Players from the Sacramento Gold and Burlingame Dragons battle for the ball in a 2016 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup match. Photo: Sacramento Gold
SACRAMENTO – Feats of awe-inspiring skill may be rarer in lower division soccer, but they still exist on a regular basis – Sacramento Gold forward Manolo Pina is living proof of this.
Tied with visiting Burlingame Dragons FC in the second half, Pina produced two immaculate bits of skill to propel the Gold to a 3-1 comeback victory, the first Open Cup victory in Sacramento’s six-year history.
“It’s exciting,” said head coach Ruben Mora Jr. “We knew we had the players here five years ago. We just had to find our momentum and combination of guys and get the right match-up. Today it happened to be that way, so we’re excited.
“I don’t think many gave us an opportunity to win today, but we did.
In the 58th minute, just three minutes after Gold forward Jose “Cuco” Martinez leveled the game with a header, Pina received a pass near the top of the box with his back to the goal.
The diminutive attacker quickly turned, leaving his opposite number scrambling on the turf, and blasted an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net for the winning goal of the match.
Pina then helped ice the game in stoppage time, taking the ball down the line as he appeared to head for the corner to stall. Instead though, the creative forward drew two defenders and then crossed the ball to a wide open Chimdum Mez, who tapped the ball in to seal the victory.
“I know if we took them down the line, we would get them,” Pina said. “Fortunately I got by them, did a cross, and Chimdum beautifully just tapped it in. It was a good goal. We worked for it, got it, off to the next round.”
“He’s been scoring goals and tallying up assists from day one when he arrived in 2010,” Mora Jr. said. “He’s put on a few more pounds and a few more years, but he’s still putting up the goals and assists. He’s a special player for sure.”
The Dragons originally took the lead in first half stoppage time when forward Jamael Cox curled in a 20-yard free kick goal that beat Gold goalkeeper John Connolly.
But it was because of Connolly that it was only 1-0 at that point in the game as Burlingame came out of the gate flying and probably could have scored three or four in the first half if it weren’t for Connolly.
The young netminder, serving as captain on the night, produced five saves in the first half and seven overall to keep the Dragons at bay.
“He was instrumental, he kept us alive,” Mora Jr. said of Connolly. “Without him, we wouldn’t have had a chance to be in the position that we were, where we just needed to come to life. And we did. We had the right players respond. It was a team effort, but it all started with John Connolly keeping us in the game.”
Leading up to the game, much of the talk around the tournament had been how the Premier Development League was allegedly a stronger league than the National Premier Soccer League.
While both are de facto fourth division sides due to the fact that the United States Soccer Federation only sanctions the top three divisions in the country, the Gold had something to say about the perceived inferiority.
“I think we’re building a name for ourselves and credibility for league as well,” Mora Jr. said. “I don’t think the staff for the Burlingame team really gave our league much credit and took us a little lighter than they should have.”
Sacramento now moves on to travel to Southern California next Wednesday for a match-up against USASA side La Maquina, who defeated the Portland Timbers U-23’s 2-0.
“I believe we can win the next round and make it to the third round, I think. It would be great for us,” Mora Jr. said. “We definitely believe in ourselves and we can make it at least to the third round.”
“We can get pretty far if we step up our game,” Pina said. “The first half was awful. (We) stepped it up in the second half.
“We play like that every game, we can get as far as we want.”
Evan Ream covers Sacramento Republic FC and soccer in Northern California for the Davis Enterprise. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanReam.