Second half strikes from Tyler Hurst and Taylor Varnadore lifted the Sonoma County Sol to a well-deserved 2-0 victory over Real San Jose Saturday night in the semifinals of the Golden Gate Conference US Open Cup qualifying tournament. The Sol are one of four National Premier Soccer League teams to take another step toward qualifying for the 2014 US Open Cup.
With the win, the Sol ensured they will play next weekend in the tournament final at Rancho Cotate High School, the site of Saturday night’s triumph. Their scheduled opposition, CD Aguiluchos USA, saw off the San Francisco Stompers 1-0 in the conference’s other tense semifinal. The deciding goal came in the 89th minute when Nestor Palacios came through with a 30-yard strike to send the club to the Golden Gate Conference’s championship game. The winner is expected to qualify for the 2014 US Open Cup, but the official format has yet to be announced by the US Soccer Federation.
Hurst, who netted his second goal in as many games, opened the scoring for Sonoma County in the 47th minute in opportunistic fashion. As a frantic scramble in the Real San Jose goalmouth cast doubt on the continuation of the scoreless stalemate, the ball fell perfectly into the path of the on-charging midfielder, who promptly fired the ball into the lower-left corner and the Sol into a lead they would not relinquish.
Reacting to the setback, Real San Jose opted to switch to a more attacking formation, pushing an extra player forwards and leaving just three back to defend. The move failed to spur the desired effect, though, as a skilled Sol side poured forward with even more gusto than before. The orange-clad Sonoma County squad were especially busy on the right flank, repeatedly testing the mettle of their reeling southern neighbors during a dominant stretch sandwiched between both goals.
The insurance the Sol craved finally arrived in the 71st minute and took the form of an extraordinary solo effort. Varnadore, who had been a prime culprit in terrorizing the San Jose defense, narrowly missed doubling the lead twice in the preceding exchanges—once with a downward header from a long throw that was well saved, and once with a close-range shot that appeared to skim the right post. But on this occasion, he left no doubt about the outcome.
In the undisputed highlight of the night, Varnadore stormed through the gap between Real San Jose’s defense and midfield and into the final third with the ball roped to his feet and then unleashed a left-footed stunner into the top-left corner to cap his splendid run and give the Sol a 2-0 cushion. The goal all but extinguished Real San Jose’s lingering hope of equalizing.
The remaining twenty minutes offered more of the same, as the Sol continued to assert their influence on the increasingly one-sided encounter. With the affair beginning to take on the air of an inevitable Sonoma County Sol victory, Brandon Boone very nearly added a third. As the Real San Jose keeper was sprawled on the ground, Boone latched onto a bouncing ball, but his effort from the penalty spot was deflected and fell agonizingly to the wrong side of the crossbar.
Then, as Real San Jose was forced to come to grips with their waning hopes in the latter stages, the yellow cards started to emerge from the referee’s pocket more frequently. Despite the frustration on both sides, none of the cautions turned a darker shade and both teams finished the game with their squads numerically intact.
As mentioned in the report of the Sol’s 2-1 first round victory against the Sacramento Gold last week, the Sonoma County side is bidding to make its first appearance in the US Open Cup since 2010, when the Californians fell in the opening round to the Portland Timbers. At the time, the Timbers were in their final season prior to joining Major League Soccer as an expansion club along with fellow Cascadia Cup contender Vancouver Whitecaps FC. The Sol have qualified for the Open Cup four times since 2005, tied for the most by any NPSL club with the Brooklyn Italians.
In other NPSL US Open Cup qualifying action Saturday in California, two teams advanced to the semifinals of the Southwest Conference. The Santa Clarita Storm only needed a 17th minute goal from Robbie Giuk and a stingy defense to keep Del Rey City at bay and advance by a slim 1-0 margin. According to the Storm, they limited their opponents to just three shots on goal for the entire game. The Storm move on to the conference final four where they will meet FC Hasental on Saturday. FC Hasental will host at Thousand Oaks High School in an attempt to qualify for the second year in a row.
In the other opening round game, FC Force defeated Temecula FC 5-2 to reach the semifinals. The 2014 expansion team will face a big test in the next round as they will travel to San Diego to take on the Flash, who have won two of the last three division titles.
The Golden Gate final will take place on Saturday, March 8 at Rancho Cotate High School in Rohnert Park, Calif., while the Southwest semifinals are scheduled for Sunday, March 9. Details are listed below.
2014 US Open Cup qualifying (NPSL)
GOLDEN GATE CONFERENCE
Sacramento Gold 1:2 Sonoma County Sol
Semifinals (Mar. 1)
Real San Jose 0:2 Sonoma County Sol
CD Aguiluchos USA 1:0 San Francisco Stompers
Final (March 8 – Win & You’re In)
CD Aguiluchos USA at Sonoma County Sol
Rancho Cotate HS; Rohnert Park, Calif. – 7 p.m. PT
First Round (Mar. 1)
FC Force 5:2 Temecula FC
Santa Clarita Storm 1:0 Del Ray City
Semifinals (Mar. 9)
FC Force at San Diego Flash
Mira Mesa HS; San Diego, Calif. – 6:30 p.m. PT
SC Storm at FC Hasental
Thousand Oaks HS; Thousand Oaks, Calif. – 7 p.m. PT
Final (Mar. 15 – Win & You’re In)
NOTE: The 2014 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup format has not been officially announced by the US Soccer Federation yet, so this tournament is operating under the assumption that the number of teams awarded to the NPSL will not change from 2013.