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Panther Soccer (Oct 14, 2015)

As the Panthers made the two-plus hour journey to the “wilds” of western Sonoma County to play Tomales last Wednesday afternoon, they were looking to bounce back from two recent morale-sapping defeats. The situation was not helped by the absence of three starters due to academic or disciplinary matters.

However, those players who wore the shirt did so proudly and produced a fine performance that exhibited skill, desire, and the right attitude towards the game. In difficult windy conditions on a very poor playing service, the players showed commitment to the job-at-hand from beginning to end and played some very good football in the process. With goals from Christian Guerrero (2), David Eligio (2), and Ulises Garcia, the match finished 5-1 to AV and there is little doubt that, given the recent setbacks, the feast on the journey back to the Valley at In-and-Out Burger tasted even better than usual.

Next up was another away match in Santa Rosa, not as far but still a visit to “hostile” territory. It took place last Friday, October 9 at Sonoma Academy, a regular league game that was featured as part of the Academy’s opening of their new floodlit field. This event resulted in a very big crowd of Sonoma fans from their students’ families, friends and fans. The new pitch and floodlights, named after Sonoma Academy Athletic Director Chris Zimmer, were obviously very expensive and the event was presented in fine style— we hope to match that when our own special extravaganza takes place at some point in the future when we present the unveiling of the “Steve Sparks Corner Flags” at Tom Smith Field.

It was quite an intimidating atmosphere as kick-off approached and, although AV has the better players and almost always wins this fixture, it was going to come down to whether or not the Panthers could match the host’s intensity and desire to win. Having six players, including four starters, missing from the 20-player squad was an additional issue to cope with and there was a feeling of “Us vs the World” amongst the Panther players, a sense that increased when the home fans roared to greet the turning on of the floodlights just before the 6.30pm kick-off.

The game was played at a high tempo with some fine tackling from both sides in the early stages as every ball was competed for. Clearly the Coyote players were playing at a high level of intensity but this was matched by AV, particularly in defense where captain Abraham Sanchez and his center-back partner Omar Mendoza were outstanding.

Both sides had a few half-chances but nothing clearcut and at the half it remained 0-0. With very few options on the Panther bench most of the players knew they would playing the entire match but their attitude was spot-on and they continued to play hard for each other throughout the second half. It was a similar pattern to the first period, with AV showing the better skills but the Coyotes battling as hard as any team the Panthers had played this season. With 20 minutes to go AV got a free-kick on the left wing 30 yards from goal. Gerardo Torales sent the ball in and it was met by the head of Christian Guerrero who placed it wide of the keeper from seven yards out in front of the net. A fine goal. But wait, the assistant referee had his flag up for offside on Guerrero. It was close but I have no doubt that it was the wrong call — Guerrero was not offside when the ball was kicked by Torales.

The Panthers were justifiably upset after finally getting the breakthrough that their efforts to that point probably deserved. However, to their credit they maintained their composure and continued to focus and play hard. The game remained very tight and when the final whistle went it could be argued that a draw was a fair result on the balance of play — apart from that incorrectly disallowed goal!

As the coach I was very pleased with the team’s fantastic physical effort and the excellent team spirit shown throughout the game. This was also exhibited at the postgame meal at Los Hermanos Taqueria in Santa Rosa. The owner Guillermo had been contacted by me and agreed to stay open for us — it was after their 9pm closing time at this point, and he and his family could not have been more welcoming. So much so that the players, without any prompting by me, organized a collection and handed over a very generous tip. After a season that has been very trying at times, I must say that the team on this occasion, both on and off the field, restored some faith in me.

The season moves on with two home games this week. Today, Wednesday, October 7, the Panthers host Rincon Valley, a team that was handily beaten earlier in the year, before Roseland Prep comes for our Homecoming festivities on Friday, October 16, a game that may well decide the league’s regular season winner. Games kick-off at 4.30pm and, as I’ve said many times, your support at the matches is much appreciated and vociferous home crowd support is probably worth a goal a game! Hope to see you there. Come on you Panthers! (Current record: League: 7-2, 1 draw. Overall: 10-2, 2 draws)

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