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Sol soccer powerhouse falls in title bid 2-0

  • The Sonoma County Sol's Cory Taufer and RVA FC's Kharlton Belmar battle for the ball during the first half in the NPSL national championship game on Sunday. (MARK GORMUS / Richmond Times-Dispatch)

RICHMOND, Va. — They could be described as upstarts or, to use a term popularized in the Bay Area, a startup. No matter what you call them, RVA Football Club didn't behave like meek newcomers Sunday night.

RVA proved to be a rude host to the Sonoma County Sol in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) championship, winning 2-0 at Sports Backers Stadium to capture the title in the team's first season of play.

With RVA up 1-0 midway through the second half on the strength of a Josh Grant goal, the Sol (12-1-3) got past all the levels of the hosts' defense for the only time all night. Cody Martin's shot beat RVA goalkeeper Bill Groben, but bounced harmlessly off the inside of the post before being cleared, ending the Sol's best scoring chance.

“I think we all feel that if that one goes in, we might go on to win the game,” Sol coach Vinnie Cortezzo said. “We had a lot of good energy at that point.”

Sunday marked the Sol's third trip to the NPSL championship. They won the title in 2009 and lost in the final in 2005.

Grant put RVA (10-0-2) on top in the 18th minute with his fourth playoff goal in as many games. Todd Wharton's pass from the right wing found him in acres of space, and his long, skipping shot beat Sol goalkeeper James Del Curto for a 1-0 lead.

“Todd and I were interchanging really well,” Grant said. “I was lucky to get the ball in space, and I capitalized on it.”

The margin stayed at one goal for 70 minutes of game time, with the Sol missing another golden opportunity when RVA defender Nick Rich cleared semifinal hero Taylor Varnadore's header off the line. Minutes later, RVA substitute Luis Rendon was denied a beautiful goal when his first-touch volley glanced off the crossbar.

Varnadore's last-gasp goal lifted the Sol to a 3-2 victory over FC Lehigh Valley United Sonic in the semifinals July 28. Rich's sliding stop ensured he wouldn't play the hero again on Sunday.

“Those minutes when the games get stretched, the team was able to latch onto that absolute passion and make sure the ball didn't go into the net,” RVA coach Grover Gibson said.

With the Sol pushing forward looking for the tying goal, Manel Bel put the game away for the hosts. Del Curto saved his first shot, but he took his time and chipped the ball over the diving goalkeeper for the clinching goal.

“In a game with two good teams, you need to catch a couple of breaks,” Cortezzo said. “The breaks just didn't go our way tonight.”

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