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Panther Soccer (Oct 15, 2014)

The visit of Sonoma Academy to the Valley last Wednesday was always going to be a tough match despite the Coyotes’ position near the bottom of the standings. This would be the second meeting of the teams. AV winning the earlier match 4-0 and the Sonoma coach is one of the brightest in the league. He would certainly have a game plan to counter the Panthers’ intentions.

Sure enough he packed the midfield, the area of the pitch where many games are decided, and throughout the first half the Panthers found it hard to play with any real cohesion, repeatedly being frustrated by the very hard-working and determined visitors. The match was scoreless at the break, following what had been a very unsatisfying 40 minutes for Panther players and fans alike.

The second half saw a somewhat improved performance by AV as their overall superior skill began to finally show as numerous chances were created, but missed. However, in the 63rd minute, Chirro Tovar finally got to the end-line and crossed high just beyond the back post. The back-peddling Sonoma ’keeper caught the ball but then fumbled it as he crashed into Moises Segura, the Panther captain, loitering with intent behind him. The ball fell to Segura’s feet and, with the ’keeper blocking any possible shot on goal, he intelligently squared the ball across the goal where the predatory Gerardo Torales was on hand to poke it into the net from seven yards out: 1-0 to AV. A sigh of relief by the coaches, as the players celebrated and the supporters screamed, expressing the frustration to that point.

With the 1-0 lead, the Panthers then managed to create and yet somehow miss three or four guilt-edged chances to put the game away. This lead to a nerve-wracking final few minutes as the visitors inevitably threw caution to the wind and forced a couple of corners from which their taller players forced Elvis Gaxiola in the Panther goal to make two fairly comfortable saves that could have been far more difficult had the headers been better directed. The whistle blew. AV had won but overall it was a below-par performance and one that would not hold up against the teams nearer the top of the division.

The following day’s practice was a good one, everyone wanted to put their lackluster efforts in the Sonoma game behind them and move on toward Friday’s Homecoming match against Tomales, a team in the lower league but having a very good season with just two losses in 13 games.

Due to the unplayable surface at The County Fairgrounds in Boonville, as deemed by the referees, the match was switched to the school field at 4.30pm. This was 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 high school football game, as was originally scheduled. Hopefully the school’s administrators would make an effort to see that the event was not a mere sideshow to events elsewhere.

Unfortunately for AV, the writing had been on the wall and the poor display against Sonoma was repeated. In fact it was perhaps a little worse and despite attempting 22 shots at goal to just three by the visitors, the Panthers suffered a stunning 0-1 loss. It was one of those once-in-a-season games when everything seemed to go wrong and, coupled with several players turning in their most disappointing performance of the season all on the same day, the final result was always a possibility. This occurred despite AV dominating possession and being rarely under any pressure in defense as shot after shot by the AV team was either saved or missed the target at the other end of the pitch. These missed opportunities were the reasons for the defeat, no doubt, although there were other factors that added to the misery.

This defeat will have its “costs.” Not only will it possibly cost the Panthers a regular season title, it might well have repercussions when it comes to AV’s post season seeding. However, equally as important is the potential “cost” as a result of the behavior of a small number of our fans at the game whose abuse of the officials could lead to some sort of sanction against the program. I am at a loss to explain this behavior other than that AV were losing for most of the second half and the fans’ emotions got the better of them after a couple of very debatable referee calls went against the home side, one of which when a clear cut penalty kick appeal was turned down. This is, of course, no excuse, and when some of the vitriol was directed towards AV players, something I had not witnessed before in 12 years of coaching at AV, it had obviously “crossed a line” and was unacceptable.

The referees came to me midway through the second half and threatened to call an end to the game if the Panther fans did not stop their comments, something I was not aware of from the other side of the pitch. For a time our Athletic Director Robert Pinoli was at the game as the Field Administrator but he left early in the second half and no other member of the high school staff or faculty was in attendance. A sad state of affairs on a few levels. So there was nobody with “authority” over on the sideline fans to calm things down. This inflammable situation is one that should never have arisen in the first place, but one that would have been dealt with by any administrator from the school — if one had been there. The referees may feel the need to take this further, even though it was just a small minority of fans who were unruly.

The game was indeed switched from being the “main attraction” at the Fairgrounds under the lights to a “sideshow” at the school in the afternoon. To myself and the players it seemed that there was little or no interest in the soccer game by the “powers-that-be” at the school. There was no announcement of the line-ups, no national anthem, and eight balloons and a “Homecoming” sign hardly invoked a celebratory mood. Indeed, there was not a single person employed by the school even in attendance at the Homecoming game, apart from during the period of Mr. Pinoli’s attendance. This was surely no way to present Homecoming for any of our school’s sport teams, and certainly not for a program that has repeatedly put our school in a good light both throughout the Valley and far beyond with its remarkable level of success over the last 15 years or so.

Therefore, despite the large crowd of families and friends who did their best to raise the spirits of the team, this scenario was a real blow to the players. The school’s perceived apathy regarding this important day in the lives of these high school student athletes was viewed as a slap in the face by many. Soccer is a great sport, not just an “ activity” as some folks seem to think. I would suggest that the sooner this fact is accepted by one and all the better we shall serve the needs of the many sport-loving school children in our community.

Our next three games are on the road. Today, Wednesday, October 15, the team travels down to north east Santa Rosa to play Rincon Valley, and then on Friday (Oct 17) it is a match that may well end up deciding the regular season title (once-beaten St Vincent’s notwithstanding) when AV goes south to Santa Rosa once more to face perennial top team Roseland Prep who will be bent on revenge following their only league defeat so far at AV a few weeks ago. Next Wednesday the team plays in Upper Lake before finishing the regular season with three home matches at which your attendance would be greatly appreciated. Hope to see you there. Come on you Panthers!

Record: League (W/L/D) 8/2/0. Overall: 13/2/0.

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