The 2009 play-offs began last Wednesday (11/4) with a home game in Boonville at The Fairgrounds against Sonoma Academy, a team the Panthers had narrowly defeated 2-1 during the regular season. The game started at a furious pace with AV dominating the early exchanges and the Coyote goalkeeper pulling off a couple of excellent saves to foil two fine shots by Omar Ferreyra. During this period of play the Panthers also thought they should have been awarded a penalty for a foul on Omar but the referee inexplicably gave a rare indirect kick instead, which led to nothing. Then, as so often seems to be the case, in one of their few attacks, a penalty kick (PK) was awarded to Sonoma after a Panther defender was adjudged to have handled the ball in the penalty area. The Coyote midfielder made no mistake from the spot and the goal was greeted with rapturous applause from the Coyote bench and fans.
It was an extremely short-lived lead, in fact one of the shortest I have ever seen, because from the kick-off the ball was immediately played back to Omar who shot from fully 55 yards over the badly positioned ’keeper and into the goal for the equalizer. Amazing!
AV continued to make the better openings and, despite some mystifying ref decisions going against them, the Coyote goal was under constant threat. Finally, in the 32nd minute, the breakthrough came. A long ball into the heart of the Coyote defense saw a very clumsy challenge and clear foul on Sergio Gutierrez resulting in a PK to Omar who made no mistake from the spot and it was 2-1 Panthers. Then, with virtually the final kick of the half, Omar took a very quick free-kick, passing the ball to the forward-rushing Gutierrez who burst past two startled defenders before, with his trademark move, took the ball wide of goal and smashed it low and hard past the ’keeper into the opposite corner. It was a deserved 3-1 lead to AV at the half.
The second half was only three minutes old when Elio Gonzales received the ball 25 yards out, dribbled past one defender, and sent the ball flying onto the top corner of the goal with a wonderful strike. It was 4-1. The Sonoma players seemed to realize their fate. The Panther coaches used a few bench players as the game approached its conclusion, giving play-off debuts to Chavo Eligio and freshmen Irving Jimenez and Alex Vargas. In the 67th minute Gutierrez added a fifth and final goal with a fine shot into the roof of the net from 20 yards out, giving him 61 goals on the season to date! It finished 5-1 and while everyone played well, three players, not often mentioned in the reports but significant contributors week after week, all played perhaps their best games: in defense James Viera and Junior Mendoza, and in midfield Hector Cruz, whose defensive performance virtually nullified the most dangerous Coyote player.
Next up was the Quarterfinal match on Saturday evening (11/7), again at The Fairgrounds, and the opponents were University High of San Francisco, overall Champions in 2006 and 2007. The crowd was up for the game as the kick-off approached for what was forecast to be a very close game in which fan support would play its part. The pitch was in poor shape following some rain and also a football game the previous day, and clearly the game was not going to be one for the purists. But the conditions were the same for both teams and when the evenly matched game began it was anyone’s guess who would come out on top.
AV had a few early half-chances but the solid Red Devil ’keeper was behind a reliable backline and the game remained at 0-0. However, in the 21st minute a fine shot from 20 yards out by Omar Ferreyra was fumbled by the University ’keeper off the tricky surface and the always alert Sergio Gutierrez pounced on the rebound before any defender could react and slotted the ball into the net from six yards out. 1-0 to AV. Gradually University came more into the game and from a corner in the 30th minute one of their players rose high and unchallenged to head the ball powerfully into the Panther goal. It was 1-1.
In the final five minutes of the half AV pressed hard and when an under-pressure Red Devil defender handled the ball in the penalty area, Omar made no mistake from the resulting PK for a 2-1 AV lead. Then two minutes later, just before the half-time break, Elio Gonzales expertly flicked the ball over two defenders for the on-rushing Sergio Gutierrez, who for the umpteenth time this year, as regular readers are aware, made no mistake and blasted the ball low into the far corner of the goal — a wonderful strike for his 63rd goal of the season. It was 3-1 Panthers at the half.
After a half-time talk by Coaches Smith and Sparks that emphasized the need to play particularly hard in the opening ten minutes of the second half, the Panthers were shocked when University made it 2-3 within the first minute of the restart, following some slack marking in the AV defense. With the Red Devils now pushing their star player into attack and AV countering by bringing striker Gonzales back to defend this player, this Gutierrez was left all alone up front for the Panthers, meaning it was going to be a rearguard action by AV the rest of the way. They battled it out with Christian Mendoza bringing off a few vital stops, coupled with his error-free handling of the ball in difficult conditions. With solid defensive play throughout the team, AV held on for their first ever victory over University and a place in the Semi-Final!
The semi-final game will be played tonight (Wednesday, Nov 11th) against Branson High School of Ross (Marin County) with a 7pm kick-of at The Fairgrounds in Boonville. A repeat of the wonderful hometown support received last time should really help the players and if they play to their full potential a place in the school’s first ever final is certainly within the team’s grasp.