Not long after the most heartbreaking defeat of his high school career, Tompkins senior goalkeeper Paulo Valente walked up to a bunch of kids looking over to him from the front end of the Legacy Stadium stands and put on his best smile.
Not long after the most heartbreaking defeat of his high school career, Tompkins senior goalkeeper Paulo Valente walked up to a group of kids looking over to him from the front end of the Legacy Stadium stands and put on his best smile.
His eyes still stained red from tears, Valente asked if they wanted a picture, which a parent happily obliged. The kids cheered Valente all throughout the season, and he would often acknowledge them during stoppages of play with a thumbs-up or a nod and smile.
Those cheers from the kids wearing the same lime green on their shirts as Valente sported on his did not stop, even after Tompkins’ loss to Jersey Village on six rounds of penalty kicks in their Class 6A Region III final on Friday, April 9. The Falcons, who played one short with 10 men in overtime because of a red card, fell, 5-4, on PKs after the teams tied 1-1 through regulation and a scoreless 20 minutes of extra time.
The final result did not come without drama. Jersey Village’s second and fourth shooters on PKs were given redo’s after Valente was said to have crossed the goal line on the initial stop of each shooter.
The Jersey Village shooters each made their second shots, and after Tompkins’ Robert Graham missed his PK three rounds later, with the score 4-4, Jersey Village’s Jose Bejarano made his.
“The first (violation), I noticed I was kind of off the line,” said Valente, who otherwise played spectacularly with clutch save after clutch save in the second half and overtime. “It was because I saw the striker, he was about to shoot, and the moment he did, he stopped. As a human, you react. I train for that, and I reacted. The second one, I felt one of my feet was off the line, but the other one was in because I felt I didn’t move at all.”
Rules state the goalkeeper must stand on the goal line until the ball is kicked. Lateral movement is permitted, but he cannot go forward until the shooter kicks.
Refs ruled Valente came off the line on both of his saves. The second time, he was given a yellow card and had to be subbed for one round of PKs before being allowed back in.
“They said he was crossing the line or something,” Tompkins coach Tom Jones said. “I don’t know. He (the official) didn’t give me an explanation for a lot of things. I hate to blame the ref, and not to take anything away from Jersey Village, but the ref definitely impacted the game. Calling a goal back on a foul, giving a PK … he definitely impacted the game.”
Valente—a classy young man who defines sportsmanship, congratulating each opposing player after games and telling the Jersey Village goalkeeper “Good luck” prior to the penalty kicks—was devastated.
“That’s soccer. It happens,” Valente said. “Sometimes you have to be lucky. The last few rounds, we’ve been lucky, and tonight just wasn’t our day. I work for it; I train for it. But sometimes the ball just doesn’t go your way.”
Up until that point, it was a well-played game between two intense clubs. The game featured a plethora of yellow and red cards for the physicality and emotion that surfaced throughout.
Junior midfielder Rafa Gonzales got Tompkins on the board first with a booming free kick from 43 yards out on the left side of the field in the 28th minute. It was almost identical to his 40-yard free kick goal in the regional semifinal against Humble three days earlier that went viral on social media.
“It was the same position,” Gonzales said. “I thought, ‘Hey, let’s do it again.’ I just put it on the penalty spot, and whatever happens will happen. Everyone misses it and the ‘keeper doesn’t know what to do.”
Tompkins scored another goal moments later, but it was waved off because of a foul. Still, the game appeared to be Tompkins’, as it controlled possession and tempo and looked the stronger, better club in the first half. Valente was hardly threatened in the first 40 minutes.
The score stood 1-0 until Jersey Village, which did a better job generating chances and testing Valente after halftime, struck on the rebound off a missed penalty kick late in the second half. Valente made a terrific save on the initial shot, but it bounced directly to senior Felipe Martinez, who knocked it in from the near right side against a flat-footed Tompkins defense for the equalizer in the 74th minute.
The score remained 1-1 through two 10-minute overtime periods and into penalty kicks. Gonzales, junior Ian Aumagher, sophomore Jose Ramos and senior Jose Ojeda made PKs for Tompkins. But the Falcons missed twice, and Jersey Village missed once, officially, after it was awarded a mulligan on two misses.
“It hurts,” Jones said. “The thing that hurts the most is we had it under control and then things happened out of our control. The ref warns their kid in a yellow (card), and then when my kid does something, he goes straight red (card). It was very unbalanced. He wasn’t consistent in his calls and that affected the game.”
Though clearly upset and frustrated, Jones was quick to emphasize to his team afterward how proud he was.
Tompkins made history. Three times before, the Falcons fell in the regional semifinals. The fifth round had been elusive.
This year, they crushed that barrier in a season where all kinds of odds were stacked against them.
The Falcons had a handful of players miss significant time early in the season due to COVID-19, with Jones giving playing time to junior varsity players because of the lack of depth. Then, because of its fourth place standing in a rough and rugged District 19-6A, Tompkins had to survive undefeated Ridge Point, Cy-Fair, District 19-6A champ and Region III No. 1-ranked Seven Lakes, and an upstart Humble team before coming so close against District 17-6A champ Jersey Village.
As if all of that wasn’t daunting enough, Tompkins finished with 10 men available to play in three of five playoff rounds. Twice, it still prevailed to win.
“This team will be remembered for a long time,” Gonzales said. “It’s the farthest we’ve gone. It’s just really good to leave a legacy behind with all these amazing people, especially those seniors. I love them.”
“I’ll remember how we became a family,” Valente added. “Whenever we started the season, everybody was an individual. Everybody was playing selfish. Once the playoffs started, though, we became compact, started playing together. We started playing a beautiful game.”
Tompkins only graduates 11 seniors, albeit beloved contributors who helped set the foundation for a third straight regional tournament appearance. Many of the Falcons’ key performers—like Gonzales, Aumagher, sophomore strikers Luis Lugo and Jose Ramos, and sophomore defender Diego Castellano, among others—will return.
“These younger guys got a lot of experience, and now they realize what they can do when they play,” Jones said. “If I was a betting man, I’d put money on us to be back here next year.”
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