Diablos win the NPSL National Championship

The Denton Diablos billed the game as the biggest in the City of Denton’s 175 year history, and the NPSL National Championship duly delivered with seven goals, fast counterattacking play, a fast start, a strong finish and even a couple of goalkeeping errors.

“I think we started out well, then kind of slowed down and gave him a little too much respect. We let them play a little bit too much. But I think going into halftime going 3-2 up, it’s huge because we stopped their momentum. A very strong second half. We know how to play the second half, and we really showed that tonight coming out and scoring to finish the game up.”

Denton Diablos striker Trevor Amann

NPSL Golden Ball winner Sam Coad had missed the previous three games through injury, and would again as Ramon Raya named an unchanged lineup from the 4-3 extra time win in last week’s national semi-final.

Carlos Enriquez started in goal, with Eoin Wearen and James Doyle in the center of defence. Jasub Flores and Brock Pope flanking them.

Adan Garcia took up the more defensive role in the middle, with Brandon Cerda and Carlos Flores pulling the strings from the wider midfield positions.

Trevor Amann led the line looking to add to his 13 goals, with Anthony Powell and Julian Barajas in support.

The starting lineups for Denton Diablos and Tulsa Athletic

NPSL Coach of the Year Levi Coleman was without two players who combined for ten goals in Aboubakr Sidiki Moubarak Diallo and Juan Arias.

Coleman went with Bryson Reed in goal behind Romulo Bosquiero and Joe Ruiz, and Javier Reyes and Lucca Rodrigues on the outside.

Vinicius Oliveira anchored the midfield in with Whitney Gonsalves and Jonathan Harris set as traditional wide midfielders. Top scorer Joe Garcia sat in behind a front two of Munashe Ranaje and Dante Brigade.

A goal out of nowhere just two minutes and 32 seconds in to the game. The ball was switched from the Denton left to Carlos Flores. Flores touches the ball out right to Anthony Powell, who shoots from outside the box. Bryson Reed gets both hands to the ball for what seems a simple catch but it bobbles over his head and across the line.

The Diablos repeated their early double in Cleveland as Eoin Wearen rose to meet a corner from Brandon Cerda in the Seventh minute. The problem with that start in Cleveland, was that it was met by a strong reaction.

Everyone can only watch the ball hit the back of the net after Eoin Wearen (crouching on the left) heads home off a corner (Dan Crooke)

“The confidence that we’ve had this year is we’ve won games in different ways. We’ve blown teams away with six or seven, we’ve had comeback to the last minute winners, we’ve been canceled out. We’ve started well and teams have come back and we’ve rallied and gone again.”

Diablos captain Eoin Wearen on whether he foresaw a repeat of the extra time win in Cleveland after scoring twice early on.

Tulsa began to mount considerable pressure on the hosts, and 11 minutes later would be on the scoreboard through top scorer Joe Garcia. Jonathan Harris received a throw-in on the right and played a cross in. Dante Brigade flicked the ball on at the front post for Joe Garcia to stab the ball home from six yards.

Athletic kept the pressure up, forcing a pair of saves of Carlos Enriquez from Munashe Raranje and Lucca Rodrigues. The former an attempt at heading over Enriquez that he was able to swat away, and the latter a strong far post header from the resulting corner that Enriquez held firmly. Raranje did get the ball in the net, only to the see the linesman’s flag raised after veering offside before receiving a neat through pass from Garcia.

That parallel with the national semi-final grew stronger in the 25th minute with a bizarre goal to level the score. Joe Garcia looked to put a ball in the box with a free kick from deep on the left side. Somehow the ball evaded everyone, and Enriquez is unable to react in time as the ball nestles inside the far post. Harris came close to getting a head to the ball, that Enriquez appeared to be in position for.

Carlos Flores had a magnificent game, really making things happen for the Diablos in the attack, and their go-ahead goal came from a strong individual press five minutes from the break. As a Tulsa midfielder dropped back to bring the ball up field, Flores came out of nowhere to dispossess and find Trevor Amann down the left hand side. Amann shrugged off a defender, before powering the ball through the keeper’s attempted save. That goal meant that Trevor Amann had scored in all five rounds of playoff games.

“When I’m scoring goals, my mentality is just keep going, keep going, keep going. I’ve been fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to play on this team, and they’ve put me in really good positions lately so the playoff run we had was special.”

Trevor Amann on his run of scoring in every playoff game

The Diablos took a narrow lead into the break, somewhat happy in the knowledge that they consider themselves a second half team. The biggest threat to them was the pace of Tulsa’s wings. Jonathan Harris – who had been a constant thorn in Denton’s side, was moved over to the left, with Aaron Ugbah brought in.

Denton made two changes of their own at the half. Anthony Powell, scorer of the first goal, gave way to a USL League One champion in Oscar Romero. Jasub Flores also left the game, with Giovanni Enriquez his replacement.

Ugbah’s pace began to trouble the Denton back line as early as the 50th minute. A Diablos free kick was deflected back and Ugbah released on a cross-field run with the ball. Cerda was able to make up some ground, but this was uncomfortably high acceleration for any defender. Fortunately for the hosts, Carlos Enriquez rushed out to pounce on the ball after a heavy touch.

Denton Diablos defender Brock Pope with the NPSL National Championship trophy (Dan Crooke)

Denton Diablos were beginning to show their credentials as a second half team. Even in defense, the center back pairing of Eoin Wearen and James Doyle seemed to pick up an extra yard of pace to combat the threat Ugbah posed in his diagonal runs. On the other side of the ball, a staggering 14 of the team’s previous 30 goals had come after the 75th minute of games, and the Diablos had a couple of tricks up their sleeves just yet.

In the 77th minute, Brock Pope sent Trevor Amann through past a static back line to go one-on-one. Attempting to shoot between Reed’s legs, the shot was parried into Vinicius Olivera who desperately tried to swing a foot but could only watch the ball settle in the back of the net.

Amann couldn’t claim the own goal, but Denton’s fifth was all his. A loose ball in the back was cleared low by James Doyle, reaching Amann in what may have been an offside position. The Diablos striker made it 15 for the season with a low finish across the keeper.

Denton almost had a sixth goal with the last kick of the game in the third minute of stoppage time. Antonio Perez tucked the ball past Reed in the Tulsa net after some pinball in the area, but the flag was raised as the crowd cheered for the goal that wasn’t. Before the free kick could even be taken, the referee called time on the 2021 NPSL National Championship.

In just the club’s second season competing in the NPSL, the Denton Diablos had won it all in front of a crowd of 2,394. Both clubs’ enjoyed a strong presence in the stands with yellow and red smoke filling the air as the two sets of vocal supporters went back and forth.

A season that began with a new coach, and success in the Roja League ended with a national championship. The players serenaded Coach Raya with ‘we love Ramon, we do’ as the champagne sprayed all over Broncos Field. Raya’s predecessor, Chad Rakestraw, was also in attendance personally congratulating everyone in the project he’d helped get off the ground after the trophy presentation.

You may notice Diablos co-owner Damon Gochneaur pulling off a Stone Cold Steve Austin-like celebration with two bottles in the video above. Whether it was a nod to the former North Texas State defensive end-turn-pro wrestler or not, it’s always encouraging to see an owner who resonates with the players. Eoin Wearen had mentioned to me in the week how Gochneaur creates a family atmosphere, with the players knowing he would do anything for any one of them, and any time I speak to Gochneaur it absolutely comes across as such. He spoke of his pride in the players and coaches making Denton one of just 17 NPSL National Champions in such a short turnaround from the team’s founding in late 2018. That’s a great excuse for one final photo.

Denton Diablos owner Damon Gochneaur with his NPSL National Championship medal (Dan Crooke)

1 Comment

  1. Went to my first diablos match and boy was it a great atmosphere!
    I know it wasn’t a typical match but that crowd was really into it. I wish Ntx matches would get just a tenth of that involvement. Will have to make it something of a regular habit since it’s only 10 minutes from my house. Congrats to the Diablos.

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