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Panther Soccer (Oct 22, 2014)

The team desperately needed to rebound from the stunning loss against Tomales in last week’s Homecoming game. However, there still seemed to be downcast mood among the players last Wednesday lunchtime as they departed from the high school on their way to Rincon Valley for their next match. The journey was unusually quiet and the players did not seem to have the level of intensity that is required — hopefully it would pick up by game-time. Rincon had been handily defeated in the teams’ first meeting and they were struggling for survival in the top division. With the Panthers in desperate need of some confidence, securing a victory was vital to both teams.

The game started well for A.V. and they dominated possession but could not turn this into goals. Several good chances came and went without a goal, although two had been very narrowly ruled out for offside. It seemed the team just couldn’t get the break its efforts certainly deserved. Then in the 21st minute Fernando Ferreyra intelligently set up Gerardo Torales in on goal and the sophomore striker finally broke the deadlock with a good finish from fifteen yards out. 1-0 to A.V. — the long wait for a goal was over…

However, more profligacy in front of goal followed and the score line remained the same at the break. Despite being by far the better team, the finishing was still well below the quality of a couple of weeks or so ago, most likely due to both a lack of confidence and intensity. The latter of these issues was emphasized at the half but there was little more the coaches could do — the players had to work through this difficult time themselves. To some degree they did, as they opened the second half with a goal in the first thirty seconds from Moses Segura. Two more goals were added — by Chirro Tovar, the team’s top goalscorer who had not found the net for four matches, and David Eligio — before the bench players were brought on to play out the match with a comfortable 4-0 lead. That is how it finished — a good result from a mixed performance.

Expecting to just turn up and win against the teams towards the ‘wrong’ end of the standings is a dangerous game to play — as evidenced by the Tomales match last week. The players on the current team have as much ability, if not more, as most of their predecessors at A.V. but they have to back it up with the necessary determination and intensity to win matches. They are learning this but it takes time. Having said that, putting these all together has never been a problem for the ‘big matches’ and the biggest game of the season-to-date was next — away at Roseland Prep last Friday…

The match at Roseland was always going to be intense, and coupled with the hosts’ Homecoming festivities and the large, boisterous crowd of home fans, this would certainly be a big test for a Panther team that had struggled to find form of late. The pitch was in very poor condition but as Roseland also play skilful, pass-and-move football this would affect their game as adversely as it would the Panthers.’ However, the hosts settled in the better of the two teams during the early stages and generally dominated possession as A.V. struggled to contain the experienced and powerful Roseland team, one that started 7 seniors and a number of all-league players.

The Panther goal enjoyed a charmed life on a number of occasions and this, together with some excellent goalkeeping by Elvis Gaxiola, resulted in a goalless first half. A couple of tactical adjustments were made by the A.V. coaches and it was clear from the players’ efforts so far and the moral-boosting comments among them during the break that the Panthers were in a very different frame of mind to the lackluster group that had played the previous match.

The second half was certainly more evenly balanced as the traveling band of Panther fans certainly made themselves heard! With plenty of aggressive tackling, every player focusing on his responsibilities, and an extremely high workrate, A.V. started to create some chances of their own and perhaps should have scored on a couple of occasions on the counter-attack. Roseland, who had won every previous home game this season, were taken out of their earlier rhythm and some of their players began to get a little frustrated. With the A.V. defensive four playing with excellent discipline and determination, and the remaining players battling for every ball all over the pitch, the Knights were kept at bay and the game finished in a goalless draw — one of more exciting 0-0’s that anyone could remember.

It was a wonderful team effort and one that will be long remembered by those involved and the fans alike, a number of whom joined the team at the In-and-Out Burger for the post game dinner — the players’ meals being bought for them by ‘a loyal fan’ from the Valley who wishes to remain anonymous — a very generous and thoughtful gesture, for which the players expressed their gratitude.

With this hard-earned draw, A.V. can still win the regular season title if they win all four of their remaining fixtures and both St Vincent and Roseland drop a point somewhere else along the way — a draw when these two teams meet this week would do the trick! If that were to happen, and with A.V. winning the tie-break with Roseland due to a head-to-head record of one win and one draw against them, then the title’s destination would be back in the hands/claws/jaws of the Panthers…

Talking of those final four matches, the first of these is today, October 22, when A.V. plays its final regular season road game with a visit to Upper Lake before finishing the season with three home games… The first of these matches is the crucial, must-win re-match against St Vincent’s (conceding a last-second goal in the first match had given A.V. the first of their two losses this season) on Friday, October 24; kick off 4.30pm at Tom Smith Field. Then, at the same time next Wednesday, October 29, Calistoga come to the Valley for what is always a tough ‘battle’, before the regular season concludes with a final home game the very next day, Thursday, October 30, again at 4.30pm, against Point Arena.

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!

(Record: League (W/L/D) 9/2/1. Overall 13/2/1.)

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