Following the huge disappointment of last week’s 1-2 loss against St. Vincent’s, it would be a challenge for the team to bounce back to winning ways. One way to perhaps raise spirits would be to play a match against the Alumni Team of former high school players and so, with the Mendocino High soccer program folding and thus leaving a gap in the schedule, this Alumni Match was organized at the last minute and took place last Wednesday evening at Tom Smith Field.
The school team started strongly and took the lead in the 12th minute when following a quick interchange of passes involving a number of players, Chirro Tovar drove the ball low and hard past the Alumni “keeper, David “Cat” Martinez from 15 yards out. The Alumni came back strong and had a number of opportunities to draw level but failed to take them. In the second half the “older” players” level of fitness compared to that of high schoolers began to tell and there were several very good chances for the younger Panthers to double their lead. Finally this came about with just ten minutes remaining when Marco Alarcon poked the ball past the ’keeper with the Alumni defense in disarray. It finished 2-0 to the school team and was the perfect tonic as they were to face one of the more difficult challenges of the season on Friday: Calistoga on the road.
The team made the two-hour journey down to Calistoga on a stiflingly hot afternoon that saw temperatures still in the low 90s at the 5pm kick-off time. This match was a part of the host’s Homecoming festivities and they had a good crowd in attendance, although the Panthers had their own fans too, with members of the Ferreira, Gaxiola, and Torales families making themselves heard with their enthusiastic support.
Calistoga came into the game on the back of a very good draw against last season’s league champions Roseland Prep followed by a comfortable 5-0 victory against Geyserville, however, with just two minutes gone, they were 0-1 down to AV when a speculative shot by midfield captain Moises Segura eluded a misjudged dive by the Wildcat ’keeper, the perfect start for the Panthers. Or was it? This early lead actually resulted in AV sitting back too much and Calistoga took advantage of their increased possession to put steady pressure on the Panther defense. In the 18th minute, just when it seemed that AV had “weathered the storm,” a Wildcat attack saw a shot beat ’keeper Elvis Gaxiola only for Abraham Sanchez to clear just before the ball crossed the line. There was a half-hearted appeal from some Calistoga players that the ball had crossed the line but the referee waved these off. However, the linesman (assistant referee), who was ten yards down the sideline from the end-line, and therefore not in line with the play, was waving his flag. The referee consulted with him and then awarded the goal! It was the kind of injustice that the Panthers could have done without, given last week’s unfortunate events, and it was a mystery how the linesman could be 100% sure the ball had crossed the line. anything less than 100% means the goal cannot be given. The AV coaching staff was very annoyed and expressed their feelings to the referee. He was not to be swayed by the AV coaches, although after the game he expressed dissatisfaction with his poorly positioned assistant for that particular call, along with a number of others. It was a difficult match to officiate with tempers flaring and a number of contentious moments. none of which is unusual, but overall the referee had a very good game.
The match settled into a pattern of play that saw AV generally playing the better football as opposed to the Wildcats’ more direct style. Just before the break, the hosts had a corner that saw the ball collected by ’keeper Gaxiola who immediately punted the ball long down the pitch where substitute David Eligio was marked by two defenders. The first one misjudged the flight of the ball and it fell to Eligio who took on the final man and, after getting slightly ahead, fired in a shot to the corner of the goal beyond the outstretched hand of the Calistoga goalie. A fine goal and it gave AV a deserved 2-1 half-time lead.
In the second half Calistoga, with the fans loudly behind them, had several chances to equalize but missed time and again as the Panther goal led a charmed life at times, perhaps a balancing out of the fates after last week’s ill-fortune at St. Vincent’s. Despite this, AV spurned two clear-cut chances of their own to put the game beyond doubt but they hung on to the narrow lead and it was a huge sigh of relief from the coaches along with scenes of joy amongst the players and fans that met the final whistle. 2-1 to AV. The Panthers were back on track, and the pizza rarely tasted so good on the way back to the Valley.
Our next two games are in Boonville with Sonoma Academy coming to town today, Wednesday, October 8 for a 5pm kick-off, immediately following the girls game. Then, on Friday for Homecoming, due to the unplayable surface at the Fairgrounds, the match against Tomales has been switched to the school field at 4.30pm. This has been a great disappointment to the players who were very much looking forward to playing under the floodlights in the 7.30pm “headline” game following the football game, as was originally scheduled. However, I believe it is the correct decision, with serious injuries a distinct possibility as the condition of the Fairgrounds field is so bad I’m not sure if I’d even graze my sheep there.
As always your support at the matches is much appreciated and given the change in venue and resulting disappointment this would be a great time to come out and show your support for the team. 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!
(Record (W/L/D): League: 7/1/0. Overall: 12/1/0.)