Forest Grove takes an early lead but settles for a draw against league-leading Tigard

The Forest Grove boys soccer team almost played the role of spoiler.

But not quite.

Hosting co-league leader Tigard in both teams’ Pacific Conference finale last Thursday night, the Vikings took the lead on Senior Night on a brilliant strike by Omar Lopez partway through the first half.

That goal held potential implications for the conference standings — had Forest Grove held on for the upset, it would have prevented Tigard from winning at least a share of the conference title. Instead, the visitors drew level in the second half before the teams settled for a 1-1 tie at Hendricks Stadium.

Thanks to the result, Tigard (7-4-2 overall) finished 4-2-1 in conference play to share the championship with McMinnville, while Forest Grove (6-4-4) finished at 2-2-3 and in fifth place. The Grizzlies got a second-half equalizer in their 1-1 game against Century — being played at the same time as the Forest Grove-Tigard contest — to earn a share of the championship.

“They came here tonight and tried to win a championship, but we play to win,” Vikings coach Angelo Simonetti said afterward. “That’s our game. We almost, again. We have (had) too many almost wins this season. We have given up too many easy goals in the end. But it’s funny because, again, we controlled the match. We had more chances. We put the ball on the post.”

Lopez, at least, did cash in on one of those opportunities Simonetti mentioned.

One of nine seniors listed on Forest Grove’s roster this season, Lopez represented his class well in giving the home side the first-half lead. The forward earned his goal, driving down the right side of the field and beating a couple of defenders before launching a shot from about 23 yards out that beat Tigard goalkeeper Joni Mercado to the far post.

“I felt like I had to show people my skills,” Lopez said. “I’m a senior. It could be our last home game, and I just wanted to put on a good show. I just felt like I had to score, and when I saw my opportunity, I took it.”

For much of the rest of the game, it appeared that goal might hold up as the only one. The Vikings did test Mercado several times during the first half of the second period, but their shots were either off target or Mercado was up for the save.

That lack of a second score came back to haunt Forest Grove in the latter stages of the game thanks to Sinan Raja, who drew the visitors even in the 65th minute. After Cesar Contreras sent a corner kick toward the Vikings’ goal, the ball rattled around the penalty area until Raja got his foot on it and finished from close range to knot up the score.

“It wasn’t a bad game. We didn’t play a bad game,” Lopez said. “One little mistake, but with every mistake there’s consequences.”

The goal turned out to be the final one of the night, which Forest Grove goalkeeper Ricardo Torres had a lot to do with. Just a couple minutes after Raja scored his goal, he almost added another on a short-range header. But Torres read the shot well, going airborne to his right to parry the ball out of bounds and preserve the stalemate.

As the fifth-place team from the conference, Forest Grove ended the regular season ranked 26th in the Class 6A power rankings — high enough to host a play-in game against Aloha on Tuesday. The winner advanced to the 32-team state playoff bracket and a first-round game on Saturday. Results were not available at press time.

In the Warriors, the Vikings faced familiar foes, as Tuesday’s match was the squads’ third against each other in a year. Forest Grove knocked off Aloha in both previous contests, a 3-0 win in the second round of the 2012 playoffs and a 2-0 decision earlier this season in nonconference action.

That victory a year ago was part of a magical playoff run for the Vikings. After finishing sixth in the conference, they knocked off Sprague in a home play-in game and then turned back McKay and Aloha to advance to the state quarterfinals.

On Thursday, Simonetti was looking forward to another run.

“I think we’re going to have a good playoff,” he said. “I think we’re going to make the playoffs and go through.”

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