Last Wednesday (Sept 30th), the Panthers once again were on their travels as they went south to play Rincon Valley Christian, a team that is in the middle of the standings but who always provide a strong, physical, and sometimes barely legal and almost ‘un Christian-like’ opposition. The same was true once again but thanks to four first half goals their resistance was never really going to change the end result and AV ran out 5-0 victors with goals from Sergio Gutierrez (3), and two freshmen, Jose Gaxiola and Omar Solano. The game was noteworthy in the sense that for the first time in eight years, the Panther coach – me, was given a yellow (warning) card as a result of three players deciding, for reasons known only unto themselves, to not take their ‘jewelry’ off prior to the game and playing in their ‘bling’ until spotted by the referee. I did not notice but the coach is ultimately responsible for his player’s adherence to the high school rules, which state this illegality, and hence my yellow, even though this is a rule every player is well aware of. You can be sure that the three culprits were saying to themselves ‘We shall never do that again’ after the little workout they were put through the following day at practice.
Friday night was the annual Homecoming game at The Fairgrounds in Boonville played in front of a boisterous crowd of families, friends, and supporters, with the Coyotes from Sonoma Academy providing the opposition, a team in mid-table position and one which the Panthers had beaten earlier in the season in Santa Rosa.
The fraternity of soccer coaches, featuring high school and college coaches, is very close knit in Northern California and word quickly spreads if there is a special player in their midst. Sonoma Coach, Chris Ziemer, is thus very familiar with the Panther’s Sergio Gutierrez, having followed the AV player’s exploits over the past few seasons, and he made provision in his line-up and tactics to take care of this, putting his fastest and most aggressive and athletic player, Johnny Moon, on Sergio at all times with help from two others when necessary. Johnny certainly stuck to his task in terms of the many tackles he made (some legal, some not), and almost made, on Sergio but ultimately it was to no avail as the Panther star, in his final Homecoming game, scored all three Panther goals to put them up 3-0 at the half. Then he provided the assists for the Panthers’ two second half goals for freshmen Jose Gaxiola and Omar Solano as AV ran out 5-2 victors. The terrible condition of the field that had not recovered at all from the rodeo that took place there two weeks previously at the County Fair meant that the game was not a ‘soccer spectacle’ and coaches, referees, and players bemoaned this fact at length — before, during and after the match. Ultimately this is to the detriment of the home team as the AV style is to play the ball on the ground and keep possession. The field at the school is far better and the Panthers produce their best performances there, so as the team strives for post season play, the possibility of yet another play-off match of ‘kick and run’ soccer, as a result of it being played on what is worse than many sheep/cattle pastures around here, is once again looming.
Talking of the play-offs, the seedings for the post-season are greatly influenced not only by a team’s league record but also by its performances in non-league games, and one of the Panthers’ most difficult of these would be at Fort Bragg on the very next afternoon, last Saturday Oct 2nd. This promised to be a tough match not just because of the late-night festivities at the Homecoming Dance etc. the night before, but also due to the fact that Fort Bragg is a very good team and is currently top of their own league. On top of that, Sergio Gutierrez would be playing with an injured back that he received as a result of the several fouls on him during the previous evening’s match.
The first half saw the Panthers struggling to play their usual possession game with several passes going astray and the talented and perhaps equally as skilful Timberwolves certainly played well. However, in the 25th minute, Elio Gonzales received the ball 20 yards from goal and sent in a swerving shot that eluded the ‘keeper’s dive and the ball went in off the post. 1-0 to AV. The second half saw a much improved effort and performance from the Panthers and for a long spell they dominated the game but with the injured Sergio G. clearly below par on this day it certainly affected the Panther offense and they wasted a couple of clear-cut opportunities to double their lead which would probably have put the game out of reach of the battling T’Wolves. With just five minutes to go a clumsy foul was given away on the edge of the AV penalty area and the Fort Bragg striker curled the ball over the defensive wall and despite Christian Mendoza getting his hand on the ball he could only palm it on to the post and it bounced into the net. It finished 1-1, probably a fair result overall but one that felt like a loss to the Panthers as they tried in vain to enjoy their pizza dinner in Fort Bragg before making the drive home in somber mood.
Next up is a very big game against third-placed Calistoga today (Oct 6th) at Tom Smith Field in Boonville, kick-off at 4.30pm. Some might say that the earlier 2-1 win for AV against Calistoga was somewhat fortunate and it will be a very tough match once again, so hopefully the fans will be there to give us support. There is no Friday game due to the collapse of the Tomales soccer program so the team will have a restful few days before playing once again at home next Wednesday (13th) against Rio Lindo, also at 4.30pm.
Current Record: League 9-0-1; Overall 11-1-2.