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Panther Soccer 2012

The 2012 season had started well with three consecutive road wins. Last Wednesday afternoon the team opened league play with their first home game against the Broncos from Geyserville, a team from the ‘B’ Division of our league, a team that Anderson Valley (in the ‘A’ Division) has beaten with relative ease every season since the program began. In fact the only way that the Broncos might get anything out of the game was to defend in large numbers and hope for a goal on a rare counter attack.

The day before this match, the Panther team was given with the news that three starters had been declared ineligible to play this season as a result of poor academic grades. This same scenario occurred towards the end of last season, when it greatly affected the performance in the final few regular season games and resulted in a first round play-off loss. Now it had happened again and, to compound the difficulties, the three players lost were all defenders, positions that this year’s squad was already in short supply of. As a result, major positional changes would be required and two midfield players were now called upon to play defense.

Nevertheless, AV was clearly still the better team against Geyserville and dominated the first half in terms of possession. But, with several decent opportunities wasted, the score remained 0-0 at the half. The second half was even more one-sided with Geyserville, hoping for a breakaway goal, playing seven defenders, which constantly proved too many for the Panther offense to break down. Christian Mendoza in the Panther goal was an observer for the whole 40 minutes, apart from one occasion when he had to pick the ball out of his net following that one counter-attack on which the Broncos scored. They added an eighth defender at that point and hung on for the 1-0 victory despite their goal being under a virtual siege for almost the entire match.

Yes, in what will certainly go down as one of the biggest upsets in team history, if not the biggest, the lowly Broncos, after 17 years of futility, had beaten AV for the first time ever. Their effort and commitment on this occasion deserve much praise. Football is a “funny old game,” as the cliché goes, and never more so than when one considers that just four days earlier AV had beaten Ukiah, a school with 1600 students, and now they had lost to the smallest school in the league, one with just 70 total students! The Panthers were despondent after the game and this shocking defeat, following so soon after the loss of three important players, was going to be hard to overcome for a team not used to dealing with adversity on the football pitch.

Hopefully, the players would seize the chance to bounce back two days later in the next league match, one that saw a team from Sonoma Academy, a private school on the outskirts of Santa Rosa (where annual tuition costs $34,900 per pupil), coming to the Valley on Friday afternoon. This is the game featuring teams representing what I irreverently, yet only half-jokingly, refer to as “The Grape Pickers v The Wine Sippers,” in reference to the dramatic socio-economic differences between the background, upbringing, and lifestyle of each squad. In some ways it’s not far from the truth and, following the shock of the Geyserville loss, the use of such clichéd political incorrectness in my pre-game team talk was a tactic I was not morally averse to using.

Not for the first time this season, AV dominated the early stages but on this occasion the goal that would enable them to relax and play their game was scored. It came in the ninth minute from a powerful shot into the roof of the net by Carlos Espinosa after he received a fine pass over the Coyote defense by Erik Martinez. The Panthers settled into a good rhythm and Sonoma could hardly get into the AV half. Inevitably the pressure eventually paid off when Edson Ferreyra dribbled past two defenders inside the Sonoma penalty area and slipped the ball past the despairing dive of the ‘keeper. 2-0 to AV at the half.

The only complaint from the coach’s point of view was the team’s continuing profligacy in front of the opposition goal. It was allowing weaker teams to stay in games that should have been put beyond their reach had the Panthers been more efficient in attack. The second half was a more convincing performance as some very attractive football was played and two more goals were added by Efrain Gonzales (a first high school goal for the sophomore recently arrived from Mexico) with an assist by Erik Martinez, and then Martinez himself, who capped a fine all-round individual performance with a well taken goal following a defense-splitting pass from Juan Lua. It finished 4-0 to AV. This morale-boosting victory saw a marked contrast on the sideline to that of two days earlier as players and fans alike enjoyed the afterglow of a significant and much needed win.

Following this victory, the team will play its next game today (Wednesday, Sept 12) at home against Rincon Valley, a league match that will kick-off at 4:30pm at Tom Smith Field alongside the high school. This match will be followed by a road game in Mendocino at 4:30pm on the Friday evening (Sept 14) of County Fair weekend. Who scheduled this? Then another road game, on Tuesday, Sept 18, a very tough game against last season’s league champions, Roseland Prep.

Current record (won/drawn/lost): League 1-0-1; Overall 4-0-1

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