SOUTH TAHOE - Going into the season, the big question was who would be South Tahoe's primary goal scorers. That question may have been answered on Wednesday, when Bryan "Chino" Garcia scored two goals and Gil Navarro scored another as the Vikings beat Douglas 3-1 in a Sierra League match at South Tahoe Middle School.
Navarro, who notched one of two goals last Saturday in South Tahoe's 2-0 victory over Wooster, had several other chances late in the game against the Tigers. And in the second half alone, South Tahoe outshot Douglas 13-4, an indication the Vikings could be gelling at the right time.
"We're starting to learn each other's styles," said STHS coach Chris DeLeon. "Everyone ran for each other and there were a lot of selfless acts that opened up space for people. It was efficient."
It was also a key game in the standings. With South Tahoe improving to 7-3-1 overall and 3-1 in league, Saturday's showdown at Carson will now determine which of the two teams will be in first place heading into the second half of the league season. (The Vikings' lone league loss came last Wednesday at Reno.)
Coupled with that result and his team's 3-1 loss on Wednesday, Douglas coach Milko Vasquez believes that South Tahoe might be vulnerable for the first time in several years.
"In years past, we truly haven't had the same caliber of players as South Tahoe," said Vasquez, whose team fell to 8-2 overall and 2-2 in league. "I think we do now. That's something positive for us because we get them at home next time. You can actually afford to make mistakes against them now.
"In the past, you had guys like Alex (Torres), Milton (Montoya) and Ernesto (Mosqueda). Not only couldn't you afford to make a mistake, you had to double team those guys. They don't have that anymore, but they are still a well-coached team and are obviously tough to beat."
In the 28th minute, Chino's half-volley on a bouncing ball beat Douglas keeper Jose Alcaraz, giving the Vikings a 1-0 lead. It stayed that way until the 42nd minute when Oscar Gonzalez's long-range shot bounced off the cross bar and was headed into the net by Michael Gransbery.
Gransbery's equalizer was his 16th goal of the season and the 46th of his career. His goal also gave the Tigers a much-needed confidence boost and resurrected bad memories for South Tahoe.
In their 2-1 loss to Reno last week, the Vikings allowed two second-half goals, their first league loss since 2001. South Tahoe, though, made sure it didn't happen again.
South Tahoe's Paulo Caetano, a foreign exchange student from Brazil, was taken down outside the box in the 50th minute by Douglas defender Kyle Mannschreck. Ian Chandler's ensuing free kick was sent into the box and found an unmarked Chino, whose diving header beat Alcaraz and put the Vikings up 2-1.
Then in the 78th minute, Navarro sealed the victory when he followed an Andres Muñoz shot that was initially saved by Alcaraz but was then redirected into the net by Navarro. Muñoz believes the Vikings have already matured from the Reno loss.
"I think we played with heart," said Muñoz, a junior defender. "We never gave up when they tied us in the second half. Usually in other games we would have given up, but this game we kept pushing it and pushing it. That's why we got two more goals."