After a couple of weeks developing their on-field chemistry, the Panther soccer team appears to be making major strides under first-year head coach Juan Soto.
The Panthers put together one of their most complete performances of the season in a 2-0 victory over Alamosa, giving M-CHS its first 3A Southwest League victory in the process.
After playing a lot of defense in their opening matches, the Panthers offense earned the opportunity to flex their muscles.
Dominating more than two-thirds of the possession in the contest, M-CHS (1-5, 1-2 3A SWL) generated numerous chances right from the opening whistle. Senior striker Gadiel Gonzalez nearly had the Panthers ahead five minutes into the match, taking a through ball and striking it well from the top of the box, only to see it saved by Alamosa goalkeeper Marvin Rodas.
The Panthers kept Rodas busy all afternoon, as seniors Evan LaMunyon and Gabriel Crowley played a high line to pressure the Mean Moose back line. Their hard work paid dividends 10 minutes into the match, as M-CHS forced an errant pass just outside the Alamosa penalty area.
Crowley stepped in, intercepted the pass, and wasted no time firing a hard shot past the diving Rodas into the corner of the net.
With a lead to protect, the Panthers played keep-away from the Mean Moose for most of the remainder of the first half. Junior Raul Soto helped control the M-CHS midfield, using the width of the field to include all the Panthers in the attack, utilizing a variety of different channels.
While the Panthers limited Alamosa (0-9, 0-2 3A SWL) to a single chance on goal in the first half, the offense came up empty in their search for a second goal – so the two teams headed to the intermission with M-CHS on top 1-0.
Sophomore Atticus Keel and senior Isaak Lewis controlled the Panther back line, limiting chances for the Moose, keeping sophomore goalkeeper Samson Lein with limited action. On the brief occasion that Alamosa threaded through the Panther defense, Lein responded well, gobbling up anything that entered the penalty area.
Sitting with the tenuous lead, M-CHS volleyed forward, trying to collect a decisive second goal that would likely put the game away. Senior Rickie McDonald, who had a field day on the right wing all afternoon, would put together one of the finest moments for the Panthers, racing past his defender with the ball, taking it down to the end line before firing a cross in to the six-yard box. LaMunyon deftly turned the ball on one touch past Rodas to double the Panther lead in the 60th minute.
From there, M-CHS absorbed some frantic Mean Moose attacks, with Lein coming up with his best save of the match in the 70th minute, elevating to collect a high-arcing shot from junior Ethan Arnaldi. The save preserved the shutout, as the final whistle cemented the first win of the season for the Panthers.
Less than 24 hours later, the Panthers faced Pagosa Springs (7-2, 4-0 3A SWL) for the second time this season. While M-CHS battled well through the opening 40 minutes against the Pirates, the defense finally wore down, as the Pirates collected an 8-0 win.
The Panthers will return to action on Saturday, Oct. 1 when they visit Telluride for an 11 a.m. kickoff with the Miners. Then, M-CHS returns home for a big league match against Bayfield on Tuesday, Oct. 4 at 5 p.m.