SPOKANE, WA – Tri-Cities Alliance FC took the two-and-a-half hour trip to Spokane on Saturday, May 5th, to kick off their inaugural Evergreen Premier League (EPLWA) season. Facing off against the two time EPLWA champion Spokane Shadow, the Lions debut was about as perfect as they could hope for. A back-and-forth match saw the Lions prevail in extra time to earn their first ever league win!
Despite a minor pregame issue that forced starting central defender Jordan Angeles out of the match, the team maintained their focus. Ozzy Martinez, initially a reserve defender, stepped up to fill in the hole and Ariel Gonzalez was added to the active match roster.
Martinez explained, post-match, his mindset on getting a last minute start. “I’ve played in many big games before, starting or not starting,” he said. “Being mentally ready for big games such as this one is something I’ve always been good at. So when I was told there was a change in the lineup, I was prepared to help the team get our first win.”
The match got underway and, though Spokane controlled the early going, Tri-Cities was the first to break through. In the 10th minute of play, TCAFC winger Lenin Guzman launched a rocket from outside the penalty area that beat the Spokane keeper and gave the Alliance a 1-0 lead.
“My main objective was to just do whatever I could to help the team get our first three points,” Guzman reflected on scoring the Lion’s first ever EPLWA goal, post match. “But being able to score the first EPLWA goal in TCAFC history was an indescribable moment. It could not have happened without the hard work that the whole team has put in, on and off the field. We’ll keep working harder to accomplish greater things.”
Ten minutes after Guzman’s goal, the center referee awarded a penalty kick to Spokane following a foul in the penalty box. Spokane’s Mike Ramos stepped up and took the kick, but TCAFC’s Tonio Gonzalez made an incredible diving save to persevere the 1-0 lead.
“Before the kick I was a little fired up because I didn’t agree with the ref’s decision,” Gonzalez answered when asked about that penalty kick save. “So, after he set the ball down, I was focused on getting in the shooter’s head. I let him set the ball down, then I moved it and told him I knew where he was shooting already. I focused on the ball and gave him a little fake to a side and reacted to his shot. Once I made the save, it was like the cherry on top! I heard and saw how my teammates were all pumped and it just got us going.”
Ramos wasn’t to be denied for long, though. In the 28th minute, Ramos scored off an assist from Tanner Williams to level the score at 1-1. In stoppage time just before the half, Williams managed to get involved again. Spokane was awarded a second penalty kick and this time Williams stepped in and converted. Spokane took a 2-1 lead into halftime.
“Our team looked really good for the first 15 minutes, with Lenin scoring a goal from a great shot,” head coach AB Moreno said at the break. “Losing our two forwards to injury at the 20 minute mark enabled Spokane to put a bit more pressure on us. Our keeper stepped up and keep us in the match. We’ll make a couple of changes at halftime and be okay going forward.”
Coach Moreno’s confidence was well justified.
The second half saw both teams come out with renewed energy and the match settled into a stalemate. Both teams had a couple good looks at goal, but neither could convert – thanks to some amazing saves by Gonzalez in the TCAFC net. However, Tri-Cities Alliance FC has proven time and time again that they go hard until the final whistle and this match was no different as the end of the match saw the Lions wearing down the Shadow as they looked for an equalizer.
TCAFC defender Bryan Vargas was able to get his head on to weirdly bouncing ball in the box and sneak it past the Spokane keeper to draw the Alliance level in the 80th minute. Then, just before the final whistle sounded, winger Uriel Arroyo crossed the ball into the box and, after a deflection off a Spokane player, it fell right to the feet of TCAFC midfielder Jason Rodriguez. Rodriguez knew exactly what to do and launched a shot into the lower right corner of the goal, past the diving Shadow keeper. In the 92nd minute, the Lions went up 3-2 and held on until the whistle sounded.
“It meant a ton, actually,” Rodriguez responded when asked about scoring the game winning goal. “It will be a memorable one for me personally just because it was important for us to get these first three points season. Also, scoring is always a huge joy, but scoring when the game is tied and there’s no time on the clock makes it more special and memorable.”
“Starting the season with a win is crucial to setting the tone for us,” the team’s General Manager (and substitute midfielder), Ramiro De La Mora said post-match. “We are taking this season as a long tournament and starting off with a road win is key.”
Assistant Coach Kikito Moreno expressed his belief in the team. “I was confident that we were going to take the win,” he said. “I trust a lot in the boys. They never stopped running. They never stopped competing. I’m very proud of them.”
Named Man of the Match after recording six saves, including that crucial penalty kick save, TCAFC goalkeeper Gonzalez reflected on that honor: “I felt honored that my teammates and coaches picked me as the man of the match because there were a lot of key moments in this game!”
The Lions kick off their home slate of games on May 19th as they welcome the Spokane Shadow team to town for a rematch. That match will kickoff at 7pm at Lampson Stadium. Tickets can be purchase online or at the stadium. Additional ticket information is available here!