The play-offs began last Saturday afternoon for AV with the visit of Emery High School from the East Bay. The #1 Panthers hosted the #8 Spartans in the quarterfinal match-up at Tom Smith Field, alongside the high school, in a game that was played in a steady downpour of rain throughout.
As one might expect, given the relative seedings, it was a game dominated by AV in terms of possession, but Emery had come to play, and their effort could not be questioned. The weather certainly helped their cause as the more talented Panther team, who favor a possession style with the ball kept on the ground, failed to cope with the very wet conditions and created few clear-cut chances.
As regular readers will be aware, due to the loss of three players to academic grades and two more for spurious other reasons, for a total of five players, four of whom had been starters, the Panther team had become a ‘work-in-progress’ even though the season was at its climax. However, apart from the introduction to starting roles for two freshmen, perhaps of greater significance was the fact that by moving players to cover these defensive positions it meant that much of the creativity in midfield was lost. Everyone played well in defense, but it was the lack of creativity that was the problem, particularly against a team that featured six players in defense, and were hoping to take the game to the ‘lottery’ of penalty kicks as their most obvious way to win the game.
Despite being the only team trying to actually go out and win the match, AV’s efforts to break down this defensive wall, particularly in the second half, were of no avail. After 80 minutes of regular time the score remained 0-0. Twenty minutes of extra-time saw two or three half-chances wasted by the Panthers and the game finished scoreless as Cristian Mendoza in the AV goal had became a virtual spectator. The whistle blew and as the rain intensified the game went to penalties, five for each side. Needless to say, this method of deciding a game is as much a mental issue as one of skill. Despite several practices over the previous week that focused on these, there are no guarantees on the day, in the spotlight, before a crowd. Emery scored four of their kicks and AV just two. The game was over and so was the season, just like that. The defending Champions were out and had to watch in despondent silence as the joyful Spartans celebrated on Tom Smith Field.
For their work rate and efforts, Emery should be congratulated, but it has to be said that they were quite probably the poorest team AV has lost to in the last decade. The AV players and coaches knew this and it merely added to the pain and disappointment.
Senior co-captains, Elio Gonzales and Hector Cruz will be missed, and fellow senior Luis ‘Ricky’ Sanchez will also be graduating this year. Nine starters will return and prospects for a solid 2012 season are good, always assuming that the players do some studying. If some do not, as everyone on the 2011 squad knows all-to-well, they will not only be letting themselves down, but everyone connected with the program — perhaps most important of all their friends and teammates.
Final 2011 Record (Won/Lost/Drawn): League 10-3-3. Overall 15-4-3.