It took three years for Diego Grande to make his USL League Two debut after graduating from the club’s academy, and it was well worth the wait.
The 19-year-old winger marked his grand entrance on Friday night with a pair of goals to power the San Francisco Glens to a season-opening 2-0 victory over FC Golden State Force at Skyline College.
“At first I was pretty nervous, but once I put on that jersey again, all the great memories I had growing up in the club started flooding my mind,” said Grande, who joined the Glens’ academy at age 13. “As I kid I would watch these games hoping one day I could be a first-team player, so being on the field was an amazing feeling.”
The reason for the delay was the global pandemic, which forced the Southwest Division to go on hiatus the past two seasons. Now back in action, San Francisco faced an arduous task in the three-time defending champion Force. However, despite their overall dominance, FC Golden State had failed to defeat the Glens on the road in their two previous meetings.
That streak would continue as first-year head coach Gabe Saucedo and technical director Jimmy Conrad’s plan to implement high pressure and make it a physical game took its toll in the unforgiving windy conditions of Skyline.
"The boys stepped up, and I could tell right way there was good chemistry and good communication," said Saucedo, who earned his first win as head coach doubles as the gaffer at Skyline during the Glens' offseason. "We played with a purpose, and the shutout had a lot to do not just with what we did defensively, but also in attack."
The first goal came via a counterattack in the 34th minute, with Julio Gonzalez Ponce depositing a perfect cross from the left wing into the box. Grande leaped over his defender and headed it home to open his account.
The Force endeavored to respond with an equalizer but the Glens' back line, led by the quartet of Nathan Simeon, Shayan Charalaghi, Jack Boccuzzi, and Dominic Valdivia, bent but did not break, as San Francisco goalkeeper Hugo Dutour saved three shots but had a clear line of sight for all of them.
With time running out in the second half and the visitors sending more men forward, the clincher came early in stoppage time, as Max Chrétien collected a second ball from a Dutour goal kick and found a streaking Grande, who patiently picked his spot and slotted the ball past Force goalkeeper Braden Hatt for a 91st-minute goal.
Jubilation ensued in the thick Peninsula fog as the final whistle came soon after. Not only would the Glens pull out the victory, they would find themselves on top of the Southwest Division table.
"We challenged the guys at halftime to manage the game, and you were excellent," Conrad said. "We didn't give them room to breathe, and we set the foundation for how we want to play the rest of the season."
The Glens' early home stand concludes next Saturday at Skyline with a 3 p.m. showdown with the Marin FC Legends. Tickets can be purchased at sfglens.com/tickets. The game will also be streamed live on KRON-TV's KRONon app. Download it now at kronon.tv/get-the-app.