A true home-field advantage for Columbia River soccer

Chieftains open state with a win on campus; Mountain View prevails, too

VANCOUVER — The Columbia River Chieftains felt right at home Tuesday night.

For the first time, too, at this stage of the season.

The Chieftains opened the WIAA Class 2A state soccer playoffs with a 3-1 victory over Foss in the first true home state playoff game in program history.

The Columbia River Chieftains were all smiles, celebrating Aaron Espinosa’s first goal of the match Tuesday in a 3-1 win over Foss in the Class 2A state boys soccer playoffs. Photo by Mike Schultz

A new turf field installed at the stadium prior to this school year allowed for Columbia River to play at, yep, Columbia River.

Of course, the defending state champions had to win that match for it to be truly memorable.

Aaron Espinosa scored two goals, and Jackson Kleier scored the other and assisted on one, leading the Chieftains to the quarterfinals.

Aaron Espinosa scored two goals for the Columbia River Chieftains in Tuesday’s win over Foss. Photo by Mike Schultz

Columbia River will get to play a home match in that round, as well. The Chieftains will play Franklin Pierce, most likely Saturday.

“This means everything,” Kleier said. “When we learned we were going to get a turf field, we were all excited. It was great to see a bunch of people out. It brings an atmosphere here. Everyone wants to fight and show everyone was River is all about.”

These days, River soccer is all about victory. The Chieftains improved to 19-0-1 this season, a year after winning the state title.

Jackson Kleier of Columbia River had the move of the night on an assist for one goal and he scored another in a 3-1 victory in a Class 2A state soccer playoff match Tuesday. Photo by Mike Schultz

Last year’s journey to state had Columbia River playing at Kiggins Bowl, their playoff home for years. Tony Liberatore, the school’s athletic director, confirmed it was the first boys soccer state playoff game at the stadium.

Now the Chieftains hope their real home becomes a home-field advantage.

“The people here were amazing,” Espinosa said of the crowd. “The people came out to show their support. It was really fun. It was helpful.”

“This is what we promised the community when we passed the bond,” Liberatore said, referring to the funds to pay for the new field. “When the scope of the bond was first announced … the goal was to be able to host state soccer at River. And here it is.”

The Chieftains had several scoring chances early but were denied by superb goalkeeping.

But late in the first half, Espinosa got a reward for just putting the ball on the net. A soft goal, as the Foss keeper simply mishandled the slippery ball.

“It wasn’t the greatest, but a goal is a goal,”  Espinosa said.

The “We Are CR” sign takes on new meaning now that Columbia River can play home soccer matches. The Chieftains played Tuesday’s state playoff soccer match in their own stadium, a first for the program. In the past, the team had to use Kiggins Bowl. Now with a turf field on campus, the Chieftains are truly home. Photo by Mike Schultz

Speaking of solid goalkeeping, Columbia River’s Miles Miranda also has several highlight saves, including one just prior to the first-half whistle to keep Columbia River in the lead.

The “greatest” goal of this contest came in the second half. Kleier won a battle for the ball, made a dazzling move past his defender, then made a perfect crossing pass to Espinosa who had the easy part of scoring the goal.

“Before the game were knew we had to play 110 percent,” Kleier said. “As I was running down the line, that’s all I was thinking about, giving it all to my team. Everything comes down to the little moments like that.”

Espinosa said he and Kleier have chemistry on plays like that one. He knew if he ran toward the near post, Kleier would deliver him the ball.

“I did my run, and I was blessed it went in,” Espinosa said.

Julian Villa-Salas and the Columbia River Chieftains displayed their athleticism and soccer skills Tuesday in a 3-1 win over Foss. The Chieftains, the defending Class 2A state boys soccer champions, will host a quarterfinal match this weekend. Photo by Mike Schultz

That goal was needed, as Foss responded a minute or so later with its goal to make it 2-1.

Kleier gave River more breathing room with a rocket of a shot from about 25 yards. He collected a ball, maneuvered a bit, then saw a small opening.

“I ripped it. It got to the top corner. Then I celebrated,” Kleier said.

The Chieftains celebrated briefly as a team after Tuesday’s victory.

“A win is nice, but we have bigger goals than a win in the round of 16,” Kleier said.

Class 3A:

Mountain View 1, Hermiston 1 (Thunder win 3-2 in penalty kicks)

The Mountain View Thunder had to survive back-to-back matches just to get into the state tournament, and they survived their first match at state, topping Hermiston in penalty kicks.

According to social media reports, Christopher Grozav scored in the 48th minute to give Mountain View the lead. The Bulldogs tied it up 20 minutes later, and the two teams were scoreless the rest of the way and in overtime.

(A reminder: Hermiston, an Oregon team, is now a member of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.)

Mountain View advances to the quarterfinals. As the bottom team on the bracket, the Thunder should get a home match against Kamiakin, most likely Saturday.

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About The Author

Paul Valencia joins ClarkCountyToday.com after more than two decades of newspaper experience. He became the face of high school sports coverage in Clark County during his 17 years at The Columbian. Before moving to Vancouver, Paul worked at Oregon daily newspapers in Pendleton, Roseburg, and Salem. A graduate of David Douglas High School in Portland, Paul enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving three years as a soldier/journalist. He and his wife Jenny recently celebrated their 20th anniversary. They have a son who has a passion for karate and Minecraft. Paul’s hobbies include: Watching the Raiders play football, reading about the Raiders playing football, and waiting to watch and read about the Raiders playing football.

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