On a mission

Eagle soccer makes school history with trip to state finals

Gio Magana and teammates being congratulated by a large contingent of HRV fans who traveled to the game.

Photo by Adam Lapierre.
Gio Magana and teammates being congratulated by a large contingent of HRV fans who traveled to the game.

Stadium lights set a thick blanket of fog aglow over Woodburn High School’s soccer field Tuesday night, giving dramatic ambiance to what promised to be an exciting 5A boys soccer state semifinal between the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs and the No. 4-ranked Hood River Valley Eagles.

The crowd of several hundred packing the bleachers and sidelines was not let down. In thrilling fashion, the teams played to a 1-1 tie at the end of regulation, forcing two 10-minute overtime periods. HRV scored one goal in each of those periods to claim a 3-1 win, thus earning a spot in Saturday’s finals and ending Woodburn’s three-year reign as state champion.

For the Eagles, a trip to the state finals is a first in school history — a detail sweetened by the fact that they were denied that achievement last year in an emotional 2-1 loss against the same team.

The championship game is Nov. 16, 10:30 a.m. at Hillsboro Stadium. On the other side of the bracket, No. 2-ranked Summit High School defeated No. 3 Wilsonville Tuesday night to advance to the finals.

After the final seconds of overtime counted down the biggest win in team history, a sizable HRV crowd rushed the field, grabbed Giovani Magana and hoisted him into the air. The sophomore was well-deserving of praise for scoring all three goals for the Eagles, including a crucial equalizer goal early in the second half that dramatically shifted momentum after HRV trailed by a goal most of the first half.

“It felt like a dream,” said Magana. “We made HRV history; it’s pretty cool to be a part of that.

“I think the third goal was the best, but the first one was definitely the biggest. We were really down in the first half. That goal really turned us around.”

The opening minutes of the game were not encouraging for the Eagles. As expected, Woodburn’s strategy was to play a possession game and make HRV chase the ball, which succeeded in keeping the Eagles off their game and away from the aggressive direct attack they wanted to open with. An 11th-minute rebound off a free kick gave Woodburn’s Dago Diaz an outside shot that cut through the fog and found the back of the net.

“I had a little trouble seeing the ball on that shot,” goalie Quique Rueda said. “I think our defense cleared it out but our middies didn’t pressure fast enough. I didn’t see the ball until it passed our guys, which wasn’t enough time to react.”

The Eagles regrouped, held their composure and kept the damage to just one goal going into halftime.

A much-needed break allowed Rivera and the team a chance to regroup, talk strategy and start fresh, and the boys hit the pitch in the second half looking like a different team.

“When that fog rolled in it added to the feeling that things were not starting the way we had planned,” coach Jaime Rivera said. “It was a metaphor for how we were playing. I kept thinking, ‘When is the fog going to lift? And when are we going to start playing our game?’”

The fog never lifted completely, but it cleared up considerably by halftime.

“There was a lot of emotion going around at halftime; I could see a lot of the guys were getting kind of freaked out by the situation,” Rivera said. “I wanted to get the guys calmed down, to lift the fog, if you will. I had the guys all come together and just be quiet for a while and calm down. I think that really helped ground us going into the second half.”

A offensive drive in the opening minute of the second half resulted in a HRV corner kick. Joel Aberg took a shot from outside, goalie Miguel Herrera made a deflecting save to set up Magana’s first goal from close-in. The goal sparked a series of drives that put Woodburn on their heels and the crowd on its feet for the rest of the game.

“Once we got that goal we were back in the game and felt like we were going to win,” Magana said. “After that we were playing like ourselves again.”

The final 10 minutes featured a feverish exchange in which both sides had several opportunities to score the winning goal but couldn’t capitalize. With about six minutes remaining, Magana sent across to Aberg, who managed to head the ball over a backpedaling Herrera from about 25 yards out for the go-ahead goal. Woodburn got lucky on the play, though, as a linesman called Aberg offsides.

Hood River had its own luck a few minutes later when Woodburn bounced one shot off the crossbar and missed another with an open net in a series of last desperation plays that ended regulation time.

“I think we both had some luck there at the end,” Rueda said. “We got lucky on a couple plays and so did they. I wasn’t really nervous in overtime, but once we were ahead I just wanted the game to end already.”

An already intense and physical game got more so in the two 10-minute overtime periods; although both teams deserve credit for remaining clean and sportsmanlike.

Magana capitalized on a Woodburn defensive scramble early in the first overtime and found the net again in the second off an arching chip shot to seal the win for the electrified HRV squad. While Magana gets the glory for his hat trick, the win was obviously a team effort.

“I was just in the right spot at the right time,” Magana said. “Everyone played a great game. Woodburn scores a lot of goals and our defense held them to just one. I think we have the best defense in the state.”

As the intensity rose throughout the game, the Eagles stayed calm and collected despite the pressure and emotion of the situation — a coaching point Rivera has stressed throughout the season and was concerned about particularly against Woodburn.

“I can’t say enough about these boys staying mentally tough and disciplined in the heat of the moment,” Rivera said. “And what a humble group of kids. They could have big fat heads right now, but I see nothing but focus in their faces. Right now, the word loss does not exist in their vocabulary.”

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