Every season has its “bumps in the road” and last Monday (Aug 30th) was certainly one for the young Panther team. We traveled to Cloverdale, a team we had beaten 9-1 last season, and on this occasion we lost 1-5! This score line certainly flattered the Eagles, as their coach readily pointed out after the game, but the best team won and the Panthers poor performance was difficult to explain given their opening day effort in San Francisco just days before. Two awful defensive errors in a very sloppy first half performance meant that despite Sergio Gutierrez’ third goal of the season the team was down 1-2 at the half. Unfortunately, after a very positive half-time discussion, in the very first minute of the second half a Cloverdale shot from over 30 yards out ended up rather fortuitously in the AV goal. The Panther’s spirit seemed to be temporarily broken for ten minutes or so, during which time two more goals were added by the buoyant Eagles team. To their credit, the Panthers battled back in the final quarter of the match and never looked liked conceding any more, although they rarely looked like scoring either. It was a sharp reminder that, if this team is to be successful, everyone must be prepared to match their undoubted skills with effort, teamwork, and concentration for the whole 80 minutes. A quiet van ride back to the Valley inevitably ensued.
Just two days later, another road trip saw the Panthers open league play at Sonoma Academy, a solid team who had made the playoffs last season. The coaches had decided on a couple of changes to the line-up and also in the formation and the mood amongst the players on the way down was one of seriousness and commitment. Their performance bore this out. AV dominated from the kick-off and in the 9th minute they took the lead when freshman Chuey Sanchez scored his first high school goal when he finished from close range following a free-kick by Junior Mendoza that was mishandled by the Coyotes’ ‘keeper. The Panthers should have added a few more goals as the Sonoma team were overwhelmed but it was not until the 28th minute that the second goal came when Sergio Gutierrez burst through the defense, went round the goalie, and slotted the ball home. Just before the half ended another goal came after a cross by Hector Cruz was headed on to the crossbar and down over the line by a hapless Coyote defender. 3-0 to AV.
There was something of a letdown in the first fifteen minutes of the second half with a succession of poor Panther passes giving the Coyotes some hope. They then won a penalty kick for handball in the penalty area but Christian Mendoza made a fine save to keep Sonoma scoreless. Almost immediately the Panthers added to their tally when a great run and pass by S. Gutierrez set up his fellow striker Elio Gonzales who finished in fine style. 4-0 to AV.
A fifth goal came on 63 minutes when, from an Omar Solano cross, the Coyote ‘keeper, who had played well overall, spilled the ball into his own goal and five minutes later the scoring was complete when S. Gutierrez’ scored his second goal with a nice chip past the goalie following an assist by Carlos Mendoza. It finished 6-0 to AV and after the tribulations on Monday there was a very different atmosphere in the vans for the trip home to the Valley via a fine dinner at El Sombrero in Healdsburg. (I urge you to try the delicious carnitas burrito if you get the chance!)
Finally last week, on Friday (Sept 3rd) came what was always going to be one of the most difficult games of the year — away at Calistoga, who are a play-off team every year and traditionally a very tough rival. Despite sticking to the new formation that was so successful against Sonoma, the Panthers came under heavy pressure from the kick-off and the Wildcats had a number of half-chances to score. However, the AV defense, once again led by the excellent Junior Mendoza, held firm and on the counter-attack Sergio Gutierrez was able to cause the opposition some problems. At the half neither team had been able to break the deadlock but Calistoga had certainly dominated possession and no doubt thought their time would eventually come.
At the half, Coaches Steve Sparks and Eddie Ferreyra encouraged the Panthers to continue to work hard and fight for every ball, explaining that if the Wildcats could be kept out a little longer then they would become frustrated. After almost fifteen minutes into the second half had been played the score was still 0-0 when Elio Gonzales broke forward from midfield and darted past two defenders before slipping the ball to Sergio Gutierrez who took a couple of strides forward wide of the goal before sending a shot screaming past the ‘keeper into the opposite corner. It was 1-0 to AV.
Calistoga was stunned and the Panthers took advantage when in the 60th minute Gutierrez was pulled down by a desperate defender in the penalty area and Sergio made no mistake from the penalty kick. 2-0 to AV. The Wildcats came back strongly but were kept out by a couple of fine saves by Christian Mendoza in the Panther goal and some all-round quality defensive play from every player, particularly those in the defense — the aforementioned Jr. Mendoza, Chavo Eligio, Chava Gutierrez, Manny Almeida, Scotty Johnston, ‘Cameron’ Murrillo, Chuey Sanchez, plus Hector Cruz, playing a crucial role in defensive midfield.
Sergio Gutierrez nearly put the game beyond doubt when he hit the post with ten minutes to go but shortly afterwards the Wildcats pulled a goal back from a header that eluded Christian Mendoza’s despairing dive. 2-1 to AV. The final few minutes were very tense but the Panthers held out and their joyous reaction at the final whistle showed how much they had worked for and wanted this splendid result against a very good Calistoga team. What a difference four days had made!
The ‘road trip’ of six-games in fifteen days that has opened our season continues this week with a visit to Tomales tonight (Wednesday, Sept 8th) and ends on Friday (10th) with a trip back down Hwy 101 to play at Rio Lindo outside Healdsburg. Then, finally, the team will get to play their first home game of the season when St. Helena comes to Tom Smith Field in Boonville on Saturday, September 11th for a 1pm kick-off. It would be very nice indeed to see a big crowd of friendly faces I can assure you!
Record: League 2-0-0; Overall 3-1-0.