Following the excellent road victory against St. Vincent a few days earlier, AV still could finish runner-up in the regular season and influence who the eventual winner would be. With two regular season games to go, AV was tied with Roseland Prep at second, just behind Calistoga, whom the Panthers visited last Wednesday, October 28th in the penultimate match.
Always a very intimidating place to play, this was no different. This was the Wildcats’ final regular season game and they were celebrating ‘Senior Night.’ The game could not have started much better for AV when, in just the 6th minute, Fernando Ferreyra embarked on a remarkable run, dribbling past four Calistoga players before weaving past a fifth who clumsily brought him down inside the penalty box. Up-stepped Chirro Tovar to place the ball into the corner of the goal from the penalty spot. 1-0 to AV. The Panthers continued to be the stronger team as the home team struggled to get into any rhythm despite the vociferous support of their many supporters. In the 17th minute, Tovar evaded a couple of back-peddling defenders before unleashing a tremendous unstoppable shot from nearly 30 yards out into the top corner of the net. 2-0 to AV. The partisan crowd was stunned into silence.
Both sides created some good chances over the next 20 minutes or so. Then, in the final minute of the half, a Wildcat player melodramatically fell down close to the Panther penalty box. The referee hesitated and it initially appeared that he had waved play on. Then, as the ball was cleared, he blew his whistle and gave a free-kick to Calistoga. (It gets worse). After several seconds passed, he changed his mind and decided that the ‘foul’ (if there had even been one) was inside the box and, to the astonishment of the Panther players, awarded Calistoga a penalty kick. After some understandable protests, the Wildcat player drove the ball low to Isaac Sanchez’s right. The agile ‘keeper dove and parried the ball around the outside of the post. A great save. The Calistoga bench players, coach, and supporters let out a collective groan of disappointment and the players prepared to take the ensuing corner kick. (Much worse). However, unnoticed by almost everyone, the referee’s assistant had his flag in the air. The referee ordered the penalty kick to be retaken. The assistant had ruled that the Panther ‘keeper had illegally moved forward before the kick was taken. This was not correct, as anybody who was watching could attest, including the Calistoga coaches and players, plus the player who had taken the shot! Given a second chance, the Mustang player shot towards the same spot and this time Sanchez got a hand on the ball but could not keep it out. 2-1 to AV at the half. AV coaches had a ‘few words’ with the official as the teams walked off.
Not for the first time, a high school soccer game had been unduly influenced by an overly officious referee’s assistant. I rarely complain about the officials. They make errors; players and coaches make mistakes all the time. The referees generally do a fine job and, when they don’t, the mistakes hopefully balance out equally and do not affect a game’s final outcome. This particular infringement is rarely called and, when it is, the goalkeeper has clearly moved a yard or so forward off his line. This was not at all the case here. Such an erroneous, unnecessary, and pivotal piece of officiating in a decisive game was frankly deplorable and not something anyone likes to see at any level of the sport.
The second half saw the Panthers unable to repeat their overall dominance of the first and Calistoga equalized on rebound at the Panther net. Ten minutes later, a ball ricocheted off the Panther goal which, after a scramble, found its way in.
AV fought back but the Wildcat defenders kept them from converting on two good chances to pull level. The game ended in defeat for AV, a great disappointment for the traveling supporters and everyone connected with AV.
This meant that AV would finish third, with Roseland Prep clinching the runner-up spot. Over the season, the Calistoga team deserved their first title in six years and we congratulate them and Coach Garcia, a fine coach and a good man. Sadly, the main topic of conversation on the journey back to the Valley was the penalty decision, not the well-played and hard-fought football match itself was a secondary topic for discussion.
Two days later, AV won the final game of the regular season in Point Arena, 4-1, with a hat-trick from Chirro Tovar and a fourth goal added by David Eligio. Not very rewarding because the pitch at this venue continues to be by far the worst playing surface in the league with hundreds of small potholes and tufts of grass that stick up from the otherwise dirt-covered playing area. It is dangerous and should be deemed unplayable. AV had two players unable to continue with knee and ankle twists (one serious) that were 100% the result of the playing surface, while the home team had one such incident. Any sort of skillful soccer is out of the question and injuries are almost inevitable.
Administrators at Point Arena should do their utmost to end to this unsatisfactory and long-standing problem. To make matters worse, the usually enjoyable postgame team dinner was stymied by a lack of restaurants, and the team had to resort to junk food. To top it all off, the van I was driving unavoidably hit a deer on Highway 1 as we drove back to the Valley, always an upsetting occurrence. I can assure you that it’s not all glamor in the world of high school sports!
The play-off draw was announced on Sunday and AV was deservedly given the #1 seeding as they strive to win their fourth successive small school Postseason Championship.* This means that they get a bye before facing SF Waldorf School in the quarter-final on Saturday, November 7 with a 2pm kick-off at Tom Smith Field in Boonville. If AV is victorious, the semi-final will be next Wednesday, November 11, same time, same place. Hope to see you there!
*(Note: Calistoga and Roseland Prep, who both finished above the Panthers at the end of the regular season, are significantly larger schools than AV and compete in the postseason play-offs for the bigger schools).
Current record (Won/Loss/Draw): League: 12. 3 – 1. Overall: 16. 3. 2.