If ever there was a tie that carried the sting of a bitter defeat, this was it.
The Grays Harbor Gulls football club saw its three-goal lead evaporate after a controversial penalty kick in the waning moments of the game led to a 3-3 draw with Kirkland FC on Saturday at Stewart Field in Aberdeen.
The Gulls (4-2-1) appeared to be well on their way to leapfrogging Kirkland and move into fourth place in the Western Washington Premiere League standings after a blistering start to the contest.
Grays Harbor wasted little time getting on the scoreboard, taking a 1-0 lead on forward Juanito Lopez’s goal in the third minute. Lopez followed up with his second tally of the contest just eight minutes later to put the Gulls up 2-0.
Grays Harbor took a commanding 3-0 lead when Alex Pugadelarosa scored in the 22nd minute as the Gulls were seemingly headed toward an easy victory.
“We just came out hot,” Gulls head coach Drew Grannemann said. “Putting a goal away in the first three minutes, maintaining most of the possession for the first 25 to 30 minutes, that’s what we aim to do so we can set our own tone for how the match is going to go.”
But Kirkland (4-2-2) began to gain possession and fire back. The Goats got on the scoreboard late in the first half on a goal by John Sunday in the 43rd minute, providing Kirkland with some momentum heading into halftime.
The Goats continued to ramp up the pressure against the Gulls, but Grays Harbor’s defense held firm and limited Kirkland scoring opportunities. Gulls keeper Alexis Garcia made a point-blank save in the 65th minute to keep the score at 3-1.
But was the game wore on, tempers began to flare and the Gulls got the worst of it. A Grays Harbor foul led to a Kirkland free kick from approximately 25-yards out in the 79th minute. Goats midfielder Elijah Gordon took the shot and tucked the ball into the near post to make it a 3-2 contest.
In the final minute of regulation, Kirkland was awarded a throw-in from deep in the Gulls defensive third. The throw-in sailed toward the front of the net, with several Grays Harbor and Kirkland players leaping to make a play on the ball. At the conclusion of the seemingly innocuous play, the Gulls were called for a foul and Kirkland was awarded a penalty kick, much to the dismay of Grannemann and the Gulls players, many of whom voiced their opinions with the referees after the controversial call.
Kirkland’s Eric Conte took the penalty and beat Garcia to the low, left side to tie the game at 3-3 in the 90th minute.
After the final whistle a few short minutes later, the Gulls coaching staff and captains spoke with the officials after the game about the controversial call.
“Honestly, I was just confused (by the call),” Grannemann said of the game-changing penalty. “Fortunately, the official was willing to talk to us after the match about what he saw. … What he saw was one of our defenders was kind of blocking the goal after the initial (throw-in), bent over, hit (a Kirkland player) in the chest, caught (the ball) in his hands and went to the ground. But I just remember the ball was constantly in motion on the ground. Initially, I thought it was maybe a push or something like that. That’s where the confusion was. (The referee) didn’t indicate handball. No one really knew what was going on and it was this weird kind of spectacle.”
The tie gives each team a point in the standings and keeps Grays Harbor in fifth place, one point behind Kirkland.
Grannemann, who had some stern words for his players in a short team meeting after the game, said that while they didn’t get the benefit on the call at the end of the game, the Gulls had no one to blame for the tie but themselves.
“(The fouls) were so lopsided,” he said after his team recorded 18 fouls and four yellow cards in the match. “Tonight, we were kind of all over the place in terms of mentality. Players went out and made dumb tackles and pushed people. We just made small, stupid fouls that ended up costing us big time.”
The Gulls will have another chance to overtake a team ahead of them in the standings when they take on third place Nido Aguila Seattle (4-0-3) at 3 p.m. on Sunday, June 30 at the Starfire Sports Complex.
Grannemann said that after his fiery speech at the conclusion of Saturday’s draw, his team has moved on and is focused on what’s next.
“We can’t go back and change the call. We can’t go back and do anything differently, but what we can do now is be proactive about our upcoming match. So we’re going to take this one point we desperately needed. … Every match is more important, week after week,” he said.
Kirkland FC 1 2 — 3
Grays Harbor 3 0 — 3
Top Players: Grays Harbor — Lopez (G, 3rd minute, 11th); Pugadelarosa (G, 22nd); Cesar Corona (Assist); Irvin Vicente (A); Aaron Arias (A). Kirkland — Sunday (G, 43rd); Gordon (G, 79th); Conte (G, 90th).