The Panthers put in an under par performance but still managed to squeak out a victory against arch-rivals Cimarron-Memorial (CM). Starting line up: Huckfeldt, Jarvis, Nogues, Lloyd, Olenak, Stephens, Ruffer, Stevenson, Manthey, Vogel, Gomez.
The Panthers started with the line-up that pulled off an impressive defeat of CM in the Southern Nevada Kickoff Tournament just a couple of weeks ago. However, this may not have been the best decision as the Panthers performance in the first 20 minutes could only be described as abject. The team played with no passion, no desire to win, and a lack of energy. They were second in every challenge, gifted possession to CM too cheaply, and played without any physical edge to their game. It was no surprise then that CM took the lead after 15 minutes with a chipped shot from outside of the box after the Panthers defense and midfield had failed to pressure the shooter. The Panthers did squander one chance when Tanner Stevenson found Antonio Gomez in a good position inside the box, but after a good controlling touch Gomez rushed the shot when under no pressure and pulled it wide of the goal. The Panthers squandered numerous good free kick positions, and crosses and long throws from Teagan Jarvis proved problematical for the CM defense but no Panther had the desire to get on to the lose ball and slot it home. The Panther performance improved somewhat for the second 20 minutes of the first half without any clear cut chances being created. Half time 0-1.
The Panthers needed to find their normal form and lift their game for the second half. Starting line up: Huckfeldt, Jarvis, Nogues, Lloyd, Olenak, Stephens, Stevenson, Venezia, Manthey, Vogel, Montoya.
Curiously CM conceded the initiative to the Panthers after an early spell of pressure at the start of the second half. CM seemed happy to protect their lead and hit on the counter attack. The Panthers enjoyed more possession but found it difficult to trouble the CM goalkeeper as wayward or weak efforts from Presten Manthey, Zach Ruffer, and Bryan Montoya came to nothing. Tim Stephens took over free kick duty and had a scorcher pass an inch over the crossbar with the keeper well beaten. On the counter attack CM managed to get clean through on a long ball as the Panthers made a hash of marking assignments but the shot was high and wide. Because CM was bypassing its midfield the Panthers sacrificed a midfielder for an extra striker with 10 minutes to go as Mikey Venezia was withdrawn for Gomez. It was now all Panthers and the CM defense was finding it more and more difficult to hold them at bay. The breakthrough came with 10 minutes remaining. A CM throw inside their own half was headed back by Cole Lloyd and the ball found Mikey Vogel who turned his defender and danced through a couple of challenges to find himself clean in on goal. He slotted the ball hard and low past the sprawling keeper to tie the game. Although they had played below par for most of the game, the Panthers were now energized and determined to finish the job. The go-ahead goal came three minutes later when Ruffer played an accurate defense splitting pass to Manthey, who deceived the last defender and made no mistake past the advancing keeper. CM rallied and the Panther defensive frailties evident all day continued. Goalkeeper Hudson Huckfeldt misjudged a long ball and found himself stranded and only the CM striker will know how he failed to score into the empty net. The Panthers defense allowed a CM striker to dribble four players without a serious challenge being made and this time the Panthers were saved by the post. Final score 2-1.
If the Panthers go all the way this season they will play 28 games. One would not expect them to play at their best for all of those games and there will be the odd bad performance. The sign of a good team is that they can get a result when playing poorly, as happened in this game. However, too many poor performance will eventually end in defeat and the Panthers need to rediscover their brand of quick passing and movement soccer.