The first time that the Richmond High School Oilers boys’ soccer team took on the St. Mary’s High School Panthers this season, the Oilers were lucky to escape with a 1-1 draw, and players and coaches were disappointed with how the team performed. The December 11 meeting, hosted by St. Mary’s in Albany, was the first league match of the season for Richmond, and the boys were still trying to figure out how to play together. Afterward, co-head coach Jasko Begovic urged the Oiler players to play with a “fire in your belly.”
On Thursday night, the stakes, and the intensity of the second meeting between the two teams, were much different. The Oilers used a strong second half and three goals from senior Erik Montes to beat the Panthers 4-0.
“At that point the team didn’t come together,” said co-head coach Rene Siles, referring to his team’s play in the first match-up. “Now they are one. They are not like individual players; they are a group.”
During Thursday’s match at Richmond High, St. Mary’s made a concerted effort to attack the ball when the Oilers possessed it. ”They know that we are a really technical team, that we pass the ball a lot, and one of the ways to bring us down is by fouling us,” said Cesar Cardenas, a senior, captain and defender on the team.
Richmond responded with their own physical play; players from both teams used shoulders, elbows and hips to gain position on their opponents, and sliding tackles to dislodge the ball.
Several times in the first half, Montes went to the ground on tackles by St. Mary’s players. The Oiler coaches shouted from the sidelines, asking the referee to award a yellow or red penalty card, but none were given. The Panthers’ strategy of taking the ball out from under Montes’ feet, and not allowing him open space to run, worked for the majority of the first half of the game.
“Knowing that he is one of the best players, not just here, but all over the NCS [North Coast Section], they wanted to bring him down,” Cardenas said.
In addition to the physical play, both teams were attacking each other’s goal–with no result–and the speed of the match was much crisper than the December meeting. But Montes broke the scoreless tie with a goal in the 31st minute.
The strike by Montes lit up the fans, family members and fellow students in the home crowd, who had been nervously watching the first half-hour of scoreless soccer. The constant buzz of chatter, yelling, and stamping of feet on the metal bleachers, made the atmosphere feel like a Friday night football game—something Montes noticed. ”It is our home field,” said Montes after the game. “We have the crowd, we have the cheering, and it inspires us more to play harder.”
Richmond took the 1-0 lead into the break, and in the second half, goals from Montes in the 51st and 69th minutes extended their lead. Cardenas added a goal on a penalty kick in the 78th minute to complete the 4-0 victory.
One sour note for the Oilers came at the end of the match: tempers flared when Montes went to the ground after being tackled by a St. Mary’s player. Players from both teams got into their opponents’ faces, standing chest-to-chest as they pointed fingers. Some players had to be restrained by teammates before anything got out of hand. After deliberation from the referees, Montes was given a red card, ejecting him from the match.
With the win, the Oilers moved to 6-2-5 for the season and 4-0-2 in league play. Their last loss came to Monte Vista High School on December 5. Richmond will host Alameda this Saturday at 4 p.m.
Team captain Cardenas said he was pleased with how the Oilers performed. “The first time we played them it was a lack of heart,” Cardenas said. “But now you can see we are playing totally different. Now everyone is playing for each other. We are a family on the field, and you can totally tell with the energy level and intensity that everyone was putting in.”