This time, the Nevada Wonders showed they had a finishing touch.
The Wonders showed renewed offensive punch, and in the process, snapped a three-game losing streak by posting a 3-1 victory against the Cascade Surge (Salem, Ore.) in USL Premier Development League action on Saturday night at Carson High School.
Stanton Smith, Anthony Grillo and Mike Varas delivered goals to help the Wonders (3-9-1) win for the first time in June after losing three times. Their losses earlier in the month had come against the powerful Fresno Fuego and San Diego Gauchos by scores of 1-0 on a goal in the final two minutes, 4-2 and 3-2 in overtime.
"We've been really unfortunate these past few games," Wonders coach Paul Aigbogun said. "We had quite a few chances to score tonight, but there have been so many other games where we've done the same thing and just didn't capitalize."
Smith echoed that on a night when the Wonders outshot the Surge 20-12. The Wonders got off 14 shots in the second half, and more significantly, put two of those shots into the net.
"All the games we've played, we played well and we played hard, but the last third of the field, we couldn't finish," said Smith, whose first-half goal gave the Wonders a 1-0 lead. "We've been working on that and tonight all the work paid off."
It paid off against a quality opponent because the Surge brought a PDL Northwest Division-leading 9-2 record into the game, including a 2-1 victory on Friday night against the Fresno Fuego in Fresno, Calif.
The Wonders came in with four new faces in the lineup, among those being defensive midfielder Audren Cashman and goalkeeper Kent Harkness from Santa Clara University. Cashman was an All-West Coast Conference performer in 2002 and Santa Clara's team captain as a senior in 2003.
"Audren tightened up our defense," Smith said. "He gave us five midfielders and our strategy was to push the play to the middle, to force the ball to our strength."
At the same time, they wanted to take the attack to the Surge.
"Our approach to the game was to come out hard and run them," said Smith, a native of South Africa who plays for the University of Charleston (W.V.). "We wanted to take advantage of our fitness and take advantage of the altitude."
In the 21st minute, Smith got the ball on the left side of the box, put a move on his defender and calmly struck a grounder into the net for a 1-0 lead.
"It always helps to score first," Aigbogun said. "That takes a lot of pressure off the defense in that they don't have to worry about one mistake costing them the game."
The Wonders' defense stepped up to preserve that 1-0 lead through the rest of the first half. In the 37th minute, Michael Wheelhouse had a look at an open net on a follow shot for the Surge, only to see the ball cleared out by Smith on the goal line. South Tahoe High graduate Leon Abravanel cleared another ball out of danger, and Chris Schwarze broke up a 3-on-2 attack in the final minute before halftime.
"The guys in the back played well tonight," Aigbogun said. "Audren make a big difference; and Chris (Schwarze) has been improving every game."
Caleb Eernisse got the Surge back in the game in the 66th minute with an open 20-yard shot from the left side. His shot to the far post found the upper corner of the net to tie the score 1-1.
The Wonders answered in the 77th minute when Varas lofted a pass inside the box that Grillo gathered in a stroked past the keeper to the back of the net for a 2-1 lead. The goal was Grillo's team-high sixth this season.
Varas put it away in the 85th minute when he drove a 30-yard rocket to the back of the net for a 3-1 lead. The play was set up on a takeaway by Abraham Martinez, who dished a pass to Varas over the middle.
Harkness, who filled in for the injured Mark Muleady at goalkeeper, only needed to make two saves (one in each half).
"It was great to finally win one. You could feel the excitement out there," Smith said. "We've set a goal, hopefully, to get a wild card for the playoffs."
The Wonders return to action next Saturday night to play the California Gold in Ripon, Calif. The game is scheduled for 8 p.m. at Ripon High School.
Fusion update ... The Wonders Academy under-13 boys team compiled a 1-1-1 record during the Far West Regional Championships last week in Spokane, Wash. The Fusion opened with a 1-1 tie against the Oregon state representative on Monday, then scored a 2-0 victory against Montana and finally dropped a 3-0 verdict to Colorado. "The whole team played very well," Fusion coach Randy Roser said. "That first game, the kids were a little nervous, but they still tied a very strong Oregon team." The eventual champion was El Dorado from nearby Placerville, Calif. "We've scrimmaged that team before, so we know them," Roser said. "I think our kids found out they can play at that level. Now we know, and next year, I think they can go back and do even better."