Wild home opener against Napa Valley ends
in deadlock, first point of season for both teams

By: Thomas Viola

HAYWARD — Relief. That was the feeling expressed by both coaches following East Bay FC's 3-3 draw against Napa Valley 1839 FC on Saturday night at Pioneer Stadium.

The draw gave both clubs their first points of this still-early NPSL season.

Playing its inaugural road game, Napa Valley (0-1-2) had a chance to escape with its first victory as a club, but in the 87th minute, Stompers midfielder Zano Mahic was tackled inside the Napa box. The referee pointed to the penalty spot, and Diego Garcia scored his second penalty kick goal in two weeks to equalize the game for East Bay FC (0-1-2) in the dying moments. 

After the match, Stompers coach Martin Sierra blamed simple bad luck as the reason the team didn't come away with three points. 

“I've been on the other side of those matches,” he said, lamenting the abundance of shots the Stompers saw bounce back off the posts. Sierra also praised the play of Napa goalkeeper Roberto Llamas, who made several big second-half saves, including a penalty kick. 

Napa coach Jesus Medina lamented some of the injuries that have taken a toll on his squad early in the season. 

“We just ran out of players towards the end,” he said. 

It was a wire-to-wire barnburner at Pioneer Stadium, with the Stompers opening the scoring in the third minute when Prince Bere picked off a pass along the Napa back line and put one in the back of the net past Llamas to shoot East Bay FC out to an early 1-0 lead. The Stompers attackers pressed the Napa defense relentlessly, refusing to allow the back line to pass smoothly amongst themselves, and created problems for Napa throughout the first half.

In the 27th minute, a long cross into the box by East Bay's Jorge Butron fell to the head of Mahic, who flicked the ball over a charging Llamas, then walked the ball into the open goal to put the Stompers ahead 2-0. 

The lead would not last, however, as Napa striker Bryan Marin came charging back just two minutes later, eluding East Bay's back line and chipping a shot over goalkeeper Jose Majano to cut the Stompers’ lead to one goal. 

The teams went to the locker rooms at halftime with the scoreline still at 2-1, but this time it was Napa Valley that came out of the gates furiously, and Arnulfo Garcia headed a ball past Majano in the 50th minute to knot the game at two goals apiece.

The Stompers resumed their intense pressure, but Napa Valley was better prepared for it in the second half, and Marin notched his second goal of the night in the 67th minute to put the visitors ahead with their third unanswered score. 

Momentum looked to shift back to the Stompers shortly after, when striker Khalid Arramdani, returning to action following a tryout with the San Francisco Deltas, beat the defense and chipped the ball over Llamas. The shot bounced off the post, but Llamas charged too strongly at Arramdani, and the official awarded the Stompers their first of two penalty kicks in the game. 

Llamas bailed his team out of the jam when Garcia tried to power the ensuing penalty to the bottom right corner. Llamas guessed correctly and turned the shot away in the 72nd minute, preserving Napa’s 3-2 lead. However, he was not as lucky in the 87th minute when Garcia had a chance to try again and equalized for the Stompers.

The Stompers travel up to Sacramento for a match against the Gold at Massie Stadium on April 15, while Napa Valley now has a week to rest before playing host to the Sonoma County Sol on April 22.

Photos: Donnie Graham/East Bay FC