The first home league game of the season saw the Pirates of Point Arena come to the Valley last Wednesday for a 4.30 match-up with the hometown Panthers. The Pirates are always a decent team although rarely have they threatened the top few teams for the league title in recent seasons.
The game started well for the Panthers when, in just the 4th minute, Jose Gaxiola was unmarked at the back post to meet a cross from Sergio Gutierrez and he skillfully placed the ball past the ‘keeper and into the net. 1-0 to AV. The Panthers doubled their score in the 18th minute when Sergio G. pounced on a poor clearance by the Pirate defense, rounded the final defender and slipped the ball into the corner of the goal. Then in the 26th minute, Elio Gonzales dribbled past a defender before passing the ball wide of the goal on the right to Sergio G. who took the ball in his stride before sending a ferocious shot past the motionless ‘keeper into the roof of the net. 3-0 to AV at the half.
The Pirates bounced back with a goal in the early stages of the 2nd half following some sloppy Panther defending but the three-goal lead was re-established shortly afterwards when Sergio G’s speed took him past two defenders with ease, before he took the ball round a third and blasted the ball into goal from ten yards out. 4-1 to AV. Pressure by the Pirates followed for several minutes but the safe handling of Christian Mendoza in the Panther goal kept them at bay before a fifth and final Panther goal was added when Carlos Mendoza scored his first goal of the season following a pass from Sergio G. In the dying moments the Pirates got a second consolation goal following confusion between the Panther defense and ‘keeper Christian Mendoza but that was all they could muster and the match finished in a comfortable 5-2 victory for AV.
Two days later the perennial rivals from Mendocino High come to town to play for the Apple Cup at the County Fair. The pre-game ceremonies included a short but moving tribute to former Panther coach Tom Smith and a wonderful rendition of the national anthem by high school junior, Olivia Allen, as a couple of hundred spectators in the stands provided a great atmosphere. Unfortunately, as a soccer spectacle, the game was always going to be somewhat disappointing with the Cardinals having fallen on hard times in recent years. Their program has slipped drastically from consistently being one in contention for the league title to one trying to avoid bottom spot. But the good news from a Panther perspective was that 19 players on the 23-man Panther squad were able to play in this lop-sided match-up. (Two were injured and two were absent for spurious reasons).
As coach in such a game, you certainly want to win of course, in fact you want to win convincingly against such a long-term rival. But there is no need to humiliate the opposition too badly. Ideally, what is needed is a solid victory in which the senior players get significant playing time and the bench players get about 30-plus minutes in front of family and friends. I decided that I would play the starters for about 20 minutes, score some goals, then divide the whole squad into two teams, each consisting of equal numbers of regular starters and bench players, and these two teams would evenly split the rest of the match. This system would work very well, providing the starters scored a few early goals.
It was 2-0 after five minutes and 3-0 after 15. The starters had done their job and for the rest of the game the Panthers alternated evenly between their two squads. It finished 8-0 with senior Sergio Gutierrez scoring five goals in his final Apple Cup game. The other goals came from Hector Cruz, Elio Gonzalez, and Juan Lua. The plan worked very well; the team received the Cup from Fair Director, Jim Brown, and despite being drenched with water in the traditional way, courtesy of players Carlos Mendoza and Juan Lua, this particular coach felt very good about the win and the evening’s proceedings as a whole.
Things will be significantly more competitive and serious for the game that takes place tonight (Wednesday, the 22nd) in Santa Rosa against Roseland Prep — arguably the league’s strongest team. They were the only team to beat AV last year in regular season play and have lost none of their starting players to graduation since then. Both teams have 100% winning records at this point in league play and therefore it will be a key game in deciding this season’s title race. After tonight’s match-up, the Panthers face the lowly Geyserville team on Friday afternoon (Sept. 24th) at home at 4.30pm. Once again your support at Tom Smith Field would be greatly appreciated.
Current Record: League 6-0-0; Overall 8-1-0