JURUPA VALLEY — Daniel Barraza’s first instinct was to pass. Then he saw the opening he needed to take a shot.
Barraza got the Miller boys soccer team on the scoreboard midway through the first half, and Omar Mendoza scored twice after halftime as the Rebels defeated Rubidoux 3-1 on Wednesday to strengthen their lead in the Mountain Valley League standings.
With gusts at times exceeding more than 30 mph, Wednesday’s match favored the squad playing with the wind at its back.
That was Rubidoux (7-2-2, 4-1-2 in league) during the opening half. The Falcons had far more scoring opportunities, set pieces and shots than their opponent over the first 40 minutes but could not come up with the final touches to put the ball into the net. Andres Roque almost gave Rubidoux a lead in the second minute, but his left-footed shot in the box curled just wide of the goal.
Miller (7-0-1, 6-0-1) had trouble playing the ball forward in the opening half, as the wind knocked down most of the long balls the Rebels attempted. Miller eventually scored on a counterattack, started from a low pass forward by defender Abraham Ramirez. Barraza stayed onside, beat one defender and continued his run into the 18-yard box.
Barraza had the option to lay the ball off to Diego Munoz, but Barraza ultimately fired away and scored in the 22nd minute.
“I saw the keeper move a little bit to his right and saw that opening,” Barraza said. “I just wanted to hit it as hard as I could.”
Miller coach Jorge Gerardo said scoring the match’s first goal while playing into the wind created a huge shift in momentum.
“Our league is full of scrappy teams, and we constantly talk about the importance of getting on the board first,” said Gerardo, who is in his first season leading the program. “We got the lead the first time we played Rubidoux, but they came back in the second half and the match ended it a (2-2) tie. We knew there was still a lot of work left, so we kept pushing after halftime.”
The Rebels created more scoring opportunities in the second half by taking advantage of the wind now behind them.
In the 65th minute, Andy Torres sent a pass into the area, and Mendoza calmly hammered the ball into the back of the net to give Miller a two-goal advantage. And four minutes later, Daniel Colima curled a cross towards the back post, where Mendoza took a touch and settled before firing away and earning his brace.
“It was easier to get things going on offense in the second half,” Mendoza said about the wind. “We were looking to get the ball to our playmakers and forwards. We have fast players up top, and it all worked out in the end.”
Rubidoux avoided a shutout when Freddy Orozco found the top corner on a free kick just outside the box in the 75th minute.
Miller finished fourth in the league standings last season and missed out on the playoffs for the second consecutive year. The Rebels are now a few results away from securing the program’s first league championship in at least 17 years.
“I think we have more confidence this season,” Barraza said about the difference this season for the Rebels. “At practice and in games, there is just more energy there. We want to win, and another big thing is that we are having a lot of fun out there.”