GAINESVILLE — It hasn’t been THE driving factor for the Gainesville boys soccer team in 2019. But the Red Elephants’ frustrating, if not infuriating, 3-0 loss to Cambridge in last year’s Class 6A semifinals has surely been a motivating factor them.
And on Tuesday, they will get a chance at redemption as they play host to the Bears at City Park Stadium in the 2019 semifinals.
Last year’s loss was frustrating from the standpoint that Gainesville had plenty of opportunities to score despite the shutout loss. That’s where the infuriating part comes in.
Two of the Cambridge goals in that match came on a pair of penalty kick goals, one in each half, sandwiched around a rebound goal late in the match. Meanwhile, the Red Elephants had a penalty kick goal nullified midway through the first half that would have tied the game.
There also was a red card against then-senior and star Cambridge player John Crawley with 33 minutes remaining that did not result in a loss of a player for the Bears.
The Red Elephants’ non-goal came after Pedro Santos was pulled down in the Bears box after a steal of a Cambridge pass with 21:27 left. Edwin Garcia then appeared to tie the game at 1-1 scoring on a rebound off an apparent save by Bears' keeper Nic Sides. But the refs ruled that Sides had not touched the ball, which also hit off the left post, and nullified the rebound score.
The final PK goal for the Bears, with just 2:10 left in the match in what should have been a 1-1 tie at worst, was awarded after Gainesville keeper Augustin Garcia had made a tremendous punch save on a shot by Reece Degen. But the refs ruled that a Red Elephants player had committed a foul in the box after the play was over.
Gainesville coach Eli Viviant, as do many on the current Red Elephants roster, remembers all too well the disappointment that denied them a shot at a state title.
AccessWDUN’s Jeff Hart caught up with Viviant to talk last season’s heartbreaking ending, this year’s playoff run, and if there is a revenge factor as he and the Red Elephants prepared for what has the potential to be a thrilling, if not contentious, rematch.
QUESTION: Coach, thanks for taking a few minutes. Y'all are back in the semifinals for a third consecutive season. Do you have the program at the level of success you want or is there still more to do?
ANSWER: Success is dependent on titles so while I am happy that we are competing every year I believe that we need to pass another step to be the program that we can be.
Q: This group seems to be playing the last couple of rounds as if they are on a mission. Have you noticed a difference in how this team is handling the preparation and pressure of the playoffs than the last couple of seasons? Who have been the guys to step up and take the leadership role?
A: I have several players that have had their hearts broken several times and I feel that they want to play as to not have any regrets at the end. For some, it is the chance of a lifetime. I have seen a definite change in Jorge Vasquez. He is one that has taken a leadership role that has surprised me a little.
Q: Tuesday's semifinal showdown is a rematch of last year's semifinal [a 3-0 Cambridge win in Milton]. That was a wild affair. This time, however, you will get them at home at City Park Stadium. Is there a little revenge factor working up to this one?
A: Not really a revenge factor. We would like to make our season as long as possible and they are the one that can cut it short. We want to win because we always step on the field to win. There will be a little extra motivation from last year, but being in the Final Four and having a peak at a final should be motivation enough.
Q: Do you see a similar type match like last year, where it was a 1-goal game most of the way? What will be the keys to victory this time around?
A: The last four teams are really strong, really well organized with skills players. I don't see one of us putting the other one away easily. These games are usually decided by a few goals.
Q: As for this year's playoffs, despite a rough final few minutes against Richmond Hill, the defense has been stellar over the last month. Is that the unit that has been driving this playoff run? Who have been the leaders in that group?
A: While our defense has had to deal with many injuries, defense drives championship teams. If you want your creative players and scorers to be free on the field, they have to trust that their defense will step up for them when needed. Jorge Vasquez has been our main leader back there. He has been able to anchor the defense for us.
Q: After the win over Chattahoochee in the second round, you mentioned how important playing at home is. Y'all have natural grass where most of the Atlanta-area programs play on turf. How big of a factor is that?
A: The grass corresponds more to the type of soccer that I enjoy playing, which is really vertical. I want us to play the ball up the field really fast. I have to commend [Gainesville City School System's] David Presnel and his crew for a perfect pitch. This is the best place to play. I believe that playing at home is huge as my players give everything they have in front of their families, friends, and school.
Q: Finally coach, the northeast Georgia area has six (6) teams, boys and girls, that have advanced to the semifinals in their respective classifications this season. Do you think the balance of power in soccer in Georgia is shifting this way? How good, really, is soccer in this area?
A: I believe that our region is really strong in soccer. I would like for us to see a little bit more organized soccer. I wish we would develop our players to be good students so that we can send more players to college to play ball. We owe it to them in helping them get a higher education. I hope that by having more teams like Johnson, Chestatee, East Hall, and us, colleges will start coming to see us.