It isn't every day that a goalkeeper gets an assist.
And when that assist sets up the winning goal in a soccer playoff match, well, those come around about as often as Halley's Comet.
That's why Gilbert Vega wore such a toothy smile after the Fresno Fuego outlasted the Victoria Highlanders 3-1 on a broiling Saturday afternoon at Chukchansi Park and advanced to today's Premier Development League's Western Conference finals.
Forward Tyler Reinhart scored all three Fuego goals, but it was Vega who set up the most important one in the 82nd minute that broke a 1-1 deadlock just as both teams appeared to be wearing down from the 100-degree heat.
"That shows anyone can create a scoring opportunity, even me," Vega joked.
Vega had just made two diving saves when he drop-kicked the ball to midfield right at Reinhart. The ball took a fortunate bounce, leaving a defender out of position, and Reinhart blasted it past Victoria's onrushing goalkeeper.
"I was staying high so [Vega] knew to look for me, and he just played a dime right to my foot," Reinhart said. "I ended up getting a fortunate bounce and was able to put it away."
Reinhart celebrated his second goal by pulling his jersey over his head and running around the field like his pants were on fire. The Clovis West High product repeated that celebration minutes later after scoring an insurance goal in the first minute of stoppage time.
Fresno (14-0-3), unbeaten in its past 25 games dating to last season, will face the Northwest Division champion Kitsap Pumas (13-1-3) at noon today at Chukchansi Park in the Western Conference final. The winner advances to the PDL's version of the Final Four.
"It felt good to put us up in front of our home crowd, which came out to support us on such a hot day," Reinhart said. "That was a great feeling."
Reinhart, who now leads the Fuego with 15 goals, put Fresno ahead 1-0 in the 10th minute on a left-footed carom that skipped into the side of the net.
But Victoria answered about 9 minutes later after a Tamar Dixon header seemed to catch Vega and his defense out of position.
Vega admitted that he and others were a bit nervous early as Fresno sought to validate its undefeated regular-season record. Coach Scott Alcorn sensed the same thing and believes Fresno will have to play better today to cope with Kitsap, a physical team from Washington.
"They're bigger than us and play a lot of balls in the air," Alcorn said. "To be honest, it's not a good matchup so we've got to get back to the drawing board."