The season continued last week with three away games in just four days for the first-placed Panthers, surely an unintentional scheduling error by High School Athletic Director Robert Pinoli that saw the team travel over 500 miles in that short period of time! With this in mind, a number of bench players were added to the traveling squad to give some players a break, and also to provide the reserves with the experience of playing an away match.
First up was Sonoma Academy, a team AV had beaten 3-0 at home a month ago but who had been playing well and were lying in 4th place in the league at game time on Wednesday afternoon. The Panthers dominated the early stages and took the lead in just the 5th minute when Omar Solano, one of the most consistent Panther performers over the past few weeks, split open the Coyote defense with a fine pass that saw Jose Gaxiola run through and go round the goalkeeper before placing the ball into the net. 1-0 to AV.
The Coyotes rarely broke into the Panther half and when they did AV’s central defensive pairing of Effrain Gonzales and Abraham Sanchez soon dealt with the threat. A second goal was added in the 21st minute when Gaxiola dribbled past two defenders on the edge of the Coyote penalty area before slipping the ball past the ‘keeper square to Chirro Tovar who prodded the ball over the line from a few yards out. 2-0 Panthers.
The second half was just two minutes in when the third goal came, effectively ending the contest. Fernando Ferreyra crossed from the left, Erik Martinez stepped over the ball, and there was Gaxiola to get his second with a low drive into the far corner from 15 yards out. Sonoma played some better soccer in the second half as AV gave significant minutes to the bench players but it was the Panthers who scored their fourth and the games final goal in the 60th minute when another good cross from Ferreyra found Moises Segura at the back post who easily beat the goalie from a few yards out. Final score 4-0 to AV and, although the overall performance had not been as smooth as in recent games, it was a good win against a difficult opposition which was celebrated with a fine feast enjoyed by the whole team at In-and-Out Burger on the way home, with some players eating multiple burgers and fries to prove that they could!
Two days later the team made one of the longer trips of the year when visiting Tomales for the first time in five years, a period during which the Braves did not have a team. After a two-hour journey that ended up in the midst of dozens of dairy farms in West Sonoma, the team arrived to find out that the officials had not been assigned. It was agreed that assistant coaches from both sides would do the job instead.
It was apparent from the start of the match that Tomales were going to just play safety first and almost all of their players repeatedly just booted the ball upfield for their best two players to try and cause problems for the AV defense. Meanwhile, the Panthers missed several clear-cut chances to score with some very poor finishing. With two starting midfielders missing due to illness, and key striker Jose Gaxiola getting twisting his ankle in the first twenty minutes on the very poor playing surface, AV lacked much cohesion. Nevertheless it came as a shock when for the first time all season, and this was game 13, AV found themselves behind when from one of those aforementioned “big boots” upfield, the Tomales striker went past two defenders far too easily and hammered the ball into the roof of the Panther net. 0-1 to the Braves and that is how it stood at the half.
The half-time talk was blunt and to the point, and most importantly it had the desired affect. With substitute Romario Espinoza providing some much needed calmness to the Panther midfield, the Panthers clawed their way back into the game in a half that they completely dominated as the Braves tired. At the break the coach had asked for four goals and that is what he got. These came from Moises Segura, Pancho Lievanos, and two from Chirro Tovar, with three of the assists coming from Romario. It finished 4-1 and the Panthers 100% record was intact. It would undoubtedly be put under much more pressure the very next afternoon at Fort Bragg.
* * *
The events that unfolded in Fort Bragg were so unjust and frustrating that two days later I am still shaking my head in disbelief.
The match in question was played last Saturday, an annual game that is non-league but is a traditional fixture and invariably a tough battle against a significantly larger school and usually very enjoyable. The first half was even, with few clearcut chances for either side and it was 0-0 at the break. The referee had been overly officious, as he is known to be, but at least he was “nitpicking” equally against both sides. However, in the fourth minute of the second half, from a contentious free-kick, Panther ‘keeper Gerardo Torales caught the ball cleanly but was then hit in the air by the Fort Bragg forward, causing the ball to drop into the goal. Torales was injured on the play and stayed on the ground for nearly 15 minutes receiving treatment and could not continue. Midfielder Moises Segura replaced him in goal. Panther protests about the clearly illegal challenge fell on deaf ears and it was 0-1 to the Timberwolves. Ten minutes later, with the ball 20 yards away, a Panther defender and Timberwolf forward were running alongside each other when the forward tripped. To the obvious surprise of both sets of players, coaches, and fans, the referee gave a penalty kick against AV — the Timberwolves scored from the penalty spot and it was 0-2. AV was shocked by these decisions but to their credit they battled back and dominated the final 30 minutes, pulling a goal back with 15 minutes to go. The Timberwolves were reeling under the pressure, and an equalizing goal seemed imminent. But incredulously the referee blew the full-time whistle after just six minutes had been added for injury time when it should have been more than twice that. It was a travesty and AV players were incensed, leading to two of them receiving red cards after the game for comments to the referee as he hurried from the field. It was 1-2 to Fort Bragg; they had beaten AV for the first time in six years, and the Panthers’ 100% record was at an end.
In over 50 years of involvement in soccer, I have complained about the officials very infrequently; accepting that as long as they are fair to both sides it is what it is and must be accepted as part of the game. After all, players and coaches also make mistakes. I have also learned that one’s credibility is far greater after a victory than a loss. However, such was the erroneous nature of these calls that I can say without any reservation that this official’s decisions directly led to the Panthers’ defeat and his ability to referee at this level is very questionable. Furthermore, it should be added that the Fort Bragg coach was in agreement with my complaints and several of the Timberwolf players also commented to me that they were “sorry about the ref” after the game. I think that says it all.
* * *
The season continues this week with two league matches. Today, Wednesday, Oct. 9, the team hosts Geyserville at Tom Smith Field at 4.30pm before making the trip to Roseland Prep in Santa Rosa on Friday afternoon (4.30) for the match that could well decide the regular season title. Hope to see you at least one of these. Come on you Panthers!
Current 2013 Record (won/lost/drawn): League: 10-0-0. Overall: 13-1-0. Goals scored: 77. Goals conceded: 6.