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Beware the Dragons: Sonoma Valley boys serve notice to rest of SCL soccer

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If possession is ninth-tenths of the law, the Sonoma Valley Dragons pretty well owned the game with the Healdsburg ’Hounds Friday night.

In Sonoma County League boys soccer, the Dragons made a statement in their league opener, posting a 2-1 win against their longtime SCL rivals on Windsor’s field.

And it wasn’t as close as the score indicated.

“We were outmatched,” ’Hounds coach Herbert Lemus said after the game. “It was a defensive struggle for us all night.”

Now, to be fair, many teams in the SCL may struggle with the Dragons this season. They are technical, strong on the ball and their attacking players are incredibly fast.

Lemus was left shaking his head as his team moved to 1-1 in league play.

“That is the way they play every year, but the speed they had up front? It was much better,” Lemus said.

The scoring started early when sophomore Alan Amezquita took a pass from Brian Rodriguez and slotted it home in the second minute of the game.

“I trapped it and I saw a defender and I just toe-tapped it kind of with my left and it went on the keeper’s right side and he just couldn’t get it,” Amezquita said.

But the ’Hounds evened the score just a few minutes later on a mistake in the back from the Dragons’ defense that made it a footrace between David Botello and the last Sonoma Valley defender.

Dragons coach Pedro Merino saw that counterattack coming.

“Who’s faster, a player going forward or a player going backward?” he said.

Sophomore Sami Contreras got the game winner at the 30-minute mark after he took what looked like one touch too many on the right side of the box. The ’Hounds goalkeeper, senior Javier Aguilar, came charging out, but Contreras beat him with a chip into the left side of the net.

Lemus had nothing but praise for his senior leader in goal.

“He kept us in the game,” Lemus said of Aguilar.

His final save of the night might have been his best.

Sonoma Valley senior Edwin Mancilla got free — again — in the left corner and brought the ball within striking range before letting loose a shot with his right foot. Aguilar had to react to his left, changing the direction of the shot and sending the ball out of harm’s way to the right corner of the field.

It seemed like Mancilla was creating chances like that, and trouble for the ’Hounds, all night, especially in the second half.

Merino said that his only knock on Mancilla is that he’s the strong, silent type for 80 minutes.

“He’s usually one of the halfbacks but as you can see, he can play forward,” he said of the dynamic Mancilla. “We just need him to talk more. He can’t play with telepathy.”

Merino said that despite the solid outing Friday night, he sees soft spots in his squad’s play that need to be tightened down.

The Dragons had a clear height advantage and nearly 10 corner kicks in 80 minutes, but didn’t convert on any.

And they were stymied by their own unselfishness in the offensive third, with nearly every player making one pass too many instead of unleashing shots.

It was if given too much space, they didn’t know what to do with it.

“We call it ‘the range of the cannons,’” Merino said of the area around the box where players are given the green light to shoot. Few did it Friday night. “Don’t walk it in, shoot it.”

If they were rusty, you can’t blame them.

Friday night’s game was the first for either team in what must have felt like eons.

After dropping their first two nonleague games — to Rancho Cotate and Windsor — Healdsburg came into the contest 1-2-1 overall and 1-0 in league play after beating Piner way back in early December. That was the last time the ’Hounds suited up for a game.

But they will make up for lost time pretty quickly, with a game scheduled for Saturday against the North Bay League’s Cardinal Newman — at noon. That’s a pretty brutal turnaround time.

After today’s game, they hit a Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday run of games through the heart of the league schedule.

It’s not any easier for the Dragons.

They play games on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays nearly nonstop through early February, starting with a Tuesday night contest on the road against El Molino.

Such is life when teams have to squeeze in nearly all of their league contests after the winter break.

Friday night’s contest could very well be seen as the Dragons sounding the alarm to the rest of the SCL that after two years of near misses in the title chase, they’d like a banner hung in their gym.

It is the last year Sonoma Valley will play many of these teams, as the Dragons, as well as Petaluma, will move on to a new league next season.

“We have a bright future,” Amezquita said. “It would be like a dream come true if we won the last one in the league.”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 and at Kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and Instagram @kerry.benefield.