By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
It was a match that shaped up to be a mismatch. The Palo Alto boys' soccer team came in with six victories while Gunn had six losses. Moreover, the Vikings had scored 16 goals while the Titans had just three.
And, Palo Alto was sitting atop the SCVAL De Anza Division while Gunn was not.
When the Vikings scored in the 11th minute on a free kick by senior Mark Raftrey, both teams appeared headed in opposite directions. But, as Paly coach Don Briggs noted:
"When these teams meet, you can throw out the records," he said. "They don't mean anything."
Sure enough, Gunn turned up its offensive pressure in the second half, finally getting the equalizer in the 77th minute when seniors Yotam Kasznik (assist) and Mason Naar (goal) teamed up for the tying score on a header as the rivals settled for a 1-1 deadlock on Friday at Palo Alto.
For Palo Alto (2-0-1, 6-2-2), it was a disappointing finish. It was money in the bank that never was deposited. For Gunn (0-2-2, 1-6-4), it was perhaps a deposit on better things to come.
"This is the way we want to play," Gunn first-year coach Dave Lovercheck told his players after the match. "Great play, great finish, but no less than what we deserved."
It had been a tough start for Lovercheck, a 1992 Gunn grad who lost last year's starting goalie to club soccer and spent much of the preseason experimenting with lineups.
Naar, for one, started the season on defense and only had been playing striker for three matches prior to Friday.
"We're trying new stuff," Naar said. "We wanted a little more size up front."
Naar was speaking of his move from defense to offense and, evidently, it worked for Gunn on Friday. Naar made his presence felt especially in the second half as Gunn worked the ball on the wings and over the top while putting Paly on its heels. Gunn's Daniel Tirosh and Andriy Krustalyov also figured in numerous second-half opportunities that just missed for Gunn until Naar broke the scoring drought.
"We just came out better in the second half," Naar said. "We wanted it, even if it was a tie."
Naar hopes the positive finish will lead to a better season.
"I think this is going to be a good start," Naar said, "maybe to having a winning record in league."
Palo Alto, meanwhile, must find a way to bounce back from a match that appeared well under its control.
Briggs said his team was guilty of too many offsides and missed opportunities. Senior Ricky Minno had the best opportunity to break the tie with a breakaway, but Gunn keeper Paul Blanchette raced out to cut off the angle, and Minno's shot missed right.
Gunn also had numerous shots to win, missing on back-to-back corners in the second half. Paly junior keeper Kris Hoglund twice tipped shots over the crossbar in the second half and raced out to end a breakaway by Naar before intermission. Paly junior defender Gerrit Van Zyll also stood out for the Vikings, breaking up one Gunn scoring opportunity after another.
Gunn defenders Andrew Wohl, Kevin Wachs and Victor Lazarov were among the numerous Titans who kept Paly out of the cage after its early lead.
In the West Bay Athletic League, Sacred Heart Prep (4-0, 9-0) maintained its hold on first place with a 4-1 victory over host Menlo (2-2, 2-4-1) on Friday. The Gators have scored 40 goals and allowed just five this season. Joseph Bolous scored twice while Jack Odell and Isaac Polkinhorne each had a goal. For Polkinhorne, it was his 11th of the season. Kyle Scherba and Max Polkinhorne added assists.
Elsewhere in the WBAL, Eastside Prep romped past Pinewood, 7-1.