Panthers Continue Winning Streak

by Coach Steve Sparks, September 22, 2011

Note: The report below speaks of football when to some readers it means soccer or perhaps futbol.

Last Wednesday afternoon, the Panthers traveled down to the northeast suburbs of Santa Rosa for the second road game of the season to play against Rincon Valley Christian (RCV). This is always a difficult match with the opposition a strong, physical team and, on this occasion, with four players six foot tall or more.

The game started ominously for AV when one shot whizzed past the post with ‘keeper Christian Mendoza beaten and then moments later a deflected shot looped over the helpless Panther goalie and hit the post before bouncing harmlessly out of play. These near misses seemed to shock the Panthers into action as they gradually settled into some rhythm of play and in the 14th minute they took the lead. A throw-in by Chavo Eligio found Hector Cruz in space and the captain passed the ball out wide to Jose Gaxiola, on the left wing, who beat his man and crossed low for Elio Gonzales, twelve yards from goal, to finish with a sweet shot into the far corner of the goal. 1-0 to AV.

RCV came back strongly but the Panther defense was very solid and it was the A.V. who added a second goal in the 22nd minute with a virtual copycat of their first, with Gaxiola again the provider with another fine cross and this time Omar Solano driving the ball home from the back of the penalty area. 2-0 to A.V. The score line remained the same until the half although RCV continued to play hard and had several half-chances to pull a goal back.

The second half saw some fine football from AV in a game that was very competitive, although needlessly over-officiated by the finicky referees. Both teams had opportunities to score but the goalkeepers were in fine form and it stayed 2-0 until the 72nd minute when AV put the result beyond doubt. From deep in his own half, a great pass out of defense by Manny Almeida split the RCV defense and saw the powerful running of Pancho Lievanos leave defenders in his wake as he burst through on goal before hammering the ball low and hard past the despairing dive of the ‘keeper and into the far corner of the net. A final goal was added in the dying moments by Elio Gonzales, following some nice interplay on the edge of the RVC box with Hector Cruz and Kevin Espinoza and the game finished 4-0 to AV. They had beaten a good RCV team, who might consider the score line a little deceiving as they had played well for long periods of the game and often matched the Panthers in terms of skill and workrate.

Up next was the Apple Cup at the County Fair on Friday evening. This was a league match against bitter rivals Mendocino. Their football program on the Coast has fallen on hard times over the past five years or so, and has recently been rocked by the sad passing of long-time coach Jonathan Shepherd. A minute’s silence to commemorate this fine gentleman and dedicated coach was immaculately observed by the large crowd of over 200 before kick-off, followed by team introductions and a unique rendition of the national anthem by Pastor Bill Nobles.

Inevitably, the sentiments were soon put aside for the next 80 minutes as the Panthers and Cardinals once again battled on the field of play. AV has easily dominated this match-up in the recent past and this was to be no exception as the teams kicked-off and AV’s starting line-up immediately took control.

It was 3-0 to the Panther’s after just 15 minutes and Coach Sparks began a pattern of substitutions that continued throughout the match. This allowed the whole AV bench, along with the starters, all with family and friends watching from the grandstand, to get significant playing time, while not trying to run up the score against an opposing team very much out of their depth. Nevertheless, over 80 minutes, many chances were still created and although the Cardinals fought hard throughout and were a credit to their school in terms of never giving up, it finished a lopsided 14-1 to AV with goals from Elio Gonzales 2, Pancho Lievanos 2, Chuy Sanchez 2, Hector Cruz, Jose Gaxiola, Omar Solano, Kevin Espinoza, Luis ‘Ricky’ Sanchez, Juan Lua, Danny Espinoza, and Cristian Tapia.

In many ways it is unfortunate that Rio Lindo High School is of a similar stature on the football field as Mendocino at this point in time and they were the next opponents for the Panthers on Monday (19th) afternoon. A similar game took place and once again Coach Sparks used the same pattern of substitutions.

A similar game took place and once again Coach Sparks used the same pattern of substitutions, with very similar results. It finished 14-0 with goals from Elio Gonzales (3), Pancho Lievanos (3), Hector Cruz (2), Omar Solano, Jose Gaxiola, Justin Soto, Carlos Espinosa, Cristian Tapia, and Luis 'Ricky' Sanchez. A win, but not one that provided a great deal of satisfaction, it must be said.

AV is now faced with three more home matches in the next six days. However, each of these is sure to be more competitive than these last two games were. In fact it does not get much more competitive than when the Panthers play the Knights from Roseland Prep. That clash takes place this afternoon (Wednesday, September 21) at 4.30pm at Tom Smith Field. Roseland was last year’s regular-season league winners, a team whom the Panthers drew with twice in finishing runners-up before going on to win AV’s first post-season title. Next up, on Friday the 23rd, it will be St. Vincent’s followed by Clearlake on Monday 26th, with both home matches kicking-off at 4.30pm. Meanwhile, the players and coaching staff greatly appreciate your attendance on the sidelines and look forward to your continuing support. Go Panthers!

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