Bears knock off Cardinals behind Gutierrez’s two goals
Two goals from senior forward Cesar Gutierrez and a late tally from senior forward Caleb Opstein gave the Rifle Bears’ boys soccer team its first win in 21 games in a 3-1 win over the visiting Grand Valley Cardinals Saturday morning at Rifle High School, giving head coach David Romero his first win in two years at the helm of the Bears’ program.
“This feels great to get a win,” Romero said. “I have to give all the credit to the guys. They’ve been working so hard for me and fighting through all the losses, which is hard to do when you’re rebuilding a program. They’ve been giving it their all for me, and today’s win shows that they’re growing and heading in the right direction.”
Throughout the matchup with the Cardinals, Rifle’s defense stood tall all game long, keeping the vaunted Cardinal attack led by junior striker Angel Garcia at bay, pushing the ball back up the field into Grand Valley’s side of the field where the Bears were able to maintain pressure for long stretches during Saturday’s non-conference matchup.
“Our defense was great today,” Romero said. “I couldn’t ask for better guys back there. Once we realized how fast their forward [Angel Garcia] was after that first goal, they adjusted and really marked him tight and really seemed to frustrate him. Today they just did it together and played so well.”
Early on, it appeared as though Grand Valley would control the game as Garcia completed a long run down the middle of the field, beating two Rifle defenders before firing a shot past the diving Rifle keeper just under four minutes into the game, giving Grand Valley a 1-0 lead.
But that would be it for chances in the first half for the Cardinals as Rifle maintained possession in the Grand Valley end for much of the first half, forcing junior goalkeeper Marco Rojas to stand tall in net.
Trailing 1-0 midway through the first half, Rifle turned up the pressure and intensity, making it a physical game that the young Cardinals had to match. Unfortunately for Grand Valley, the didn’t match the intensity, which led to a beautiful goal from Gutierrez with just over 11 minutes left in the first half.
Taking a cross into the box, Gutierrez made a great touch to his left, beating two Grand Valley defenders that were caught watching the play unfurling in front of them. After beating the two Grand Valley defenders, Gutierrez slotted home the shot on an off-foot attempt that beat Rojas low to his left, knotting the score at 1-1.
Riding the momentum after the game-tying score, Rifle continued to pressure the Grand Valley goal as sophomore forward Esteban Espino nearly headed home a cross from senior Alvaro Hernandez late in the first half, but the header was wide right, sending the two teams into the half locked up at 1-all.
Coming out of the half, Rifle continued to ride high while the Cardinals seemingly couldn’t get into gear on the day.
Just 45 seconds into the second half, following a foul on Grand Valley just outside the box, setting up a free kick for Gutierrez. The senior didn’t miss on the kick, burying a shot just inside the right post to give Rifle a 2-1 lead, setting off a celebration on the Rifle bench, stunning the Cardinals.
Holding a 2-1 lead early in the second half, Rifle kept its foot on the pedal offensively, generating a few more scoring chances as Opstein sent a header in the box just over the crossbar, before a terrific left-footed strike from Gutierrez down the left wing forced Rojas to lay out to his left to stop the tough shot, keeping the game at 2-1 Bears.
Following the big save by Rojas, Grand Valley generated its first scoring chance since early in the first half as Garcia made a great run down the middle of the field, beating two Rifle defenders to the ball, but the junior rushed his shot from outside the box, sending the shot sailing wide left.
It was Rifle’s turn to answer with a scoring chance of its own as Opstein and Espino teamed up on a great combination run down the middle of the field where Opstein slipped a terrific pass through traffic to Espino, but the sophomore’s shot was just wide left, keeping the score at 2-1 Rifle last in the second half.
Just under minute later, a mad scramble in front of the Grand Valley net ensued as Opstein, Espino and Gutierrez all had cracks at a shot on goal, but a handful of Grand Valley defenders stood tall in front to block the shots before Rojas was able to pounce on the loose ball, ending the threat.
Rifle wasn’t done though, striking with just 3:56 left in the game as a free kick from Gutierrez hit the crossbar from 25 yards out, bouncing right to Opstein in the box, who buried the shot past Rojas, giving Rifle a 3-1 advantage that would prove to be the final score.
With the with, Rifle improves to 1-4 on the season, giving Romero his first win at the helm of the Rifle program. Grand Valley falls to 3-2-1 on the season under first-year head coach Rick Van Vleet.
Rifle will host Glenwood Springs Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m., while Grand Valley has a week off until Delta Sept. 23 in the homecoming game for the Cardinals.