When Chris Blackburn scored a beautiful goal in the second half to tie the game, it looked like the Nevada Wonders had arrived on a level to truly compete with the elite Premiere Development League teams.
That day may still come this year, but with just 13 players, the Wonders just didn't have enough in the tank to stay with one of the PDL's top teams, the Orange County Blue Stars. The Wonders played on even terms with the Blue Stars for 70 minutes, but Orange County scored two goals in the final 20 minutes for a 3-1 win on Saturday at Carson High.
The Wonders have gone 1-2 in their first three games, with both losses coming against the Blue Stars. The Wonders opened with a 2-0 loss to the Blue Stars before beating the Southern California Seahorses 3-2 on Friday.
With almost a two-week break until its next game, the Wonders should be at full strength when they resume their schedule.
"I thought that we did all right," said Wonders coach Paul Aigbogun, who had to play almost the entire game on defense before giving way to Anthony Grillo late in the contest. "Not having a big squad to play with didn't help. But it's still encouraging."
Aigbogun admitted his team began to tire in the last 20 minutes. "We started making mistakes then," he said.
Blackburn sent a shot from the top right corner of the goal box into the top left corner of the net to tie the game 1-1 in the second half. Goalie Carlos Rengifo, who continued his outstanding play with 11 saves, made an outstanding play to temporarily keep the game tied.
Rengifo came out to make a diving save on an Blue Star play that had an open shot and then was able to dive to retrieve the ball to prevent another shot. But with 20 minutes left, Tom Polt scored and the Blue Stars scored minutes later on a breakaway to finish the scoring.
Rengifo began the second half by making two saves, including a spectacular diving save on a header. A little later off of a corner kick, Carlos Pereira sent a shot to the goal in which the Blue Star goalie knocked up in the air, then leaped up to grab to prevent another shot.
The Wonders use it's same alignment that worked so effective against the Seahorses as it went with four defenders, five midfielders and Rafa Leora as their only striker against Orange County. "We had a game plan to go out and keep the score at nil-nil," Blackburn said.
The strategy worked for virtually the whole first half, but Leon Abravanel was needed to clear an open shot early in the game. Later in the half, the Blue Stars had a breakaway, but Rengifo was able to come out and take away the Orange County player's angle, forcing him to shoot high.
But late in the half, Steve Patterson, who scored both goals in the teams' first meeting, broke through off of a corner kick. Rengifo was able to make a diving save on Patterson's header, but Patterson was able to score on the rebound.
"We were just unlucky to concede that goal," Blackburn said. "We matched them physically.
"We are a lot stronger than last year. With the lads coming in as well we should have a strong squad. We're a more complete squad."
After Patterson's goal, though, the Wonders weren't done. Geoff Scott sent a header forward to Sam Sneed, but Sneed's shot was deflected by a defender. As time ran out in the first half, the Wonders had a scramble in front of the goal off of a corner kick, but couldn't gain control.
Among others who took shots for the Wonders were Scott, Leora, Abravanel and Alex Romagnolo.