockets of bright yellow and orange. Monarcas Morelia did not disappoint, pulling away in the second half to claim a 2-0 victory over Napa Valley 1839 FC.
“This exhibition is for the people … for the environment and for the fans and their fans, too,” Napa Valley 1839 FC coach Jesus Medina said. “One thing we wanted to do was bring teams that people like to play out here. A lot of people out here identify with Morelia, because a lot of the locals and semi locals are from around the Morelia area. The community support is just great.”
The visitors from Mexico were delayed on their route to Napa from Oakland, where they defeated CD Aguiluchos 2-1 Saturday evening, because of a car crash clogging their path. Monarcas Morelia plays in the top professional league in Mexico, the Liga MX and they brought their Segundo squad to square off with the two members of the National Premier Soccer League’s Golden Gate Conference.
The Segundo team is made up of promising young pro players and reserves from different levels within the soccer organization.
The stormy weather of earlier in the week cleared up just in time for the exhibition, with the bright blue skies claiming the sky above Napa. The contest started an hour late.
The Monarcas Morelia fans were active early and often, which is a rare sight for a road team at Memorial Stadium. The 1839’s are in their second year of operation and Sunday’s match was the first international friendly in team history.
Monarcas Morelia took control of the middle field from the open touch of the game and never let go. Napa had its opportunities early on, as new addition Max Alvarez had a shot miss wide. Alvarez will be a key veteran for the 1839’s this season, as the 2009 Napa High School graduate had played for Sacramento Republic and St. Louis FC after his time at Sacramento State. The forward will join Bryan Marin and Francisco Mendoza, as the focal point of the Napa Valley attack.
After a few early chances, Monarcas regained control and dominated the shot advantage during the first half. The visitors blasted 11 shots toward Napa Valley goalkeeper Javier Valdez-Raya before the half, compared to only three by the 1839’s.
Monarcas had a prime opportunity in the 25th minute, when a penalty kick was called. Franco Nicolas took the penalty kick and attempted to bury the ball in the bottom right corner. Valdez-Raya timed the run up and pushed the shot away.
The two squads went into the halftime break still scoreless, but with Monarcas slowly pushing the attack.
“There was a concern (before the game) and I noticed a problem in the first half that they were nervous,” Medina said. “For some, this is the highest level of team they have faced. The guys were pumped up before the game. Second half we came out a lot better.”
It took 15 minutes after halftime for the first goal of the contest to be scored. Monarcas took a free kick from outside the box in the middle of the field and the cross was centered by Lenin Esquivel from the right side to the foot of Claudio Zamudio.
Napa Valley continued to be scrappy all contest, with the 1839’s getting tougher with the famous visitors throughout the game. The hosts picked up four total cards, with Juan Carlos Flores being sent off.
Monarcas picked up their second and final goal in the 78th minute on a defensive breakdown. Julian Varela intercepted a ball in the middle of the pitch and quickly found Esquivel, who found the back of the net.
Valdez-Raya ended the afternoon with seven saves for Napa Valley.
Napa Valley had a chance in stoppage time, as Alvarez was tripped in the box after a ball was cleared. The 2007 and 2008 All-Napa County Player of the Year attempted the penalty kick, but the shot to the bottom right corner of the goal was stopped by net-minder Daniel Gutierrez.
“This experience is a benefit in several ways,” Medina said. “When it comes to the game itself, this allows us to elevate our level to see what the level of other countries is. It is a big benefit for us to play this match, because it gives us experience that we need.”
Napa Valley 1839’s next game will be their first of the regular season, against Academica of Turlock at Justin-Siena High School’s Dodd Stadium on March 10.