Dragons down ‘Hounds in SCL opener

Healdsburg’s Omar Nuno, right, gets a head on the ball as Sonoma Valley’s Adalberto Jimenez pressures him. (Photo by Crista Jeremiason / PD).

ByMICHAEL COIT

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

HEALDSBURG — Considered a favorite for the Sonoma County League boys’ title, Sonoma Valley played like a contender in bolting past Healdsburg, 4-0, in the SCL opener for both schools Thursday.

A rugged non-league schedule apparently brought the Dragons together as they put up a unified front against the Greyhounds, making good decisions with the ball and bottling up the few scoring chances their hosts could mount.

“We were talking and passing and in sync,” said Ivan Chavez, who scored the first two goals and assisted on the final tally.

Healdsburg stayed with Sonoma Valley for the first half, yielding only a goal and stringing together several strong possessions. But the Greyhounds couldn’t keep pace with the Dragons’ second-half pressure and were turned back on a couple of scoring opportunities.

“It was a little too much,” said Healdsburg coach Tomas Morales. “I’m proud of the boys. No matter what the score was, they didn’t give up.”

Clearly a very skilled team, Sonoma Valley has been blending in a crop of new starters to become more comfortable distributing the ball on offense and clamping down on their side of the field.

Sonoma Valley controlled the game through their offense with long possessions. When Healdsburg turned the ball back, the Dragons’ had numbers on defense, yielding little room to operate and routinely picking off passes or poking balls back to the midfield.

“The team basically played as a unit and closed down the gaps quickly,” said Sonoma Valley coach Pedro Merino.

On one of those counters, Chavez got wide of the Healdsburg defense and took a pass from Victor Robles. Chavez fired a shot from the right 20 yards out that went just inside the left post.

Stout goalkeeping from Diego Perez and sturdy marking by James Haun and Rey Rodriguez helped keep the Greyhounds in the game in the first half.

A rapid series of scores in the second half revealed how crisp and dangerous Sonoma Valley could be this season.

Pushing backs Jo-Jo Sanchez and Adalberto Jimenez forward, the Dragons kept the ball on Healdsburg’s side of the field on repeated possessions early in the second half.

On the Dragons’ second goal, Sanchez took the ball off the foot of a Healdsburg player, burst down the middle and found Chavez, who maneuvered inside a defender for a shot into the left corner of the goal.

Minutes later, Robles took a deft punch pass up the right side from Diego Benitez and sent a hard cross across the goal mouth where Johnny Medina could bang it in for the score.

Showing flashes of teamwork, Healdsburg kept Sonoma Valley’s defense honest for stretches.

Miguel Fernandez and Jordan Vega worked give-and-go plays and helped switch balls for weak-side runs. The team’s top offensive threat, Omar Nuno, broke free on some plays, but the Dragons’ defenders marked the Greyhounds finisher tightly.

A important element in Sonoma Valley’s ability to keep the ball going back up field was the settling play and strong kicks from defenders Riley Clark and Robert Miller.

After getting another ball deep toward the Healdsburg goal, Chavez put the ball on the foot of Benitez for the game’s final score.

With the convincing win, Sonoma Valley showed a relentless determination reflecting their goal to reach the North Coast Section playoffs and make a deep run after losing a first round game a year ago.

“We want it more,” Medina said. “Last year ended way too soon.”