Local product Walmer Martinez wrote himself into Monterey Bay F.C.'s history book on Saturday, scoring the first goal at Cardinale Stadium in a winning inaugural home opener for the first-year club. | Photo courtesy Monterey Bay F.C.
It had to be him.
From the moment his arrival home to Monterey Bay F.C. was announced last December, the anticipation of Walmer Martinez leading the club into its inaugural season in the USL Championship had been building.
On Saturday night, when the moment presented itself, he seized it, and wrote a memorable first chapter in the club’s history at the newly-renovated Cardinale Stadium.
“I looked up to see if I had anyone, and I didn’t have anyone but the open goal,” said Martinez. “I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to take it,’ and I stuck it.”
The El Salvador international’s spectacular second-half finish against Las Vegas Lights FC, driving in from the right flank before unleashing a powerful shot to the top-right corner of the net to bring the crowd of 5,038 fans to their feet and earn a 1-0 victory, provided the crowning moment on a tremendous night for soccer in the Monterey Bay region. The atmosphere at the scenic new addition to the USL Championship’s growing roster of soccer-specific stadiums lived up to expectation and the side – regaining key pieces from injury after an arduous seven-game road trip – rose to the occasion.
Coming off its defeat to San Antonio FC the prior weekend, the reset to the season in its home opener provided the antidote to what had ailed MBFC in recent weeks.
“Very happy,” said Monterey Bay Head Coach Frank Yallop. “It’s been a long stretch of away games, to finally get to play in front of fans in our stadium was really good. I thought the guys performed really well. They could’ve come out a bit nervous if you think about it, so for me I am really happy with the performance and to get that win. We should’ve probably scored a couple more goals, but we hung in there and got the win and that’s the most important thing.”
The chances for the hosts arrived early and often. Christian Volesky had the first – off a delivery by Martinez – and the side continued to press for goal throughout the first half, urged on by the home support. Simon Dawkins almost provided the moment they’d been waiting for with a free kick that rang the crossbar 11 minutes before halftime, but when Martinez made his move in the 56th minute, he made no mistake.
For the Santa Cruz native, who had competed for CSU Monterey Bay collegiately on the same campus as his current home venue, the night was everything it could have been.
“I’m just happy because I had a lot of old teammates here, a whole community that supports me, and I’m glad to be able to make history with the first goal here in this stadium,” said Martinez. “I’m honestly super happy about that.”
Monterey Bay F.C. Walmer Martinez lines up a shot during his side's home opener at Cardinale Stadium on Saturday night. | Photo courtesy Monterey Bay F.C.
Monterey Bay will continue to get familiar with its new surroundings over the next few weeks. Four of the club’s next five games are at Cardinale Stadium, as are eight of its next 11 into late July. How the side fares over that stretch could determine whether there’s the same happy ending to the end of the season as there was on opening night.
In terms of a first impression, though, the hosts couldn’t have asked for much more.
“We limited a lot of chances,” said Yallop. “This Las Vegas team has scored a lot of goals this year and we limited their chances. I also thought we created some good chances to score. We didn’t quite take them, but we got the one. Walmer [Martínez] scored a hell of a goal to win the game for us.
“I’m not sure there’s a better story for us to start our home stretch.”