Last Monday afternoon (Sept 23), the AV Boys soccer team made perhaps their longest trip of the season to play Middletown in Lake County. It was a non-league match, but one that will count in the team’s overall record that decides postseason seedings, assuming the Panthers make the play-offs.
After the two-hour journey, the team got out of the two vans, driven by yours truly and Keevan Labowitz, to be met by the hot sun of this isolated valley on Highway 29. Games like this against teams with perhaps lesser ability but who have a good work ethic and strong desire can be pitfalls for teams on significant winning streaks that can sometimes lead to over-confidence. On this occasion, any such fears were soon dispelled.
After seven minutes Jose Gaxiola had scored two goals and halfway through the opening 40 minutes it was 4-0 to AV with Gaxiola completing his hat-trick and Erik Martinez providing a fourth. The bench players from the 17-man traveling squad came on and played their part with Lalo Avalos, Romario Espinoza, and Izac Parra all playing lengthy periods. With sometime starters “Pancho” Lievanos, Fabian Sanchez, and Moises Segura all getting their longest stints of the season, many regulars played less but it hardly mattered as further goals were added by Segura and Christian Guerrero, with a second goal coming for Erik Martinez. It finished 7-1 to AV; the Middletown goal coming as the result of a disputed penalty kick. It was a “job well done” and the team enjoyed a loud and raucous journey back to the Valley during which a break was taken for a fine dinner at Super Taco in Ukiah.
On Wednesday (Sept 25th), “the old enemy” Mendocino visited Anderson Valley to renew the rivalry. Unfortunately, over the past five or so years the Cardinal program has suffered a rapid decline and this is hardly a contest anymore. That is too bad; they used to battle the Panthers all season long for league titles back in the day and now they are a team that allows AV to give each player on the whole 22-man squad a workout. Inevitably AV dominated and even with the whole bench getting a workout the final score was still 12-0 to AV with goals coming from Jose Gaxiola 2, Pancho Lievanos 2, Christian Guerrero 2, and one each for Gualberto Gastelum, Fernando Ferreyra, Effrain Gonzales, Omar Solano, Moises Segura, and goalkeeper Gerardo Torales who played for 15 minutes as a striker, a position at which he is equally adept.
Not unlike the transition a week or so ago from a runaway victory (13-0) over Tech High School followed by a very close game against Roseland, just two days after the Mendocino mauling the Panthers travelled two hours south to face arch-rivals Calistoga last Friday afternoon. It was Homecoming for the Wildcats and the atmosphere at the stadium was quite intimidating as the two teams lined-up for introductions before kick-off. In recent years, AV and Calistoga, along with Roseland Prep, have dominated the regular season with these three finishing in the top three spots six years in succession, apart from the Panthers slip to 4th last year behind St. Vincent’s. Roseland has won three of those titles, with AV getting two, and Calistoga one. This history, coupled with a number of “extra-curricular” incidents in the games between these two teams, meant that it would be a very intense and hard-fought battle.
AV came out strong from the start and it soon became apparent that Calistoga was not quite at last year’s level. Nevertheless they are physically strong and very determined, and, playing in front of their own fans, highly motivated. The referees made several blatantly incorrect calls in the first 20 minutes against both sides, and long-time rival but respected Calistoga coach, Carlos Garcia and I shared our disbelief at these decisions on a number of occasions. Having said that, the officials did the best they could and they were consistent and fair to both sides, they were simply not really at the caliber that such a high-intensity match required. It happens.
In the 17th minute the deadlock was broken when Jose Gaxiola, who had already caused the Calistoga defense numerous problems, broke through again and a Wildcat defender, in an attempt to slide the ball away from the advancing striker as he bore down on goal, only succeeded in knocking it wide of his goalkeeper and into his own goal. It was 1-0 to AV and the 20 or so traveling Panther fans let out a loud roar of approval.
The remainder of the half saw a fairly even game with AV’s better skills and possession play matched by Calistoga’s aggressive and tough style of play that disrupted many promising AV attacks. At the break the Panthers still had the narrow lead.
The second half opened well for AV and with just minutes gone Erik Martinez drove into the Wildcat penalty area. He passed two defenders and was rounding the goalkeeper and looked set to score when he was brought down by the keeper’s desperate lunge. A clearcut penalty, and in most matches a red card ejection for the goalkeeper too. Well, at least the referee gave the penalty kick, although not a word or even a yellow card was given against the ‘keeper. Moments later, Jose Gaxiola placed the ball calmly in the back of the net from the spot-kick and it was 2-0 to AV
Driven on by their fans, there was an inevitable response from Calistoga and they enjoyed a period of possession and created a couple of decent chances but Panther goalie Gerardo Torales, who was nearly ruled out of the match due to illness on the morning of the game, was up to the pressure, pulling off two very good saves to keep the Wildcats at bay. However, in the 60th minute, three Panther defenders surrounded the Wildcat winger but failed to prevent his cross from the left wing that saw an unguarded Calistoga forward head into the corner of the net from six yards out. It was 2-1.
AV weathered the storm and, like the earlier match against Roseland, they seemed to grow in confidence as they kept possession and maintained their self-belief and discipline. With ten minutes left, another surge into the opponent defense by Martinez saw the ball reach Gaxiola who steadied himself before unleashing a low drive into the far corner of the net. It was 3-1 and the victory was sealed. There were buoyant scenes at the final whistle as the Panther fans joined the players and coaches in celebration of a hard-earned and deserved win in an important game, one that puts AV at the top of the league standings at the half-way point of the season.
The season continues this week with three matches in four days, all away from home. Today, Wednesday, Oct 2, the team travels to Sonoma Academy in Santa Rosa (4:30pm) before making the very long trip to Tomales on Friday afternoon (4:30). Then, the very next day (Sat., Oct. 5) it is off to Fort Bragg for what is always a tough match in the annual Valley-Dweller/Fog-Eater Classic (5pm). The team returns home to Tom Smith Field next Wednesday, Oct. 9 against Geyserville at 4:30pm. Hope to see you there, or maybe even at one of the road games?! Come on you Panthers!
Current 2013 Record (won/lost/drawn): League 8-0-0. Overall 11-0-0. Goals scored: 68; Goals conceded: 3.