Jan. 19, 2021

By Greg Selber

Click here for game photos

One of the hidden obstacles this season has little to do with soccer and more to do with technology, education, and motivation. And biology. And as the city teams try and put together a semi-normal season in early 2021, Luis Cardenas can certainly relate.

“We’ve got a couple of guys who aren’t out here,” said the long-time EHS manager, whose team defeated Vela at home Tuesday, 2-0. “Some guys are still in Mexico, they are doing their school online but they are not playing with the team. We have had some guys with trouble doing school online and are ineligible. I think every team is in the same boat: we never really know who we are going to have, to work with. when we come out to the field.”

It’s especially hard for Cardenas right now, because he is also without his greatest defender, who has been suspended for the season. Nonetheless, the former UTPA scoring star back in the 1990s is moving ahead, working with what and who he has, and the results so far have been encouraging. EHS’s victory over the SaberCats gave it 10 points from four matches, as Cardenas saw his side rally from a slow start to notch two second-half goals – both from super sophomore Dilan Cazares – to earn the win. The Sabes, now on seven points, have had their issues as well in 2021, with Coach Rodolfo Pichardo working as always on the mental and emotional aspects of the game as well as the physical.

“Panic is a disease,” he told his kids before a rainy night of action began. “Stay calm tonight and realize when you make mistakes, don’t start yelling at one another. We are going to make mistakes, every team does. So let’s go out there and play hard and stay together.”

The Sabes, who claimed wins over Pharr North and La Joya before a draw with Edinburg North, did well in the early stages, attacking down the flanks and getting several shots. With the excellent senior Emiliano Luna in control, Vela was on the front foot from the beginning, with physically imposing attacker Edgar Hernandez in the midfield and tricky Orlando Nava forcing to much effect on the left. Luna turned on a dime and delivered a bomb from 30 yards out in the first minutes and then Hernandez made a great head pass off a throw to play in Luna for another attempt, at 33:38. This is how the match progressed, with EHS trying to locate the attacking contingent in white and the Sabes surging closer to shots on target.

Holding midfielder Miguel Solis, a returning veteran with tons of talent, found Nava running left and Nava spied Luna, who was then closed out by Bobcat sweeper Adrian Taboada, in the nick of time. Taboada, a good-looking athlete on a largely new-look Bobcat squad, then took off on a long and strong run into the box as EHS began to play its way into the game. Cazares, who has scored five times in four 31-6A matches now, ran left and created a great shot, which youthful keeper Jacob Andrade pawed over the bar to a corner.

But Vela was on it, quickly recovering for another foray, Brandon Calderon of EHS having to slide in for a tackle at the other end. Keeping the pressure on, Hernandez of Vela then clipped a ball over his shoulder into the box and at 26 minutes, Nava sent a low, searing cross into the box, with no backside runner available for the hook-up.

At this point, EHS settled in further as Jerry Vidal helped the side regain some composure in the midfield, where the ‘Cats had been sorely tested thus far. The brother of former defensive whiz Melvin Vidal played in Kayden Moncivais and later Cardenas’ side got a run down left from Abdiel Garza, a goalie playing up top these days; the agile brother of EHS ex Arturo Garza managed a shot.

Garza later backheeled a feed to Vidal which led to Cazares fashioning an effort from the left, and all of a sudden, the ‘Cats were feeling their oats, however soggy they may have been. The main defensive option this season is veteran Humberto Sanchez and he now stepped in with a terrific close-out of Luna, Vela’s skilled warrior.

Late in the half, Vela went on the attack again with left back Chris Chavez showing his passing skills and Hernandez zooming down for a rocket which went wide. The Sabes were to enjoy a distinct edge in set piece opportunities Tuesday but fail to capitalize.

Looking for counters off the restart, EHS then got a steal from Cristian Castillo and sped down the pitch, one of its forwards rounding the keeper but not getting a clear sight of goal as the half ticked down along with the increasing rain.


After the break, Damian Rojas started finding space on the right, as Vela switched attack points across field. He played to a corner in the opening minutes of the half, but EHS ran out with a counter after defending, Cazares playing Garza in for a chip that went wide at 34:50. Back at the other end, EHS botched a clearance and Nava latched onto the ball, chipping high. Then the crafty Castillo got busy, taking away the ball at the midline and sending a long one into the area. Which of these rivals would execute the best in the final third of this scoreless battle, which has been quite open from box to box so far, albeit without a scratch.

At 29 minutes, an EHS free kick went straight to the chest and gloves of Andrade and on the goal kick it was Castillo again, pilfering a wayward Vela pass and roaring the other way. He was left of the keeper when he slid a perfect ball to Cazares, who filled the lane nicely for a simple tap-in at 28:56 of the second.

The action became decidedly more chippy at this stage and the final 40 minutes would yield no fewer than six yellow cards. Hernandez crafted a mighty strike from 50 yards out that did not hit the target and EHS soph Ethan Garcia also got one off, taking a Vela mistake in back to task.

Defender Saul Salinas stopped a great Vela chance with a valiant save in deep, and say this: though they did not score Tuesday, the Sabes kept on coming, creating chances and testing the rebuilt EHS back line. Luna popped the ball over a defender’s head and completed the sombrero by zipping around him to retain possession, but Garcia of EHS caught up and stymied the Vela’s man’s run after that. Calderon, too had a moment of defensive prowess, battling Vela’s Solis in the corner to end a promising foray from Pichardo’s rambling offense.

Luna had set up the sequence when he side-footed a teammate’s pass out of the defensive third, keeping the ball moving as it passed him, and down into a dangerous area. Watching Luna play is like seeing a tutorial on where to be and what to do with the ball. He is technically superior to almost any kid he will play with or against this season.

With the game wearing on, Vela stormed forward still, Nava fighting against three in the left corner and the Sabes toiling to a succession of free kicks the last 20 minutes. Choosing to try for goal from distance, Vela eschewed the combination passing off the restart that some sides opt for. One such free kick opportunity varoomed off the EHS wall with 11 minutes left and eventually the Bobcats did what one does off a set piece, counter.  But Vela held.

In the back, Sanchez of EHS stopped a later Vela try and sent a super ball deep into the hazy night. Castillo broke with it to set up a stray shot from Garza, and minutes later, Cazares found the net again when he dismantled a tiring Vela D, turning a turnover into his game-winning brace at 7:14 of the night.

Both of these rivals should be in the league race the whole way, Vela with its formidable attacking crew and EHS with its speed and ability to turn from defense to offense in a hurry. 

North was awesome Tuesday with 11 goals against Pharr North, four by the productive Axel Saenz, and now stands at eight points in the table. Econ went down again in its latest fixture, marking four straight defeats, with Juarez-Lincoln on seven points, with a game in hand at this early juncture. P-SJ-A has a couple of wins to its credit, Mission a win and a draw so far. All the schools are dealing with reality, minus kids here and there for various reasons, and hoping that the lure of playing football will help motivate the guys to get their lessons done, their homework in, and not let the conditions of the pandemic rob them of the chance to get out onto the field and do what they love best.

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