With two minutes to go in the final regular season game, the Palo Alto High School Vikings were tied 1-1 with Los Gatos High School. League leaders Homestead High School had suffered a freak 2-1 loss at Los Altos High School, on Los Altos senior night, and all Paly needed was a single goal. A single goal to win the game. A single goal to win the league. A single goal to progress into the playoffs in an excellent position. But it did not look like it was arriving and the game seemed set for a stalemate. Then, like some sort of golden savior, a messiah sent down to solve everyone’s problems, junior winger Cole Tierney appeared. He had already scored one goal that game, a cool finish to a sleek team move, but this was something else. As a loose ball floated past the Los Gatos defenders, rooted to the spot, it was sure to fall into the arms of the onrushing goalkeeper. A disappointing end to an otherwise entertaining match, but then a boot stuck out. A fantastic, game-winning boot, Tierney’s boot. A boot worth a league championship. With a deft flick, Tierney lobbed the keeper and the ball bobbled into the goal, an absolute masterpiece.
The victory, coupled with Homestead High School’s 2-1 loss to Los Altos High School meant Paly won the De Anza League. Paly then progressed to the playoff against 13th seed Santa Theresa High School, who Paly beat 4-0 with goals from Tierney, senior midfielder Wesley Woo and a brace from sophomore forward Michel Siaba. However, Paly then went to the quarter finals where they lost 2-0 to Bellarmine College Preparatory.
The grim sky that settled across the pitch foreshadowed a fairly cagey first half that only really lit up in the last five minutes following Tierney’s first goal. The goal itself was emblematic of Paly’s first half approach to the game, with a wonderfully lofted ball from Woo finding senior midfielder Xavier Sherer down the wing, Sherer then crossed to the far post where Tierney was on hand to side-foot home. However, there is an old adage about a team being most vulnerable right after scoring, and this seemed to apply perfectly to Paly’s fortunes during the last five minutes of the first half, where Los Gatos laid siege to the Paly goal, hitting the upright and glancing a dangerous dribbling ball across a gaping goalmouth. Paly held fast and lasted out those last few minutes to maintain the psychological impetus provided by the first goal.
The second half proved to be a much more exciting affair. With Los Gatos threatening first, only for the Los Gatos forward to be denied by a stupendous reflex save from junior goalkeeper Eli Friedlander. Not a minute later, a cluster of Paly defenders cleared a Los Gatos shot off the goal line.
Although Los Gatos dominated the early exchanges, it soon grew into the game with junior forward Ariya Momeny’s relentless pressing, suffocating the Los Gatos defense. Paly found a creative outlet in junior forward Roberto Sotelo, whose through balls to junior forward Dami Bolarinwa, returning from injury, carved the Los Gatos defense open on more than one occasion. However, in Bolarinwa’s best opportunity, he lobbed both the keeper and the bar, unfortunate not to score.
Despite Paly’s dominance, there were still warning signs from Los Gatos, as Friedlander had to stay on his toes to hoof some through balls away from the onrushing Los Gatos forwards. Los Gatos soon began to gain a foothold in the game, with its increased verticality beginning to prove a real threat to the Vikings defense. It was onto one of these through balls that the Los Gatos forward poked past Friedlander.
Following the shock provided by the goal, Paly attacked with renewed vigor, with sophomore forward Michel Siaba coming close following a delightful interchange with Tierney. The Vikings continued to press and found their reward with only a couple of minutes left on the clock when Tierney latched on to a through ball and lobbed the Los Gatos keeper to give retake the lead. The remaining minutes were not for the faint of heart, as Paly held fast against wave after wave of Los Gatos attacks until the cool relief of the final whistle.
This win was ultimately a welcome one for Paly, who ended a poor run of form that included a 3-0 loss to Homestead High School as well as a 1-0 loss to Monta Vista High School. The game showcased a different side of the Vikings, one where they were capable of resilience and showed spirit to fight back against a difficult, not to mention physical, opposition.
Although Paly’s fighting spirit was evident in its defensive solidity in the early half of the season, this showed a different side to that tenacity with Paly pushing back to retake the lead.
Before the game, senior players and their families were honored for their time with the team and seniors Woo, Sherer, Steven Blatman, Edward Chen and Preston Kuppe will be sorely missed, but it was also encouraging to note that Paly’s attacking options for next year look increasingly diverse. The Vikings have different offensive possibilities available in the raw power of Momeny and the pace and speedy dribbling of Bolarinwa and Tierney, with Sotelo looking to take up Woo’s chief creative role next year.
Despite Paly’s many offensive prospects, coach Briggs is still cautious, as there are too many variables to take into consideration when discussing the team for next year.
“Some guys, you think they’re going to [tryout for Paly], but then they get hurt, because they play club all the time,” Briggs said. “You never know when all of a sudden people get talked into doing something else instead of playing for us.”
Following the nail-biter against Los Altos, Paly went on to thump Santa Theresa in the first game only to fall against Bellarmine. However, fans should not be too disheartened as the relative youth of the team means that the core will still be around next year, more mature and ready to mount a serious challenge for next year’s championship.