An uphill climb awaited the Gainesville boys soccer team (18-3-1) entering Saturday’s 6A Championship match against Dalton (23-0).
The Catamounts powerful starting 11 carried an undefeated record, but it was the handful of notable Gainesville season starters absent from the lineup — including senior goaltender Eduardo Bautista who sustained a kidney injury in the semifinal match against Cambridge and senior Armando Hernandez who suffered a knee injury at the eighth minute mark and would not return — which set the steep incline.
Gainesville fell 4-1 in their second championship match in three years.
“I felt like we played well,” Gainesville coach Elie Viviant said. “We made the final. It’s not bad at all; it’s not a bad season. It’s just a little bit short of what we would’ve liked.”
Viviant blames misplaying several of Dalton’s set pieces, each of which were the first three goals of the game.
Specifically at the 33 minute mark, Nathan Rincon scored off a simple set piece in which none of the Red Elephants picked up the threat. After the goal, keeper David Esquivel argued Rincon was offside, as the frustration of being down 3-0 ensued.
“On set plays, we didn’t follow the right people,” Viviant said. “I’m a little bit disappointed that’s how they scored. I believe they were better than us, but I wish they had scored on action plays.”
Gainesville struggled to cross midfield throughout the first half, but the Red Elephants made pressurized strides to the goal when possible.
Fifteen minutes in, Gainesville earned a free kick and sent the ball directly to goalkeeper Ricardo Beltran, who subbed in after starter Nestor Mendez left with an injury. Beltran batted the ball to another Red Elephant player who nearly caught the back of the net.
“If you try to shoot at someone’s face, you’re probably not going to make it,” Viviant explained.
The Red Elephants started the second half with three men in the backfield and found success, sacrificing just one goal.
They even prevented a clean sheet with a goal by Alexander Mozqueda with 12 minutes remaining. Jorge Vazquez’s strong throw-in teed up Mozqueda for a crisp tap-in.
But the late score was not enough for the Red Elephants to overcome the steep deficit they faced.
“I know for them right now, they are 17, 18 years old,” Viviant said. “They all feel like they’ve lost the world, but they will see that the world is way more than this — a game.
“I wish I could’ve brought them to that feeling of winning, but I always tell them I hope they invite me to their weddings. And then I’ll tell a bunch of stories for all of them.”