The soccer program’s ‘road trip’ of six-games in 15 days that has opened our season continued last week with a visit to chilly Tomales on Wednesday, Sept 8th. Well, not quite. As the coaches were about to pick up the vans from the Elementary School, a message was received through a casual conversation with a refereeing friend of one of our coaches that Tomales, a school with a very successful football (American) program, had cancelled their soccer program a few weeks earlier. It turned out that they had then failed to notify other schools. This was a nine-hour excursion (travel, game, dinner) that had been planned for and expected and now it had been called off at the very last moment and we were informed only due to a fluke. Thankfully, word had been received moments before departure on a 2.5-hour journey each way but that was no thanks to the Tomales Athletic Director.
Two days later the vans drove out of the Valley for a far shorter trip to Healdsburg to play the Rio Lindo Spartans — a team that is quite possibly the poorest in the league, although their effort certainly cannot be faulted. The Panthers completely dominated the match and despite both the use of their bench players for extended periods and also the referee ending the game fifteen minutes early (using an unofficial ‘mercy’ rule not a part of soccer usually, even at high school), the AV squad won 15-0 with goals from Sergio Gutierrez (3), Hector Cruz (2), Chava Gutierrez (2), Kevin Espinoza (2) Jose Gaxiola, Elio Gonzales, Chuey Sanchez, Chavo Eligio, Scott Johnston, and regular ‘keeper Christian Mendoza getting some playing-time as a striker. The 15-day, six game run of road games to open our season was over and the Panthers had a record of 5-1, a fine accomplishment indeed.
The first home game of the season was a non-league match-up on Saturday (Sept 11th) as the Panthers played hosts to the always solid St. Helena Saints in front of a crowd of about 100 fans at Tom Smith Field next to the high school. Following the observation of a minutes silence in honor of the recently deceased coach for whom the field is named, the game got underway and from the start AV piled on the pressure with several penetrating attacks and solid play throughout the team. However, the Saints were a good team and had a couple of dangerous attacks themselves and for twenty minutes the game was finely poised. Then in the 24th minute Junior Mendoza floated a free-kick in over the top of the Saints defenders and Sergio Gutierrez ran in and met it perfectly, lofting the ball over the ‘keeper on the volley and into the top corner of the goal. 1-0 to AV.
The Panthers had several chances to increase their lead but it remained 1-0 at the half. Finally, just five minutes into the second half Jose Gaxiola made a good run down the wing and crossed the ball into area where it was met by the head of S. Gutierrez who steered the ball home to give AV a 2-0 lead. Ten minutes later, and with AV pushing hard, another fine cross from Junior Mendoza found S. Gutierrez all alone at the back post and he had the simplest of headers to give both him and the Panthers their third goal. It seemed like the game was over but just two minutes later the splendid Panther defense ‘fell asleep’ for the only time in the game and it proved costly when the Saints took a quick free-kick and a forward broke through the hesitant defense and slipped the ball past the unprotected Christian Mendoza in goal. 3-1 to AV.
However, the Saints’ fight-back was short-lived as in the 66th minute the three-goal lead was restored with the hat-trick hero Sergio Gutierrez turning provider when his pinpoint pass resulted in Elio Gonzales having the simplest of tap-ins to make it 4-1. Finally with a few minutes remaining, substitute Jose ‘El Cameron (The Shrimp)’ Murrillo ran on to another fine ball from Junior Mendoza and calmly slipped the ball wide of the keeper for his first goal ever for the school. It finished 5-1 and the Panthers had produced their most complete performance of the season so far.
Coming up today Wednesday (Sept 15th) at 4.30pm at home it’s back to league play when the Pirates from Point Arena come to town with their 3-1 record. Then, of course, on Friday evening (Sept 17th), at 7pm at The County Fair, we welcome the long-time rival Cardinals from Mendocino and the battle for the Apple Cup will once again commence. Hope to see you there. Your support is always greatly appreciated.
Record: League 4-0-0; Overall 6-1-0.