Originally published on Tuesday, April 10, 2012
CORPUS CHRISTI - The dream is over.
Seventy minutes of gritty, defensive, body-sacrificing soccer from Victoria East could not contain the little bull wearing No. 10 in blue.
Three defenders sprinted to close down any shooting angle Jose A. Soto may have had. The Valley View forward drifted further and further and further right before unleashing the immaculate right-footed shot that ended the Titans season.
Soto's goal with 10:04 remaining lifted Pharr Valley View to a 1-0 victory over the Titans in Tuesday's Class 4A regional quarterfinal.
East goalkeeper Ricky Stratmann was a colossus the entire evening. He finished with nine saves - three of which were of the spectacular diving variety that kept the contest scoreless.
"Oh my gosh, he was phenomenal," said East co-captain Joel Gonzales about Stratmann. "He was saving left and right. He was pretty much the defense. We did our part, but we couldn't stop everything. He was just phenomenal."
Finally the Tigers produced a shot that even Stratmann couldn't stop.
Soto's 52nd goal of the season went across the face of goal, into the side netting at the far post to separate the two teams. He is nicknamed "Torreto", or little bull, by players and coaches because of his short, compact body, fiesty on-field personality and goalscoring ability.
"There is a phrase in soccer: you can attack it as many times as you want, sometimes the ball doesn't want to go in and sometimes it doesn't bounce your way," Valley View head coach Damian Magallan said through an interpreter.
"It as a big shot, but then again Jose Soto has been our leading scorer."
Valley View (24-1-2) has not lost since a 1-0 loss to Brownsville Porter on Jan. 20. That game was just 40 minutes long. The Tigers advance to their fourth regional semifinal in six years against the winner of Austin Vandergrift and reigning state champion Boerne Champion.
"In the end it is heartbreaking that this is over," Gonzales said. "This is my final season. I may pursue Select ball at Texas State, but it's very heartbreaking. But I can say this: we did play our butts off."
The Tigers outshot the Titans 26-4. East's best chance came with 22 minutes remaining when a Cole Fimbel free kick from 22 yards away was less than a foot wide from opening the scoring.
For most of the game East (18-4-2) had as many as eight players behind the ball trying to stop Erick Amador from his probing dribbles in the midfield, or Noe Moncada and Soto from getting good looks at goal.
Valley View hit the crossbar in the sixth minute from 10 yards away. Stratmann saved a fizzing shot from Erik Martinez six minutes from halftime.
Nevertheless, the contest remained scoreless. When the first half was over the East supporters - some of whom were boys and girls players from Victoria West - stood to applaud the Titans. Meanwhile, the Valley View fans quizzically looked left at the scene from the traveling contingent.
The Titans had a completely reconfigured lineup from the team that took the field March 23 to win the District 59-4A championship.
Gonzales moved from midfield to central defense with Eric Mansker, Ralph Morales and CJ Garcia. Tailsmanic forward Cole Fimbel dropped to central midfielder, while Jose Oviedo and Marco Segura got the start at forward.
The moves were made because of suspensions and injuries following an April 5 win over San Antonio Harlandale. Ben Flores and left midfielder Wyatt Fimbel did not take the field due to suspension. David Andrade did not play because of a broken nose.
That East was able to challenge and thwart a team that beat its previous three playoff opponents by 19 goals was a testament to its leadership said head coach Tim Eaton.
"You couldn't have asked for a better group of young men to work with," Eaton said. "Their leadership was immeasurable."
Thirteen of the Titans games were decided by one goal or less. Eaton said that fact hardened and prepared his team for a playoff run that was longer than any from a Victoria school in 11 years.
When the Titans lifted the district championship trophy midfielder Casey Brown envisioned being a part of a state tournament team. That dream died three games short of their goal. But through the despair the co-captain found some solace in defeat.
"They couldn't have made my senior year any better," Brown said. "This team was my favorite. We played our hardest and gave it everything we had. It wasn't enough tonight."