The Panthers completed their tenth consecutive win of the season and posted their sixth shutout in a Jekyll and Hyde performance at home to Durango. Starting line up: Huckfeldt, Jarvis, Nogues, Lloyd, Lawrence, Stephens, Vogel, Stevenson, Gomez, Manthey, Robledo-Matadamas.
The Panthers took advantage of Durango’s tendency to dwell on the ball in defensive area by applying a high press that kept Durango on the back foot for long periods of the first half. The Panthers played with high energy and a desire to win that tore Durango apart in this first period. The Panthers won a string of early corners and a shot from 25 yards by Tim Stephens was well saved by the goalkeeper. Stephens came close again when his back post header off a corner beat the goalkeeper but was cleared off the line by a defensive header. The break though finally came on 15 minutes when a goal kick from Hudson Huckdfeldt was headed on in the center circle by Tanner Stevenson. The ball bounced in front of Presten Manthey, who held off the defender to apply a second headed flick on. This was anticipated by Antonio Gomez who seized on the ball behind the defense, ran on to round the goalkeeper and roll the ball into the net, proving that his hat-trick in the last run out against Legacy was no fluke. At this point the Panthers looked like they would score every time they went forward and they continued to make it very difficult for Durango to generate any constructive play. The second goal came on 20 minutes with an excellent move. Again Durango attempted to play out from the back and a forward ball into midfield was well anticipated and intercepted by Stephens. He surged forward, committed the defender, and slipped an intelligent ball out to Henry Robledo-Matadamas on the right wing. Robledo-Matadamas took one controlling touch and delivered an excellent cross, low and hard behind the Durango defense, which found the eager Stevenson making an excellent run in and he thumped the ball past the helpless goalkeeper from 6 yards. Shortly after, the Panthers made it 3-0 off a corner, when a back post effort from Stephens struck the crossbar and appeared to bounce down across the line but Ryan Nogues made sure with a powerful lunge to head the ball over the line. The referee officially gave the goal to Nogues. After the initial 25 minutes of high intensity, changes were made with Arber Hoxhalli and Mikey Venezia coming in for Mikey Vogel and Stevenson in midfield, Tyler Olenak coming in for Teagan Jarvis at right back, and Dylan Rath and Bryan Montoya coming on for Gomez and the excellent Robledo-Matadamas. This seemed to disrupt the Panther’s tempo and resulted in more possession for Durango. A well worked Durango move released a striker behind the defense but a recovery run by Cole Lloyd put the attacker under pressure and his effort was well saved by the advancing Huckfeldt. Half time 3-0.
The Panthers allowed Durango more possession in the second half but were defensively strong and continued to create chances on the counter attack. Starting line up: Huckfeldt, Jarvis, Nogues, Lloyd, Lawrence, Stephens, Vogel, Stevenson, Gomez, Manthey, Robledo-Matadamas.
The Panthers returned to the original starting line up in an attempt to re-establish control of the game. However, Durango came out with more intensity and determination and made a far better job of retaining possession. The defensive performance of Teagan Jarvis, Nogues. Lloyd, and Cole Lawrence, aided by Stephens prevented Durango from generating any meaningful chances and they were restricted to a couple of wayward shots over the crossbar and a couple of routine saves from Huckfeldt. At the other end, the Panthers remained a counter attacking threat and should have significantly added to their score but for poor finishing and excellent goalkeeping. Manthey was having no luck. He was put through by Robledo-Matadamas only to see his shot well saved by the goalkeeper. However, the rebound bounced fortuitously and with the goal wide open he chose to hammer a hard shot rather than place the ball under control, resulting in him blazing it over the crossbar. On a second effort, he received the ball with his back to goal inside the area and turned well only to see his goal-bound shot be well saved by the diving goalkeeper. The keeper also made good saves from Robledo-Matadamas, Gomez, and Stephens as chances continued to be created. Gomez sent an excellent cross along the outside of the penalty area that Stevenson intelligently allowed to run through his legs to the unmarked Montoya on the back post. However, Montoya did not shoot first time but pulled the ball back inside and shot to see his effort go just wide. Dylan Rath was brought on for the unlucky Manthey and pulled off his now usual party piece. Braxton Tonks was released down the left side and sprinted into the penalty area. He drew two defenders and unselfishly played a square ball to the unmarked Rath who finished comfortably right footed past the diving keeper. The referee was a little yellow card happy and Nogues was withdrawn for Atakan Saricayir with 10 minutes remaining as Nogues had been carded in the first half. Saricayir did an excellent job and Durango created no more chances for the remainder of the game. Final score 4-0.
Poor finishing continues to be a problem and could prove a decisive factor in a closer game. Manthey is having a bit of a barren spell but this happens to all strikers once in a while. The coaches are confident that when he next scores the flood gates will open. However, the Panthers again showed their strength in depth with the four goals coming from four different players. The defense is proving concrete, with not only the starters proving difficult to break down but any substitutes brought in continuing in that vein.