El Classico De Michoacan

by Steve Sparks, August 19, 2011

Michoacan is the mostly rural Mexican State from which the vast majority of Hispanic people in this Valley originally hail from. They tell me that it is similar to Anderson Valley in many ways. As this community continues to maintain valuable links to its original culture, an aspect of that which remains of great importance to them is found in the world of futbol — soccer to Americans, football to us English.

There are three adult soccer teams here in the Valley, playing every Sunday through the spring and summer. They feature players who are themselves from Michoacan or whose forebears were, and they play in the Northern California Adult Soccer League. One of them, Léon, is currently in the second division, the other two - La Lagunetta and Valladolid are in the top flight. These two teams have solid reputations as the teams to beat in Mendocino County and they have a long-standing and often ‘unfriendly’ rivalry when it comes to the futbol field, even though many of them work together and, more often than not, went to school together at AV High School, as their kids continue to do. For the second time this season, they faced each other last Sunday at Tom Smith Field in Boonville.

La Lagunetta is the small town in Michoacan from which perhaps 75% of the Valley's Hispanic population originally came. They have had a team here for 30 years, when the Mexican community first settled in the Valley — coinciding with the arrival of the wineries and the need for workers. This team, playing under the name of the town, has won several titles over the years and their fans are well known for being very excitable and for enjoying a few pre-/during/and post-game beverages, although in recent times they have relatively little to celebrate as success on the field in the post-season has been in short supply. They are long overdue a post-season title.

The other team is Valladolid, organized by the Ferreyra family that resides in Anderson Valley too, although they are originally from Michoacan's largest city — Morelia. Their team has been in existence for about 20 years and the team’s name is that of the old name for Morelia (and before that, a region in Spain). Many of the family have played for the team and several still do as they have generally dominated the league in recent seasons — in the past six years they have won the play-off title four times.

I have a bond with both teams, having coached about 80% of the players who played last Sunday when they were student athletes at Anderson Valley High School. Some players graduated in the past year or so, including two of the best players ever to put on the brown and gold of the AV High Panthers — Valladolid’s Omar Ferreyra and Sergio Gutierrez, who is playing for La Lagunetta after two seasons with Valladolid. Two even younger players who appeared on Sunday will be playing on the upcoming season’s high school team — Valladolid goalkeeper Christian Mendoza and their defender Hector Cruz.

Other teams in the 16-team league are from the region stretching about 50 miles from here, north, east, and down to Santa Rosa. Occasionally a team has challenged our two pre-eminent teams but overall the two Anderson Valley clubs have dominated the league championships for 15 years. Futbol is in their blood and this also explains the success of the local high school team over that time, given that we have one of the smaller schools in the region. This upcoming season will see me coaching a squad of 24 Mexican lads and once again hopes are high for a successful campaign.

Fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, cousins, neighbors etc, etc, all show up for El Classico which is a very festive occasion and often an exciting exhibition of futbol. I always stand on the side of the field with Valladolid’s bench players and fans. I like the Ferreyra family, they play excellent futbol, and I am always welcomed to the post-game fiesta at their house in Boonville after every home game, at which I am fed delicious food and get to share a few beers as the ‘world’s game’ is discussed at great length. I know many La Lagunetta players too, and their families. They are friendly and welcoming also, but I suppose I have made my choice and there is no going back. That is football where I come from — you don’t change sides, whatever the circumstances may be.

Anyway, with five weeks to go in the season, La Lagunetta is atop the league and Valladolid is third. They played earlier this year and Valladolid won convincingly, 5-2 — one of only two losses for La Lagunetta so far. They have not beaten Valladolid for three seasons. However, Valladolid has had a poor season by their own lofty standards. They have lost games because they have a number of players who “enjoy their Saturday nights out” and therefore for some road games played on a Sunday morning they have had to play with the bare eleven players, or less sometimes. They have lost four games as a result.

As is often the case, the earlier match-up was a frantic affair played with great emotion and at a very high tempo. Tempers flared repeatedly and a couple of scuffles broke out on the field, with a heated “discussion” between fans afterwards. Somewhere amongst the “excitement,” a futbol match took place, dominated by Valladolid and so no doubt La Lagunetta was hoping to keep their emotions in check this past weekend and get the win that could well seal them a regular season championship.

I arrived at the field in the heart of Boonville alongside the high school about 15 minutes before kick-off. It had been a cool, crisp morning but now it was a perfect blue sky and temperatures were on the rise. As the game kicked off there were only about 50 people in attendance but by half-time this number had swollen to over 200.

The game was a disjointed affair although for long periods in the first half Valladolid dominated with their possession-style futbol. They had several chances to open the scoring but their finishing was poor and the game remained scoreless, the main feature being the several yellow cards issued by an overly officious referee. Finally, in the 28th minute, the breakthrough was made when, following a scramble in the Lagunetta penalty box, the ball ran loose to Omar Ferreyra who was brought crashing to the ground by the impetuous challenge of Carlos Mendoza in the Lagunetta goal. A clear foul just inside the box and Vidal Ferreyra made no mistake from the penalty spot. 1-0 to Valladolid.

The lead could have been increased but chances continued to be missed and, as so often happens in sports when chances are not taken, those misses proved costly. This was once again evident when Lagunetta equalized in the 43rd minute, just before half-time. Cesar Maldonado sent a free-kick deep into the Valladolid box where the usually sure-handed Christian Mendoza in goal fumbled the ball and from the rebound Ivan Jimenez forced the ball over the line despite the efforts of defender Rudy Perez. Against the run of play, it was suddenly 1-1 and the majority of the crowd was celebrating in style on the opposite touchline. As the players went off for the break, the momentum was suddenly with Lagunetta.

A disappointed group of Valladolid players sat down to listen to a team talk by captain Vidal Ferreyra after which they went out for the second half determined to stand firm in the opening minutes, knowing that Lagunetta would come out strong. Vidal’s words clearly had an effect — and he had a huge hand in ensuring that they did... In just the 3rd minute of the half, substitute Domingo Ferreyra cleverly evaded a challenge by a Lagunetta defender before sending in a pin-point cross to the far post area which was met by his cousin Vidal Ferreyra who headed the ball powerfully down and past the helpless Lagunetta ‘keeper. It was 2-1 to Valladolid.

However, despite this setback, La Lagunetta did not fold. They played a strong second half and if not for their own profligacy in front of goal they would have managed an equalizing goal. More yellow cards followed, including the dismissal from the field of La Lagunetta coach Mocho Guerrero for verbal abuse directed at the referee. Yet tempers never really got out of hand and the official kept a tight reign on events, although his persnickety decision-making often prevented any real flow developing in the game for either team. As a result, the game was not a good spectacle in the second 45, with both teams resorting to big kicks up-field that were generally dealt with easily by the defenders at both ends. Despite a couple of good chances for La Lagunetta, for most of the half Valladolid was solid in defense and they held on fairly comfortably for the 2-1 win. A deserved victory overall, given Valladolid’s fine first half display, and the three points moved them into second place just a point behind their rivals with four games left in the regular season.

Following the game, I was once again very pleased to be invited back to the Ferreyra home in Boonville for a wonderful feast and the enjoyment of several Modelo and Pacifico beers. It was a great afternoon, culminating in a bashing of a piñata by many of the guests in celebration of the birthday of one of the younger Ferreyra nephews. Things could really not have been more joyful. However, in other parts of the Valley, the majority of our Mexican community — those hailing from La Lagunetta — were not in celebratory mood, no doubt drowning their sorrows with a few beers of their own and already thinking of revenge in what could be a wonderful post season finale, well-worthy of the name El Classico. I’ll keep you posted.

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