The past week witnessed a couple of big matches in the high school boys soccer season that may well have a significant impact on the season as a whole. These were against Roseland Prep from Santa Rosa and St Vincent’s of Petaluma — strong teams who both achieved narrow victories against AV last year. Roseland, last year’s regular season champions, were in town last Wednesday for what has always been a hard-fought and exciting match. This one was no different.
The Knights came out strong and dominated possession for the first ten minutes — something rarely achieved against this year’s Panthers. Then, just when it looked like the visitors would surely score at any moment, AV broke out on a counter-attack and, following several quick, smart passes, the ball reached Jose Gaxiola in front of goal just eight yards out. The senior made no mistake with a hard-struck shot into the net giving the Panthers the lead.
In what was a high tempo match of high quality, both teams continued to play with great intensity, although Roseland still had the majority of possession and threatened to equalize from a series of corner kicks and long throw-ins delivered into the heart of the AV defense. Finally the pressure paid off when, from a corner kick, an unguarded Knight striker headed for goal where full-back Gualberto Gastelum and ‘keeper Gerardo Torales, both on the goal-line, simultaneously attempted to make the save. The ball was parried by the ‘keeper on to the arm of the defender and a penalty was awarded. From the ensuing kick the Roseland forward drove the ball into the corner of the net just beyond the outstretched hand of the diving Torales. It could be argued that Gastelum should have been red-carded for preventing the goal with his arm and thus ejected — the Roseland coach certainly thought so in his animated protestations to the referee. However, there was little he could do about the ball hitting him and he received a yellow card instead, allowing him to continue.
Roseland continued to press, although AV slowly settled into some rhythm as the half progressed, perhaps stunned in the early stages by the quality of the opposition — the matches to-date being against teams of a significantly lower caliber. It was 1-1 at the break and a firm half-time team-talk was needed to spark the Panthers for the second half.
This worked. AV competed well in the early stages of the half and a couple of decent chances to take the lead were created but not taken. However, Roseland had opportunities of their own and it took two top quality saves by Torales in the Panther goal to keep the teams level. Then came the defining moment of the match.
In the 61st minute, a Roseland player was given a second yellow card for foul play, thus being ejected from the match. It meant that AV would play the remaining 20 minutes with a one-man advantage. However, the Roseland coach was so incensed that he gave the referee a verbal barrage that the official was not going to accept. He red-carded the coach who was thus ejected from the game. The rules state that in such instances an assistant coach must take over the team but Roseland did not have an assistant. In that case the rules state that a team cannot continue and have to forfeit the match. Perhaps AV would have gone on to win the match against the 10-man Roseland team anyway — we shall never know. Confusion reigned for several contentious minutes, both among players and coaches on one side of the field and the fans watching from the other side but the decision stood. Game over.
It was an unsatisfactory end to what had been an excellent game of high school soccer. The Roseland coach apologized for his actions but the referees received further verbal abuse from the traveling Roseland supporters as they left the field. The next morning the referee reports would result in confirmation of a forfeit win for AV. The teams will meet again in Santa Rosa on October 10th.
Two days later, St Vincent’s came to town and once again a tough game was expected. The Mustangs handed the Panthers their biggest loss for several years in last season’s 5-2 game in Petaluma. On this occasion it was clear from the kick-off what the visitors’ game plan was — defend in numbers and catch AV on the break. They did the first part very well, but the second was virtually non-existent as the Panthers dominated the game with some excellent football that was only let down by some poor decisions with the final pass and several last ditch tackles by the hard-working Mustang defenders. It was 0-0 at the half.
The second period was more of the same except AV created a number of clearcut scoring chances that were spurned or produced good saves by the St Vincent ‘keeper. Nevertheless, the Panthers maintained their poise and discipline, not to mention continuing to produce some very good soccer in what was, from a coaching point of view, the best effort of the season so far against a very difficult opponent. Finally, with just ten minutes to go, AV’s efforts were rewarded. A cleverly placed free-kick by Fernando Ferreyra resulted in the goalkeeper being unable to hold on to the ball and a very alert Jose Gaxiola pounced and drove the ball high into the corner of the goal from six yards out — a real striker’s goal, reacting first to the second chance, and it was all that was needed for a richly deserved 1-0 victory.
I mentioned in last week’s report that these two matches would provide a more accurate assessment of the team’s abilities and potential than the previous six matches had given. They did. Over the season the team will continue to improve and sometimes this happens in small increments, sometimes in significant leaps. These two games would certainly fall into the latter category as the team produced impressive performances against good quality opposition, and showed that if they apply themselves mentally then, combined with their undoubted ability and excellent work rate, they can be a match for anybody at this level.
On Monday afternoon, after this report was filed, the team was to make the two-plus hour journey to Middletown for a non-league match. Then on Wednesday, Sept 25, ‘the old enemy’ from Mendocino will be visiting the Valley for a 4.30pm kick-off at Tom Smith Field, the Panthers’ last home game for two weeks! A four-match stretch of away games starts on Friday, September 27 when a top of the table clash takes place in Calistoga, where anything can happen, and often does! Hope to see you at some of our matches soon. The full schedule is shown below. Come on you Panthers! (Current 2013 Record (won/lost/drawn): League: 6 wins, no losses/ties. Overall 8/0/0. Goals scored: 46 / Goals conceded: 1.