The final stages of the 2015 Play-offs took place last week with #1 seeded AV facing St Elizabeth’s from Oakland in the semi-final on, rather unfortunately, Wednesday, November 11th. Veterans Day. As a result of the school being closed in observation of this important event, very few spectators, perhaps 30, were in attendance for the match.
Nevertheless, the Panthers were inspired enough to produce a solid performance against a team who occasionally threatened but who were generally dominated by the hosts. It was 3-0 at the half with goals from Fernando Ferreyra (2) and Chirro Tovar, following fine assists by Gerardo Torales (2) and Christian Guerrero. Once the fourth goal went in, following a fine pass from Guerrero to Ferreyra to complete the latter’s hat-trick, the Panther bench players were introduced for the remainder of the match. A fifth goal was scored with some aplomb by Ulises Garcia and the game finished as a comfortable 5-0 victory for AV
Three days later the Panthers played in the Championship Game for their fifth postseason Small School Title in the last six years and fourth in succession. The opponents were Geyserville, a team AV had narrowly beaten 2-1 in the regular season and one that had caused the Panthers problems on numerous occasions over recent seasons with their packed-in defensive style of play and tremendous work rate.
Saturday afternoon’s encounter saw sunny skies over Anderson Valley and, following the team introductions and rendition of the national anthem, about 150 people were assembled when the game kicked-off at 2pm.
In just the 3rd minute, with the visiting Broncos hardly having a kick of the ball, from a throw-in just inside the Panther half, some very slack marking by a couple of AV players resulted in a Geyserville striker break in on goal from the left wing from where, just as he was about to be tackled, he managed poke the ball with some power towards goal and the shot eluded Isaac Sanchez in the Panther goal and ended up in the corner of the net. 1-0 to Geyserville!
The Panther players and coaches were not unduly concerned as surely AV would have numerous chances to overcome this early setback. After all, in that previous meeting between the teams in September, I had written, “the game was completely dominated by AV; the final shot count was an extremely lop-sided 28 to 4!”
Sure enough two or three half-chance had already been spurned by AV when in the 10th minute Christian Guerrero hammered a shot on target from 25 yards out that took a slight deflection on its goalbound journey that was just enough to take it past the Bronco 'keeper and into the net. It was 1-1.
The Panthers continued to press and create good openings but the Bronco defense managed to keep them at bay until the 27th minute when the ball was only half-cleared from a Panther corner kick and midfielder Jorge Mejia blasted it into the top left hand corner of the net from twenty yards out. It was a tremendous shot and just the third goal of the season for sophomore Mejia, and certainly the most important. AV had a 2-1 lead and the defensive-minded Geyserville team would have to come out of their shell if they were to get back in the game. This they had trouble doing and AV should have added to their lead before the half but it remained a one-goal game at the break.
The second half was more of the same as AV, being vociferously cheered on by the home supporters, could not turn their dominance into an all-important third goal. Chance after chance came and went and the tension was palpable as Geyserville continued to thwart all of AV’s efforts and knew they were still in with a chance if they could catch the Panthers with a counter attack. Again I refer to the earlier meeting when I had commented in the report that “turning possession and shots into goals continued to be a problem for the Panthers. They just could not put the ball in the net.” It was, as they say, deja vu all over again!
The Broncos were hemmed into their half of the field, breaking out just a handful of times in the second half as their goal was under siege. Then, with 18 minutes remaining and frustration slowly creeping in as a number of questionable refereeing decisions went against AV and further broke up any flow the Panthers were trying to get in to, Christian Guerrero and Gerardo Torales combined well in midfield before the latter broke forward before threading the perfect pass through the Bronco back line to the on-rushing Chirro Tovar. This move had paid handsome dividends all season long and Tovar added to his pre-game goal tally of 40 goals when he calmly advanced on the goal from the right and placed the ball wide of the on-rushing ’keeper and into the corner of the net. 3-1 to AV and the crowd went wild with delight.
Six minutes later, Torales again broke forward past two desperate defenders and was brought crashing to the ground by a third inside the penalty box. It was an easy decision for the referee to award the penalty kick and Tovar stepped up and placed the ball into the net to give AV what was almost certainly an unassailable lead. The icing on the cake was provided with a superb end-to-end goal with five minutes to go, a move that culminated in a tremendous defense-splitting pass by Ulises Garcia to set up Tovar for his third goal of the half as the striker gave the ’keeper no chance from fifteen yards out. There was a little testiness in the dying moments as the frustrated Broncos became a little too physical which the Panthers reacted poorly to. However, it was all very silly and ended quickly just before the final whistle blew. It had finished 5-1, a scoreline somewhat closer to a true reflection of the overall game than the situation had been with over three-quarters of the match played.
Following the victory, the AV players, coaches, families, friends, and fans celebrated accordingly as the presentation of the trophy and medals took place. It was a joyous scene that continued into the night at The Buckhorn in Boonville and then later at the wedding of the sister of Assistant Coach Chuy Sanchez being held at the Apple Hall where, as the head coach of the team of 18 local Mexican boys (several of whom were in attendance), I was treated very well indeed! It was a day and night to remember and the perfect end to five months of many highs and a few lows, both on and off the field; a journey hat has certainly seen the players improve as fútbol players and hopefully also become better human beings on the way.
The team’s success owes much to the contributions of two AV Fútbol alumni who have helped at team practices as my Assistant Coaches. Eddie Ferreyra and Chuy Sanchez. I must also mention other very supportive former players who have helped the team in various ways this season. Sergio Gutierrez, Moises Segura, and Omar Solano, plus team spiritual advisor, Arthur Robben.
And finally at this time, I would like to express the gratitude of myself and the players to our fans, quite a number of whom never miss a home game. The support of them all is much appreciated and, as I’ve often said, the vociferous home crowd support we get during the games is recognized by the players on the field and is probably worth a goal a game! Thank you all so much. this Championship is as much yours as ours.
AVHS Boys Soccer Team. 2015 NCS Champions
Standing, left to right: Coach Steve Sparks, Assistant Coach Eddie Ferreyra, Fernando Ferreyra, Johnnie Magana, Christian Guerrero, Isaac Sanchez, Chirro Tovar, Carlos Hernandez, Omar Mendosa, Nati Alvarez
Kneeling, left to right: David Eligio, Jorge Mejia, Christian Guera, Alan Gonzales, Ulises Garcia, Abraham Sanchez, Izac Parra, Gerardo Torales.
Lying down: Jorge Medina