North County Battalion played to a 1-1 draw with Deportivo Coras USA in Riverside on Sunday night.
The visitors from San Diego led for almost the entire 2nd half, thanks to an own goal from Coras defender Fernando Cabello just two minutes after the restart.
Coras equalized in the 90th minute, Shane Shelton converting a penalty after Justin Picou was deemed to have handled the ball inside his own box.
It was an extremely cagey affair in the first period, both teams making do with a narrow pitch at Bobby Bonds Park, a makeshift home for the night for Coras, as their customary home venue at UC Riverside was holding a large event.
James Stroud took man of the match honors for the Battalion, making several saves and providing the stability in goal for which the Battalion coaching staff has been looking.
“It was great to be back out there tonight,” said the Battalion keeper, who has been sidelined with a variety of leg injuries since the new year. “It’s been over four months since I’ve played in a competitive match. I felt that adrenaline all night, and it felt good. I’m a little angry about the penalty and us not getting out of there with the win, but we’ve got to move on and get three points next week.”
In the 47th minute, the Battalion were given a free kick just off the right attacking wing, 40 yards from goal. Nelson Pizzaro sent a low, bending cross into the area, which was flicked on at the front post by Blake Milton. Coras defender Fernando Cabello, in a brief moment of panic, just a couple of yards in front of his own goal, attempted to blast one over the bar and out for a corner. Cabello got it dreadfully wrong. His attempted clearance instead rippled the roof of the net and left his team in disbelief. Cabello is the leading goal scorer on the season for Coras, with two tallies to his name coming into this game. He now has an own goal to go alongside.
Coras applied relentless pressure for the rest of the match, as tempers flared on both sides. A collision between Stroud and two Coras players in the goal mouth in the 70th minute saw a massive brawl nearly ensue. There were only shoves and shoulder checks, no punches thrown, with four yellow cards being issued by referee Israel Fernandez, but no sending offs.
It looked like the visitors would be heading back to San Diego with all three points, until a moment of controversy in the 89th minute. After a long ball off a free kick was knocked down inside the Battalion box, Justin Picou blocked a shot, seemingly with his shoulder area, his arms planted firmly on his sides. Fernandez did not initially blow his whistle, but upon seeing his assistant waving his flag, Fernandez pointed to the spot, calling a handball on Picou, and offering a lifeline to the home side.
Shane Shelton converted the penalty a minute later, hitting it low and to the keeper’s right, just inches beyond the outstretched finger tips of Stroud. The score was even at one apiece, and that would be the way it ended.
The Battalion now sit in third place in the NPSL Southwest Conference table, with 7 points through 4 matches. Coras are level on points with Battalion, but sit second, ahead on goal difference.
Coras travel to FC Hasental on May 7, while the Battalion are back home against Temecula, kicking off Sunday afternoon at 1 at Del Norte High School.