DIXON – Carlos Gallardo's last trip to A.C. Bowers Field was much more pleasant than one a few years back.
The Sterling senior midfielder scored a pair of second-half goals to spark the Golden Warriors to a 4-1, come-from-behind victory over Dixon on Tuesday night. The Dukes had led 1-0 at halftime.
As a sophomore, Gallardo broke his collarbone while scoring a goal after tripping over the Dixon goalie. It's a memory that haunts him when he comes to A.C. Bowers Field.
"Every time I come to this field, all I think about is going to the emergency room," Gallardo said. "Whenever I beat Dixon, it feels good. It's kind of like revenge for when I broke my collarbone."
With the score tied 1-1, Gallardo was summoned to take a penalty kick after Dixon's Thiason Somrsri-Betts was called for shoving Sterling's Jorge Garcia in the goalie box. Gallardo's initial shot was stopped by Dixon goalie Brandon Jagitsch, but Gallardo quickly closed in on the rebound and drove it home to give the Warriors a 2-1 lead.
That was with 21 minutes, 35 seconds remaining in the second half. A little more than 6 minutes later, Sterling's Sebastian Uresti headed in a corner kick from Jose Uresti to give Sterling a 3-1 advantage.
Dixon (0-9-1, 0-3 NIB-12 West) soon had a pair of opportunities to close to within a goal, but each were thwarted by some stout Sterling defense. Shots by the Dukes' Scott Heath and Connor Carlson got past Warriors' keeper Peter DeLafuente, only to have them knocked away at the last instant by Garcia, then Gallardo.
"We got saved a couple of times off the line, and we got saved off the post," Sterling coach Brian Cebula said. "To win games, sometimes you've got to have a little bit of luck, too."
Gallardo closed out the scoring on a breakaway with just under 4 minutes to play.
Sterling (6-1-3, 3-0) has played a more controlled, defensive-oriented game this season under Cebula, as a host of last year's top offensive threats graduated. That resulted in a 1-0 halftime deficit against Dixon, however, and a return to last year's style for one half.
"They were packing it in pretty hard, and not giving our guys a lot of room to work with," Cebula said, "so we decided to spread the field out, spread their defenders and give a couple of our guys a little more space. We exploited that space once it was open."
The game was scoreless until a little more than a minute remained in the first half, when Heath broke the ice. Sterling's defense failed to clear the ball, resulting in a 1-on-1 opportunity for Heath against Warriors' keeper Jorge Garcia. Heath's shot was tipped by Garcia, but it had enough on it to trickle into the left side of the net.
Sterling tied it up with 30:30 left in the second half. Jose Uresti's corner kick made its way to Garcia, who headed it in and sparked the second-half surge.
"We had the strategy to stop them," Dixon coach Mahmoud Etemadi said, "but I think our players kind of burned out. We were marking them very good, especially in the first half, but Sterling is a very talented team, especially their forwards and midfielders."
Sterling had 13 shots on goal, compared to six for Dixon. Jagitsch made several spectacular saves to limit the damage, but eventually, four shots got through.
"It definitely can be done," Jagitsch said of shutting down Sterling. "We showed that for a half, but I think everybody got a little bit too high up when we got ahead by a goal. We needed to play like it was 0-0 and go for another goal."
Star of the game: Carlos Gallardo, Sterling, 2 goals
Key performers: Scott Heath, Dixon, goal; Jorge Garcia, Sterling, goal
Up next: LaSalle-Peru at Sterling, Dixon at Ottawa, both 6 p.m. Thursday