Cal Victory had not trailed for 262 minutes of soccer. But with eight minutes to play in the championship game of the United Premier Soccer League spring season Sunday night, the local team just ran out of gas.
Up 1-0 after nine minutes thanks to a goal from Jesus Zamudio, Cal Victory could not close out the game against the heavily favored L.A. Wolves and allowed two goals in the game’s final minutes. A very real chance at a UPSL championship in their inaugural season slipped away.
“We set up a game plan for a tough weekend with three games in two days,” Cal Victory coach Steven Purdy said. “It worked like a charm.”
Until it didn’t.
“At the 75th minute our guys were just gassed,” he said.
“We were really just getting tired and they were dominating more of the game,” he said. “We were a little too deep defensively, we couldn’t get our line up. We were just exhausted.”
The Wolves’ Edwin Rivas made them pay for their well-earned fatigue. In the 80th minute, Rivas knocked in an easy one off of a header from Kevin Garcia to tie the game 1-1. Two minutes later, Rivas got another goal off a deflection to put the home team up for good.
Purdy, who took over coaching duties for Cal Victory in their inaugural season in the UPSL, had nothing but praise for his players — a mix of Sonoma County players who made their names at area high schools as well as Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma State, and players with international and professional experience.
“Everyone thought we were just going to get killed,” he said of the championship game. “I’m really proud of the guys.”
Wolves coach and former U.S. national team standout Eric Wynalda told the postgame interview crew that Cal Victory came ready to play.
“That’s a pretty damned good team over there,” he said after the game.
As was his worry coming into the tournament, Purdy said Cal Victory suffered because of the format. And they might have suffered more than the Wolves, who also had to play three games in two days.
“It was really, really rough,” Purdy said.
Let’s start with Cal Victory’s seed: seventh out of eight playoff teams. After winning the Northwest Conference in dominating fashion, Purdy argues his team should have had an easier draw in the postseason.
“I think we really showed we are the standard in this league,” he said.
“Seventh seed? I don’t even know how that happened,” he said. “There should be some reward for the best record in the league.”
There is a reward: a 450-mile drive to the playoff site in Norco, California.
The Wolves? They had a 37-mile commute.
Add to that the thorn that’s been in Purdy’s craw for some time: the three games in two days deal. That’s a lot of soccer in not a lot of time.
And for Cal Victory, it took its toll.
“If we are 100 percent fit and fresh, it’s a whole different game,” Purdy said.
“The Wolves pretty much saved their starting lineup for the finals,” he said. “They played pretty much their B squad in the semifinals.”