GAINESVILLE — Gainesville boys soccer coach Eli Viviant knows exactly where they are. And he and the Red Elephants also know exactly where they want to be as they head into Thursday's monumental showdown with two-time defending state champion Chattahoochee in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs.
Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. at City Park Stadium.
The No. 3-ranked and Region 8-6A champion Red Elephants (15-2-1) are coming off a blowout win over Douglas County (7-0) while the Cougars (14-2) survived a 1-0 nail-biter over Osborne in the first round. But the Cougars, the No. 2 seed out of Region 7-6A, are riding an 11-match playoff win streak and have won 14 of their last 15 playoff matches going back to 2016. Their last loss in the playoffs came that season in the Class 6A (top classification) semifinals, 2-0, to eventual state champion Parkview.
Included in that win streak is a 2-0 victory over Gainesville in the 2017 state finals. Over the past three seasons, it has been either Chattahoochee or the team that has beaten the Cougars that have gone on to win the state title.
"We know that we are playing a team that has won their last 11 playoff games. They are the back-to-back state champions, and they won it last year as a No. 2 seed," Viviant said. "To win the championship you have to beat the best. They are the best right now and this is where we are."
It should be a battle of Gainesville's possession-style offense and smothering defense against the Cougars' opportunistic defense that likes to set up a quick-strike vertical attack. Viviant said matches like their season finale against arch-rival and defending Class 5A state champion Johnson has prepared them for what some say may well be the match that ultimately decides the state champion.
"I anticipate a tough battle between strikers and backs on both sides of the field," Viviant said. "The game should go back-and-forth as they are not a possession team. They play vertical trying to find their striker and left wing as soon as possible.
"It's a tough match so early for both teams. I think the winner has a very good path to the championship match. It really could go either way but we feel we are playing pretty well right now."
Gainesville is 6-0-1 in its last seven matches, including last week's first-round win over Douglas County. But Chattahoochee has won seven straight since falling to Pope in what eventually decided the Region 7-6A title. However, Viviant said his charges could be peaking at just the right time.
"The guys are doing fine. We still are missing some key players but the guys covering for them have played great," he said. "Erick Serrato partially tore his right knee ligament and Alejandro Covarrubias is still out. Those two are defenders. Elvis Bonilla and Jose Rodrigues have been filling in for them and have played very well.
"I think we have gotten better despite the injuries. The Johnson match was big for us because it showed we can definitely play with a high-caliber team. If we play like that (against Chattahoochee) I think we have a solid chance of winning the match. We'll see. It should be an excellent match to watch."