The Zodiac's season opener included a dream ending and almost everything else, except for a sellout crowd.
Hometown hero Jose Vasquez scored the winning goal three minutes into sudden death, lifting the Zodiac over the El Paso Patriots, 1-0, in an A-League game of the United Systems of Independent Soccer Leagues Sunday at Santa Ana Stadium.
Vasquez, who won a Southern Section championship at Santa Ana High and a state title at Rancho Santiago College, ended the exciting game by using his heel to knock in the winner off a perfect crossing pass from Carlos Farias.
"I had some great chances early, some that were pretty easy," said Vasquez, who played with the Galaxy of MLS last season. "But the hardest one went in."
Vasquez's goal gave the 1,000 fans reason to celebrate after they endured a roller-coaster second half.
The Zodiac failed to cash in on numerous scoring opportunities, including a missed penalty kick, and it reached overtime only after a header by El Paso's Nery Bautista bounced off the right goal post in the 89th minute.
"Soccer's weird," said Zodiac midfielder Kyle Berger, who played at Fresno State and Capistrano Valley. "You could get 20 shots and the other team could get one, but they'll get the goal."
Vasquez's winning goal began with Orlando Perez's throw-in to Farias, who beat his defender and dribbled up the left sideline. Vasquez took Farias' crossing pass three yards in front of the goal and rolled it into the right side of the net past a diving attempt by El Paso goalie Nathan Buseck.
The Zodiac kept the pressure on Buseck in the second half, but he didn't crack until overtime.
In the 57th minute, El Paso's Steve Sengelmann challenged Vasquez on a header and was called for a foul in the penalty area. With the ensuing penalty kick, the Zodiac was poised to score its first goal of the season.
But Buseck guessed right, diving right, and easily stopped Sergio Mengual's low shot.
"We were getting a lot of good chances and we got a little frustrated," Berger said. "But we just wanted to be patient."
That patience finally paid off.
"Jose was getting so many good opportunities," Zodiac Coach Tony Cerna said. "We were just waiting for him to finish one off."
Vasquez wreaked havoc in El Paso's end of the field although he was still nursing a pulled leg muscle. Vasquez missed Friday's 3-1 exhibition loss to the U.S. 20-and-under national team, but Cerna said he should be completely healthy by Friday's game against Vancouver.
Even though he wasn't at 100%, Vasquez was effective.
He had four great chances to score in a five-minute span in the second half, but his two headers and two kicks from the penalty area either sailed wide or found Buseck's hands.
Zodiac goalie Mike Gartlan, who played at UC Irvine, wasn't as busy as Buseck but he also needed to make some key saves in the final five minutes to help send the game into overtime and set up Vasquez's heroics.
"I'm just happy we won," Vasquez said. "Especially here in my backyard."