(DUDLEY FIELD, El Paso, TX) -- ...And so the Patriots, having come from behind to beat Vancouver, 2-1, realized once and for all the importance of good upfield passing, and lived happily ever after.
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Yes, it's a fairy tale. At least the "happily ever after" part is.
The rest is just a bit stranger than fiction, because it is the truth.
The El Paso Patriots (3-4-4, 17 points) came from behind to defeat the Vancouver Whitecaps, 2-1, and moved within one point of the Caps' (4-5-1, 18 points) second place spot in the A-League's Pacific Division, and they continue to improve under new coaches Miguel Angel Murillo and Jesus Enriquez, and that is probably the most encouraging news this season.
El Paso is playing attractive soccer, the dives are at a minimum -- probably this game because when Vancouver players foul it's hard to mistake it for anything but -- and the Patriots answered a lot of questions, most of which, perhaps, had been asked in their own heads.
The team has also found a much-needed commodity -- a forward who makes defenders' hair stand on end and their pupils dilate. And nobody's blowing smoke into them, either.
El Paso once again went searching south of the border for its answers, but it may have found one in Daniel Frias, who scored the tying goal in the 77th minute. Though Omar Mora had five solid shots at Whitecaps goalkeeper Alex Marques, it was Frias who looked more dangerous with three cracks of his own for the match.
Frias, a solid 5-7, joins the Patriots from third division Astros of Ciudad Juarez. He arrived at just the right time, too.
Not only was the match a key matchup with the second place team, El Paso was also a team without two key members of its lineup in leading scorer and creator Renato DaGama (knee) and the rock-like defender Fabio Terra (groin).
Frias got right to work, popping up in places where his teammates were able to find him and keeping possession with good footwork. Frias does not create offense with ball wizardry like DaGama, but he does create space with solid speed, hard work and a good shot.
And when a forward looks simultaneously like a question to opponents but an answer to teammates, a team has caught a bit of lightning in a bottle.
Even so, it was Vancouver that scored first in the 28th minute.
Hanging on the Caps' left wing forward Jason Jordan got solid position on a good pass from the middle. Double-teamed as he was, Jordan still found himself with the ball, ahead of his opposition and facing the net from 40 yards out. After a short run and with Patriots at his heels, Jordan put a short pass to Dave Morris. The pass was contested immediately by an El Paso defender, but ricocheted in a three-man scrum to Morris.
With keeper Alfredo Estrada off his line, Morris shot the ball past while on his backside -- no easy feat -- and the Whitecaps had an early lead on the road. They played like it the rest of the way, too.
The Patriots would continue to whittle away at Vancouver, outshooting the Whitecaps, 9-1, in the first half. Many of those, however, came after a series of cumbia exhibitions for Vancouver's packed-in defenders near the area, and none was too hot a potato for Marques.
The second half, though, with a crowd of 2,342 cheering the home team for something more, was a very different half of Patriots' soccer.
Gone was a lot of the lateral movement that has plagued El Paso's offense this season. Frias' runs had a lot to do with that, as Patriots midfielders and defenders noticed him open upfield. Credit the young man for gaining his teammates' confidence in just his first match, too. This a jaded group, from whom passes upfield were launched rather than directed. Hopeful and hopeless at the same time.
But Daniel Frias inspired faith, and faith is a different story.
Like a longball from the back, hope by itself was a desperate balloon, floating harmlessly, helplessly away. Faith is hope's string, wound tightly around the wrist.
With each surprising appearance of Frias or Mora in unexpected places the Patriots were beginning to have faith.
Finally in the 77th minute, second half midfield sub Jose Lomeli swung a pass into the Vancouver box. On a dead run Frias took the ball and just a few steps later delivered a low drive to the left that Marques stood no chance of getting.
An upfield pass?! A completed upfield pass?! And a goal?! Those beans were magic after all!
From that moment on El Paso believed. And they kept pressing. And, lo and behold, the winning goal came from something else that has eluded the Patriots virtually all season long -- a successful set play. Well, almost.
As the match hit the 89th minute El Paso's pressure yielded one of six second half corner kicks. Saul Quinonez's kick settled into the middle of the box, but was promptly cleared by the Whitecaps defense straight to Dominic Schell on the right wing. With plenty of space around him, Schell's quick look made up his mind to send the ball right back in where central defender Sidnei dos Santos received it at the edge of the six-yard box and headed it inside the left post for the clincher.
An upset Vancouver team elected simply to pack up and head out without showering, and we can only hope the Whitecaps' car rental company has enough Febreze on hand to deal with the situation.
As for the future...Well, only a fairy tale would be bold enough to presume Happily Ever After.
Damned if that frog doesn't deserve a kiss, though.