ROHNERT PARK — After Saturday night's cardiac finish, there is one hurdle left to clear for the Sonoma County Sol Futbol Club in order to reach the mountaintop as undefeated 2013 champions of the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL).
The dramatics came in the 89th minute for the West Region champion Sol (12-0-3) courtesy of a spectacular left-footed side volley goal from 12-yards out by the Taylor Varnadore, a center-back defender. The sudden strike, which hit the underside of the crossbar and dropped in over the goal-line, gave Sonoma a 3-2 win over Northeast Region champion FC Lehigh Valley United Sonic (Pennsylvania) in front of a boisterous crowd of over 800 Sol supporters at Rancho Cotate High. Sol teammates Angel Acevedo (entry cross) and Brenton Frame (flick) earned assists on the play.
"That's the greatest goal I've scored, the greatest I will ever score," said Varnadore, who also plays at Sonoma State. "I'll dream about that goal."
The Sol victory sets up a showdown between the Sol and South Region champion RVA Football Club (Richmond, Va.) on August 3. RVA defeated the Midwest Region champ Erie Admirals, 4-0, in the other NPSL semifinal played on Saturday.
The final of the NPSL, a 57-team nationwide league in the fourth tier of American professional soccer, will be hosted by top-seed Richmond, Va. (9-0-2) due to tiebreaker criteria that ranked the Sol a second seed of the final four teams.
The Sol advanced to the final four of the eight-year old NPSL by defeating the Sacramento Gold in the West Region final and the San Diego Flash in the first round of the playoffs.
After the game, giddy Sol supporters and players joyfully mingled on the field celebrating Sonoma's accomplishment.
"This is it," Sol coach Vinnie Cortezzo said. "Making the championship is what we talked about in March when we started. We talked about this being a team that could go all the way."
The title game won't be easy on the road against a tough Richmond squad.
"There is some video of RVA. I'm sure they are a good side," Cortezzo said. "But if we go out and perform we can win on any given day. We are peaking right now."
Lehigh (11-4) struck first with a goal in the 18th minute as Matt Baker sent in a well-executed cross that Erik Cannon booted past Sol goalkeeper James Del Curto from a few yards out.
"We would like to get out of that habit of the other team scoring first," Cortezzo said. "Even when we got behind there was no sense of panic."
Indeed, the Sol responded with the equalizer in the 23rd minute as Varnadore chested a ball and booted it to Tyler Hurst who scored from five yards out with a laser past Sonic goalie Charlie Sales.
The Sol benefited from a gift in the 48th minute, an own goal by Lehigh for a 2-1 Sonoma lead. The Sonic's Julian Plummer deflected a cross from Sonoma's Trevor Hurst backward from eight-yards into the Sonic net for the own-goal.
"We were pushing to win it in regulation and not go into overtime," Cortezzo said. "We felt we were going to play a good second half and we did."
However, the Sol celebration was temporarily put on ice as the Sonic's Michael Gonzalez converted a penalty kick in the 67th minute to tie the game 2-2. The PK was the correct call as Gonzalez was taken down by behind in the penalty box by Sonoma's Justin Ferreira.