Daniel Cuevas always had a flair for the dramatic.
As a freshman forward at Natomas High School in 2007, Cuevas scored the winning goal in pouring rain to beat Bella Vista 2-1 and give the Nighthawks their first Sac-Joaquin Section Division III boys soccer title.
Cuevas was at it again Monday - but on a much bigger stage, this time for the U.S. men's Under-20 team, which played France in Istanbul in a World Cup Group A match.
Cuevas, coming off the bench, scored in the 85th minute to rally the Americans to a 1-1 draw.
"Danny always had a knack for scoring clutch goals," said Geovanni Villalobos, a Natomas assistant coach when Cuevas played there from 2007 to 2009 and now the Nighthawks' head coach. "He was usually the shortest player on the field. But he also was the fastest and one of the strongest with great instincts and an unbelievable left foot."
That left foot led to the U.S. team's tying goal just eight minutes after he entered the game.
Luis Gil's free kick from the top right corner of the penalty area flew low into the box, where it was deflected. But the 5-foot-6 Cuevas - positioned in the wall - turned and jumped on the loose ball, hitting a left-footed strike into the left side of the goal past the helpless French goalie.
"It was a little bit of confusion at the beginning because the way the play was supposed to go, it was designed for Mario (Rodriguez)," Cuevas told the Associated Press. "At the end, I was the one on the run, and luckily the ball went my way and I got it in."
It was the highlight of an otherwise lackluster performance by the Americans that included a missed penalty kick, but Cuevas said it showed his team's resolve.
"Our team is very united, and we are always together and pushing forward," Cuevas told the AP. "If things don't go our way, we keep trying and keep trying until they do."
The tie put the United States, which lost to Spain 4-1 in its first match, in position to advance to the round of 16 with a win over Ghana on Thursday.
During his three years at Natomas, Cuevas scored 58 goals and had 29 assists and was a three-time All-Tri County Conference player for then-coach Joe Rebelo. Cuevas, who lived in Del Paso Heights, didn't play his senior season after having to transfer to Grant, his neighborhood school, because of transportation issues.
"I'm so happy for him," Rebelo said. "He's a terrific kid and player who really matured in his three years with us. His dream always was to play professional soccer, so to see him living that dream is really something."
Cuevas signed after high school with Santos Laguna, a Mexican pro team, and is in his second season with the U.S. men's U-20 national team.
Rebelo didn't see Monday's match but watched Cuevas play Friday against Spain.
"I was watching with my daughter, Emilie, and at first I couldn't see him and asked, 'Which one is Daniel?' " Rebelo said, starting to laugh. "My daughter says, 'That's easy, dad. He's the one with his shirt tucked in.
"If there was one thing he learned from me, it was to always keep his shirt tucked in."
Call The Bee's Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.