In just our third year as a team, the Denton Diablos dominated in the biggest game of the season Saturday, Aug. 7, at Bronco Field.
Hosting the National Premier Soccer League national championship, the Diablos withstood a surge from Tulsa Athletic in the first half before erupting in the second half for a 5-2 victory behind a two-goal effort from striker Trevor Amann.
The Diablos busted out the champagne bottles and doused each other in suds as they lifted the national championship trophy in front of a record 2,394 fans in attendance.
Denton’s win was monumental for the players, coaches, fans and owners and after the game, Diablos co-owner Damon Gochneaur kept circling back to a resounding feeling of humility.
“This isn’t an accomplishment that any one person is responsible for,” Gochneaur said. “This is a testament to a little bit of vision, a ton of hard work and commitment, and a lot of people buying in for a common goal. It’s humbling to know that our vision and our dream has been achieved through the hard work of a lot of other people.
“We’re humbled and honored to achieve this level of success in just our second NPSL season.”
It didn’t take long for the Diablos to break the scoring ice as Anthony Powell took a cross from the left side of the field and rifled a shot into the top right corner of the goal. The shot squeezed through the Tulsa keeper’s hands to give Denton the 1-0 advantage in just the third minute of the game.
With the momentum on their side, the Diablos kept pushing the issue offensively.
Denton was rewarded in the seventh minute as Brandon Cerda looped a crossing kick into the middle of the box, where captain Eoin Wearen came flying in with a precise header into the top right corner of the goal to inflate the Diablos’ lead to 2-0.
The Irish defender Wearen doesn’t score a ton of goals, but he said being able to do so in such an important moment was magical.
“I scored two or three in the first five games, but I haven’t scored in the last eight,” Wearen said. “I’ve had opportunities to do it. I scored in the Roja League final and I scored in this final. I’m kind of saving it for the big games, which is great. If the delivery is good, we’ve got guys that can score and the delivery was great. I timed my run well and I got up higher than I usually do.”
Stunned but not out, Tulsa Athletic roared back with its own swing of momentum. Joseph Garcia caught the Diablos’ defense napping and sneaked a header into the right side of the goal to cut the lead in half at 2-1 in the 18th minute of the game.
Denton keeper Carlos Enriquwz kept Tulsa Athletic at bay just minutes later as he made a save off a header, but Tulsa kept chipping away and was eventually able to level the game in the 22nd minute.
A sideline free kick by Garcia from 40 yards out curled across the field and past every single player. The ball bounced past the distracted Denton keeper to even the game at 2-2.
Despite Tulsa capturing much of the possession in the middle of the half, Denton’s ace goal scorer put the team on his back and secured a crucial lead for Denton.
With 5:30 remaining in the first half, Amann took a ball in transition down the left side of the field and ripped a laser past the Tulsa keeper and into the top left corner to restore the Diablos’ advantage at 3-2.
“We kind of made some mistakes in the first half and it cost us,” Amann said. “We played a little scared. That was a huge goal going into halftime. We were absorbing a lot of pressure, and our goal helped put an end to their momentum and helped us get reacclimatized to the game.”
Amann nearly broke the game open, but his bullet of a shot clanged off the left post with just under 14 minutes left in the game.
Keeping his foot on the gas pedal, Amann took his breakaway just under a minute later and pounded it off the Tulsa keeper in the 77th minute. The ball ricocheted off the approaching Tulsa defender and into the net for the own goal to pad the Diablos’ lead to 4-2.
Amann took another breakaway down the field in the 83rd minute and this time there was no doubt. He buried his shot low and past the Tulsa keeper to salt the game away at 5-2.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Amann said. “It’s amazing. I’ve said it all week that this team doesn’t give up. We continue fighting and we play 90 minutes. When we play a complete game, it’s pretty hard to stop us and I think we’ve shown that. Everyone committed to the process and once we started to see results, we saw it was a realistic possibility.
“The work we have put in all year has shown.”
Denton finished with just one loss on the season and a 13-1-1 record overall.
Diablos head coach Ramon Raya knew the team was capable of winning the national championship, but after his team hoisted the trophy and the elation began to set in, he said it was incredible to see just how far his team had come.
“We’re national champions,” Raya said. “I’m very proud to be a part of these warriors. They deserved it from the beginning to the end. I’ve been winning championships all my life and it looks very far away in the first game of the season, but we did it step by step. We didn’t run. We walked and now we’re here. I’m just so happy.”