The final weekend of the NPSL Golden Gate Conference season was a quiet one as the playoff picture was already all but set on the penultimate weekend of the season. The former Open Cup Champions and 9-time San Francisco League champions, El Farolito, clinched the Conference title in their first season since joining the League following a 1-1 draw with the Aguiluchos last weekend, who ended in 2nd place. The 3rd and final playoff spot was clinched on that same weakened by former League champions, Sonoma County Sol, who will be making their impressive 7th consecutive appearance in the NPSL playoffs. The Sol will travel to San Francisco to take on El Farolito in the first round of the playoffs, while the Aguiluchos will travel to Southern California and take on FC Golden State.
For the 3rd consecutive season, I have put together my Conference 1st and 2nd team Best XI. This year was a little more difficult as there are now 8 teams instead of just 5 in the Conference. Even so, every team is represented at least once.
Mario Martinez – El Farolito SC
Mario Martinez did not start from day one, but worked himself into the starting spot for the best defensive team in the Conference after earning the NPSL National Player of the Week honor in his first start in week 4 of the season. He was part of a defense that conceded less than a goal a game. Farolito finished the season as the top team in goals against in the Conference, with 13 goals against in 14 matches. Martinez was a pivotal part of the team’s Conference title, as he kept 3 clean sheets in a row late in the season, including a PK save vs. Napa to help his side get over the line.
Francisco Rene Garcia – El Farolito SC
Francisco Rene Garcia was the key defender for most of the season for the top defense in the Conference. For most of the season, he was positioned in the middle of Farolito’s three center back system before moving out to the right of the three center backs towards the end of the season. He is very comfortable with the ball at his feet, especially for his size, and was a big reason why his side won the Conference and only conceded 13 goals.
Jose Cabeza – CD Aguiluchos USA *
Jose Cabeza is the rock in the Aguiluchos defensive unit. He can play anywhere on the back line as well as the defensive midfielder. Cabeza is arguably the most important player on the Aguiluchos as he can slot in where ever the team is thin that day, and still be the best player on the pitch. He was a key player for Aguiluchos, as they were able to concede just 16 goals, good for second in the Conference. As well, he was instrumental in the way his team likes to play, building out from the back.
Emanuel Vazquez – East Bay FC Stompers **
Emanuel Vazquez is making his appearance on the Best XI for a 3rd consecutive year, playing a position that may not be his most natural as he can and did play up top at points this season for the Stompers. Vazquez is an old school center back who may not be the tallest, but he is fast and knows how to go in with a clean but hard tackle. During the season, he was stationed at both the right and center back positions and was a huge reason why his team conceded just 25 goals as he started and played in 13 of his team’s 14 games.
Julian Ruzzier Gaul – FC Davis
Julian Ruzzier kept his side in the game often early in the season as his side struggled to score goals, but somehow found themselves in a playoff position midway through the season. On most set places it was Ruzzier who was clearing the ball with his head for Davis, as he is exceptionally talented in the air. He might have been the top center back on the list had his side’s great defensive record not gone away in the final 3 weeks of the season.
Arturo Gomez – East Bay FC Stompers
Arturo Gomez is the stopper for the Stompers. He covers well defensively for all of his teammates and can get forward and help in the attack as well. His work rate is second to none in the Conference and probably in the League. He is one of just three players in the Conference to play in all 14 of his team’s games and was a big reason why the Stompers were in the playoff hunt late in the season.
Jesus Maldonado – CD Aguiluchos USA *
Jesus Maldonado played his way onto the Best XI for a second consecutive season. His creativity and play making on the wing are essential to how the Aguiluchos operate and create goals. He started all 13 games he played in and contributed with 3 goals, good for second on the team, and with multiple assists as well. Without Maldonado on the wing, the Aguiluchos might not have returned to the playoffs this season.
Miguel Galvin Lara – Sonoma County Sol
While Miguel Galvin Lara only played in 6 games for the Sol, the argument could easily be made that without his addition the Sol doesn’t make the playoffs. Before he joined the team mid season, the Sol were sitting on 9 points, close to the basement of the Conference. Lara joined up for a 4-2 loss to El Farolito, a game in which he had both of the assists, before the Sol went on to win their final 5 games to sneak into the final playoff spot. In those 5 games, the Sol outscored their opponents a combined 20-1. Much of that result had to do with the creative attacking midfield play and set pieces of Lara.
Cody Golbad – Academica SC
Cody Golbad played in 13 games for the new NPSL side from Turlock, scoring 14 times in those games. Those 14 goals are good for second in the Conference and tied for second in the entire League. Golbad was named the NPSL National Player of the Week on back-to-back occasions in the middle of the season. In week 8, he won the honor for 2 goals and 1 assist against East Bay, and then in week 9 he won it for a 4-goal performance vs. Sonoma County.
Edson Cardona – El Farolito SC
Edson Cardona was the main attacking threat for the Conference champions as he logged 13 goals in 12 matches. He didn’t score a goal until week 4 of the season before going on a run of goals. He hit a hat trick at home vs. Napa as well as a brace vs. both Davis and Sonoma during the season. Cardona was a constant threat to the Conference’s defenders with his pace in behind.
Omar Nuno – Sonoma County Sol *
Last but not least, making his appearance on the Best XI for a second consecutive season, is the Conference Player of the Year for 2018, Omar Nuno. Nuno is a tall, strong, and for his size, pacey center forward who can score goals in just about any way he wants. He scored a supper impressive 20 goals for his side in just 13 games played, good for more than 1.5 a game. His tally should easily be good enough to bring the League’s Golden Boot back to the Conference once again. Nuno scored a hat trick in each of his sides final 3 games, including a 4-goal, 2-assist outburst on the final weekend of play, a performance that earned him the National Player of the Week honor. Without Nuno, the Sol would not be returning to the playoffs for a 7th consecutive season. He alone could carry his side deep in the playoffs if he stays as hot as he was in the final 3 weeks, where he scored 10 of his goals.
2nd Team 4-4-2
GK: Luis Castro – East Bay FC Stompers
DF: Irving Garcia – EL Farolito SC
DF: Ricardo Guerra – CD Aguiluchos USA **
DF: Bengy Ruiz – CD Aguiluchos USA *
DF: Chris Rodd – Sonoma County Sol
MF: Manuel Garcia – El Farolito SC
MF: Zanin Mahic – East Bay FC Stompers
MF: Nicolas Lombardi – Sonoma County Sol **
MF: Danny Mititelu – Sacramento Gold FC
FW: Simon Rawnsley – CD Aguiluchos USA **
FW: Francisco Mendoza – Napa Valley 1839 FC *
** Indicates the player was on both the 2016 and 2017 Conference Best XI