GONZALES — With their eyes set at a deep playoff run, Head Coach Greg Ramirez wanted his boys to kick off the season in a playoff-like atmosphere by competing against the best of the best. The Apaches soccer team did just that, hosting a 12-team tournament last weekend with other playoff hopefuls. Gonzales went 3-0, knocking off Columbus, La Grange and then Canyon Lake on penalty kicks to take first place in their own tournament.
The Apaches opened tournament play with a 9-0 victory over Columbus. Anthony Veliz led the team in scoring with four goals. Antonio Hernandez had two goals, while Adrian Rodriguez, Luis Leija and Daniel Cruz each added one.
On Saturday, Gonzales knocked off La Grange with two first-half goals, with Veliz and Hernandez scoring one each.
Then Saturday night was the revenge match against Canyon Lake, a team that knocked off the Apaches in the third round of playoffs two seasons ago.
“Canyon Lake is tough, like they’ve always been,” Ramirez said of the Hawks. “I know for a fact that we have been improving every practice that we do. Every practice we improve on something. Mind you, we still have a lot of things to work on but the thing about it is, the process is showing progress.”
Down 1-0 early, the Apaches pressed on and came away with a goal-scoring opportunity late in the first half. With 3:27 left in the half, the Apaches scored on a corner kick. The corner came in from Veliz, bounced around with the Hawks failing to clear the ball. Rodriguez finished with the game-tying goal.
With no scores in the second half, the game went to penalties.
Gonzales won in penalties 4-3, with goalkeeper Luis Hernandez saving one of the misses.
The tournament win provided an early preview to the level of competition Gonzales will be facing later this season.
“We needed this to see early on what these other playoff-contending teams had,” Ramirez noted. “For us, that showed what we’re capable of early on this season. We needed that. We need to play these types of teams. You’re talking about first-round, second-round, third-round, fourth-round teams that were here in this tournament. I know it’s early, but it still shows something, it shows we can contend with them.”
Other teams in the tournament include Floresville, Smithville, El Campo, Giddings, Lampasas, Pleasanton, Bandera and the Gonzales JV team who was subbed in for a Yoakum squad that pulled out of the tournament late.
“It was a blessing to put the JV there, and I never would have thought about it if it wasn’t for the Pleasanton coach telling me about that,” Ramirez said. “So I’m going to give him credit, he told me ‘hey coach put in your JV team.’ So I did, and they did an amazing job. They held El Campo for a long time before El Campo actually scored on them. It was amazing how they played. They were nervous, of course, they were playing against varsity players, but it’s no different than the way they played against our varsity at practice. I was amazed, I was impressed with their play. They should do well against their own JV [schedule].”
With many players contributing throughout the tournament, Ramirez touted the depth of his soccer program, calling the Apaches “a team of many.”
“This team has chemistry,” he said. “A lot of coaches were telling me, ‘so which one is your best player?’ And I’ve been telling them all, ‘I don’t think I have just one best player, I have many best players.’ It’s the chemistry that they have that’s different for this year that I think is going to help this team get as far as it’s going to go.”
One issue the Apaches will need to improve on is reverting back to their old playing style. With this being the team’s fifth season in existence, there’s enough film to know that Gonzales loves the long ball. This season, Ramirez wants to focus on three-man triangle passing and maintain possession instead of long passes over the top of a defense.
“The biggest concern of mine is that we do not revert back to the long passing,” Ramirez said. “All the teams we’ve played with the past five years know exactly what we’re going to do. That’s why this season it has to be a different format.”
The non-district schedule continues to be tough as the team took on Boerne on Tuesday. The last time these teams played, the Greyhounds knocked off Gonzales in the bi-district round of playoffs last season 3-1. Tuesday, the Apaches got their revenge, beating Boerne 5-4. Gonzales (4-0) travels to Pleasanton for a two-day tournament from Jan. 11-12. They then host Highlands on Tuesday, Jan. 15 with kickoff set at 7 p.m.