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Panther Soccer (Oct 1, 2014)

Despite the Valley’s first “proper” rain for several months hitting Boonville around kick-off time last Wednesday (Sept 24), it was clear that the Panthers were far more concerned with the impending match against Roseland Prep, a team with whom they were tied at the top of the league standings. Right from the beginning it was apparent that this game would be a step up in quality compared to some of the recent matches played at Tom Smith Field that have seen the Panthers dominate significantly weaker teams than the Knights from Santa Rosa.

In an intense and high tempo first half, direct chances on goal were at a premium, the best of which fell to Panther striker Gerardo Torales who was one-on-one with the goalkeeper only to be denied by a tremendous block greeted by a collective groan form the hardy gathering of Panther fans huddled under assorted umbrellas and canopies on the sideline. The tackles were hard but generally fair from both teams and the overall quality of play was remarkable given the treacherous conditions. It was 0-0 at the break with AV’s excellent start matched by a strong finish to close out the half by Roseland.

The Panther coaches stressed the need to come out strong in the first 10-15 minutes of the second half, a time when so many games are decided. The players followed the instruction perfectly. Just five minutes in, from a clearance to the left wing, the ball was collected by Chirro Tovar who, urged on by the bench, swerved past the wide defender and headed for the end-line where he began to cut in towards goal. As two defenders closed him down, he made a superb, low and hard pass across the center of the box where it was met by Moises Segura about 15 yards from goal. The powerful midfielder hammered the ball goal-wards that seemed to be heading for the top corner of the goal only for it to crash against the cross bar and down onto the goal line from where it bounced out. A split-second later the predatory Torales pounced on the rebound and blasted the ball into the net from seven yards out. The roar of the crowd told the story: 1-0 to AV.

While it may be said that AV deserved this lead, Roseland is not a team to turn down a challenge. They began to dominate possession significantly, although with central defenders Efrain Gonzales and Abraham Sanchez in fine form there were few clear-cut chances for the visitors. Segura nearly added a second for AV when he headed just wide from a corner but other than that the last 20 minutes saw Roseland encamped in the Panther half of the field. As the pressure mounted it seemed like an equalizer would come but with the midfield four of Moses Segura, Fernando Ferreyra, Marco Alarcon, and Christian Guerrero, battling ferociously for every ball, the wide defenders Gualberto Gastelum and Steven Ruiz keeping the dangerous Roseland wingers in check, and Elvis Gaxiola in goal doing all that was asked of him, the Panthers held on for a famous victory, celebrated joyfully at the final whistle by players, coaches, and the wonderfully raucous fans alike.

It was a narrow but arguably deserved win, given the effort put in by each and every one of the Panther players. Roseland had not been beaten by AV since 2009, a run of eight matches, five draws and three narrow Panther defeats. The match was a credit to the players of both sides and provided a spectacle that everyone who was there no doubt thoroughly enjoyed, even if they were soaking wet by the game’s end. With the winless run against an always-tough Roseland off their backs, it was time to turn to perhaps a more frustrating one to deal with: the matches played on St. Vincent’s astro-turf field in Petaluma. Since the Mustangs joined the league in 2011, this has not been a happy hunting ground for AV, having lost there on all three occasions against a good but beatable team. The team made the two-hour journey south on Friday afternoon and seemed ready to stop this other winless streak.

The game followed similar pattern to the three previous meetings in that AV generally dominated, although on this occasion they took the lead. Marco Alarcon scoring a first half goal with a fine shot from 20 yards out. It was a tight match but the hosts rarely directly threatened the Panther goal. With 20 minutes to go the Panthers began to lose their way a little, giving up possession far too cheaply, and St. Vincent’s created a couple of good chances that narrowly missed ending up in the back of the AV net. With less than five minutes to go, just when it seemed the match was going to end in a narrow Panther victory, the hosts were given a huge break when they were awarded a penalty kick after their striker was brought down by the inexperienced Elvis Gaxiola in the Panther goal. It was a good call and the St. Vincent captain made it 1-1 from the penalty spot. It was harsh to be level after generally being in control of the match but a draw was better than in previous visits and was perhaps acceptable. However, with literally the final kick of the game, following a scramble in the Panther box, the ball was prodded over the line and St. Vincent’s had snatched a victory from the jaws of defeat. They celebrated accordingly as the Panther team walked off the pitch with heads down, shocked, inconsolable. I write this report 48 hours after the match finished and it still leaves me shaking my head. I have been directly involved, as a player or coach, in well over 1000 matches over the past 50-plus years and cannot recall losing to a last-kick goal, although it probably did occur at some point in the past. Bringing a ten-game winning streak to an end made it particularly tough to stomach for us all and the effect on a normally boisterous team during the long drive home was palpable. People say you learn from such experiences, and after all it’s just a game and there is another one to play soon. All very true, but over this weekend the players will have been terribly disappointed and downhearted. Nevertheless, knowing them as I do, I have a firm belief that our next opponents will face a very determined Panther team, united in their desire to move on from adversity and to get back to winning ways.

Those next opponents will be Calistoga, in a match that is part of the Wildcats’ Homecoming festivities on Friday, October 3. This is always a tough game and the hosts will be buoyed by their draw against Roseland Prep last Friday at the same time as the Panthers were going down to defeat in Petaluma. It will be quite a game. Our next games in Boonville will be next week (Mendocino, today’s scheduled opponents, have folded), when the Panthers have back-to-back matches against Sonoma Academy on Wednesday, October 8 at 4.30pm, and then Tomales for our own Homecoming on Friday, October 10, at a time to be determined. As always your support at the matches is much appreciated. We play exciting football and, as I’ve often said, vociferous home crowd support is probably worth a goal a game! Hope to see you there. Come on you Panthers!

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