Last Monday afternoon (Oct 18th), the team traveled to face the Wolverines of Willits for the final non-league game of the season in what would be a stern test against a team in second place in their own league. Inter-league games are important in deciding postseason rankings for the play-offs at which point all the leagues send their best representatives for the Nor Cal Coast Championships which begin in the first week of November.
The game began poorly for AV when in the 7th minute, from a throw-in on the left side of their defense, the Panthers were exposed by the Wolverine’s very long throw over the top of the defender to an onrushing forward who blasted the ball low and hard past the despairing dive of Christian Mendoza. The ‘keeper did get a partial hand on to the ball but it was not enough to prevent it crossing the line. 0-1 to Willits.
A couple of things became very apparent over the following period of play – Willits were a physically strong and tall team but their main offensive threat would come from these long throw-ins and not much else. This would be hard for AV to counter as at least five Wolverines were taller than the tallest Panther on the field and they would be winning virtually every ball in the air. The other obvious tactic of note was that Willits had one player virtually ‘glued’ to Panther marksman, Sergio Gutierrez, wherever he moved, no matter where the ball was on the field, with help from two other defenders whenever Sergio got the ball. Clearly the Wolverine coach had been talking to coaches on other teams and had done his ‘homework’.
Nevertheless, in the 14th minute, a flowing move up the field resulted in Elio Gonzalez passing the ball wide to Omar Solano who delivered a fine cross to the near post where the ever-alert Sergio G. was just a stride quicker than his markers and able to prod the ball past the Wolverine ‘keeper. 1-1. Sometimes, no matter what the defense does, the G-man still makes his mark on a game.
The game was evenly poised for the remainder of the first half but twice the Panthers were saved when defenders cleared the ball off the line from those headed-on throw-ins with Mendoza beaten in the Panther goal. The second half saw chances go to AV also and on two occasions Sergio G. managed to elude his markers and get a shot on goal, both saved superbly by the Wolverine ‘keeper. Each teams’ defense played very well but in the end it was Willits who were hanging on to avoid defeat and this they just managed to do as it finished 1-1. A disappointing result perhaps but over the eighty minutes probably a fair reflection of the play.
A couple of days later, the team visited old rivals, Mendocino, a team that has fallen on very hard times in recent seasons, going from a title contender four of five years ago to perennial strugglers near the bottom of the league standings ever since... On a cloudy afternoon, literally on the very edge of America, it was no surprise that AV dominated and it was 7-0 at the half. The second half saw the Panther bench get extended playing time and the final score was 8-1 to AV with goals from Sergio Gutierrez (5), Omar Solano, Elio Gonzales, and Juan Lua.
Up next, on a cool and rainy Friday afternoon here in the Valley, was the game that would decide this season’s league title. Roseland Prep, who were two points ahead of the Panthers before kick-off, were the visitors and, with the earlier meeting between these teams being a 3-3 thriller, there was no reason to expect anything other than a very tight battle once again. AV would have to win to take over at the top pf the standings whilst the Knights would be happy with a tie or win to remain in the lead as they strive to win their first title.
The rain was down to a slight drizzle at kick-off time and the crowd had swollen to close to one hundred as the game began. Once again, as in the first meeting, the Panthers played with an extra man in midfield as they attempted to win this important area of the pitch from the bigger and more experienced Roseland team. On that occasion Sergio Gutierrez, despite playing as the lone striker, had scored all three Panther goals and so it was no surprise that the Knights had decided that their best player, normally a forward, would mark the G-man wherever he went. The game was a well-played match with the Knights generally dominating possession with their slick passing game and dominance in the air, but the Panthers had a couple of half-chances that fell to Sergio G and Elio Gonzales, both dealt with comfortably by the Roseland ‘keeper. After a very tight battle it remained 0-0 at the half.
The second half was very much the same, although the Knights had several decent opportunities to take the lead but with Christian Mendoza in the Panther goal on the top of his game they were denied each time. Meanwhile, despite the vociferous support of the partisan crowd, the Panther offense could not get going, the service from midfield being not quite good enough to break down the Roseland back line and thus allow Sergio G to cause the damage he had done in the first game. The older and more experienced Roseland team — they had five senior starters, AV just one — won the ball in the vast majority of the one-on-one battles all over the field and as the game came to it’s conclusion it was apparent that this was to be Roseland’s year, although AV, with such a young team, will have their day. It finished 0-0, a very rare score line in high school soccer, and one that showed the commitment given by every player on both sides to preventing the other team from scoring.
The two games between these sides had therefore both ended in ties but whereas Roseland beat Calistoga (the other quality team in the league) on two occasions, the Panthers had won one and lost one in that particular match-up. Therefore, the Knights continue to hold on to a two point lead over AV with Calistoga a further two points behind. With two games to go against mediocre opposition for all three of these sides, they should all win out and that will leave Roseland as League Champions, AV as Runners-up, and Calistoga in third, with all three surely heading for the play-offs.
Nevertheless, those games have to be played and tonight (Oct 27th) the Panthers travel down to Geyserville for the final road game of the season before hosting Rincon Valley at 4.30pm on Friday in Boonville. Apart from making sure the team wins both of these games to ensure that important 2nd place finish, the players will also be attempting to help Sergio Gutierrez break his regular season scoring record of 59 goals. He has 52 and so needs to get eight goals in these two matches to set a new record! That is tough, but if anyone can do it this young man can and hopefully there will be a big crowd for Friday’s home game to see him go for it.
Current Record (W-L-D): League 13-1-2; Overall 15-2-4.