PETALUMA — Efren Torres became an official member of the Napa Valley 1839 FC men’s soccer team Saturday morning.
By the evening, he found himself coming off the bench to preserve his new team’s unbeaten season start with a game-tying goal in the late stages of its showdown against Sonoma County Sol FC at Casa Grande High School that ended in a 1-1 draw.
“It feels good. I came in to do what I could for the team. To help out whenever I can,” Torres said. “I got a ball from the 40-yard line flicked over to me and I touched it in. Saw the goalie out and just left-footed it in.”
Referring to his score as a “touch” is putting it mildly. With Napa Valley (2-0-2) trailing 1-0 in the 86th minute, Torres launched a left-footed missile from nearly 10 yards outside the penalty box into the back of the net.
Considering he entered the contest as a late-game sub, Torres made his chance count.
“He can play any position and today he did great as a 9,” Napa Valley head coach Rogelio Ochoa said of the striker spot. “He played up top for literally 10 minutes and he had that banger goal.
“I’m glad he’s able to be out here. We’re going to try to use him more, but he definitely had a great strike today.”
Playing in a National Premier Soccer League showdown against Golden Gate Conference foe Sonoma County (1-2-2), Napa Valley found itself in a chippy bout early on, with neither team able to get comfortable.
Despite dominating time of possession and quality chances in the first half, 1839 FC continually missed the mark despite solid first-half chances from Jorge Lualua, Keagen Angevin, Jonathan Villeda and Andres Prieto, leaving each team searching for a way to breakthrough knotted at 0-0 to end the frame.
As the second half rolled around and the sun set, the Sol proved they were not solar powered.
Sonoma County came out with a renewed tenacity after making some halftime adjustments, and used its newfound energy to put Napa Valley on its heels.
After 1839 goalkeeper Robert Doeland kept the score even with a few clutch saves, he finally let one get by him when Sol striker Bryan “Vela” Marin – a St. Helena High graduate who starred for 1839 the last two seasons – knocked in a sliding goal on a breakaway chance in the 65th minute that changed the game’s complexion.
Suddenly, Napa Valley began to play with a much greater sense of urgency. But the Sol’s defense tightened up, forcing the visitors into frustration shots and mental mistakes as their patience to wait for the open man wore thin.
Looking for offensive life, Ochoa decided to sub in Torres in the 79th minute. Clearly, the move paid off big time.
After the forward’s game-tying goal, Sonoma County shifted out of its defensive-mindedness into an offensive overdrive. That resulted in three quality shots in the waning minutes. But with that trio of shots came a trio of more impressive saves from Doeland.
“We always know what we’re going to get from Robert,” Ochoa said. “At the end of the game, both teams wanted to win. They had three clear opportunities. He made three great one-on-one saves.”
Napa Valley has now come from behind to either tie or win in three of its four games this young season. Ochoa said he likes the resiliency that his team has showcased in its comebacks, but added, “We can’t keep doing that.”
Napa Valley returns home to Justin-Siena’s Dodd Stadium to face San Ramon FC next Saturday, May 4, at 7 p.m.