Gore Rangers beat Pagosa, advance to semis
EAST VAIL — The last time Vail Mountain School boys soccer was in the 3A state semifinals, current Gore Rangers defender Robby Gruber was 1.
He and the rest of the Gore Rangers appear all grown up and are returning to Denver for the state semifinals against Kent Denver on Wednesday at All-City Stadium in Denver after downing Pagosa Springs, 1-0, during Friday’s quarterfinals on the frozen tundra of Bandoni Alumni Field.
Yes, we joke about The Bob, but VMS handled the visiting Pirates and the snow on Friday.
“It was so much fun to play in the snow,” Gruber said. “But my feet were numb after warm-ups.”
The good news is that feet are highly overrated in soccer. Peter Ferraro used his head for the only goal of the game in the 36th minute. And VMS (16-1-1) is off to its first semifinal since 2000.
“There is a storybook element to it,” VMS coach Pete Petrovski said. “And we appreciate the history of the Vail Mountain School. It doesn’t take away from the fact that these guys have worked their tails off this season and we went out there and we were the better team.”
On a day when one would have thought that ugly goals would rule the day — after the field had been cleared, it dumped 2 inches of snow 10 minutes before game time — VMS scored on a gorgeous set piece that would be beautiful during August training when it was 75 degrees.
Kevin Garcia got a free kick on the right side of the box. He served it into Ferraro, who headed it into the goal, just like every soccer coach in the country draws it up.
“No one really marked me,” Ferraro said. “It came right to me. I just put my head on it.”
With an icy pitch, could VMS play its wide possession game? Yep.
“We weren’t sure that we were going to be able to play our style with the possession and moving the ball around. But they’re a stubborn bunch,” Petrovski joked. “They didn’t listen to me and go direct. They played that way anyway.”
And that’s the sign of a quality squad, one that can keep going under adverse conditions.
“It was a tad chilly,” Ferraro joked — he did postgame with his bare feet on top of a towel. “It wasn’t that slick because of my cleats. My studs were long enough. You had to kick snow off your cleats to keep from slipping.”
The real heroes
With no disrespect to the offense and the midfielders — Ferraro, Liam Hurley, Pablo Aziz and Eric Zdechlik, the usual suspects — VMS won this one on the defensive end.
Pagosa Springs entered with a 17-0 record and James Berndt, who had 40 of the Pirates’ 77 goals on the season.
The visitors pressed and the Gore Rangers back line — Dylan Hardenbergh, Gruber, Max Bervy and Bridger Gile along with goalie Colin Rouaud — was up to the task.
“Those guys were incredible,” Petrovski said.
“There was a lot of communication in the back and we had a really strong midfield today and that’s what allowed us to dominate,” Gruber said.
And it doesn’t hurt when your goalie is on. With nothing routine on a snow day, Rouaud sparkled.
“It’s the first time I’ve played in snow,” the keeper said. “I’ve played in rain. Winning quarterfinals in snow is a whole other thing.”
He parried a Pagosa shot over the bar and made another clutch save to his left in the waning moments.
The “other” heroes were the VMS community in general. Parents and teachers cleared the field twice and continued to shovel throughout the game to keep the pitch as clear as possible, particularly around the goal areas.
The last time VMS went to the semis, the Gore Rangers were the ninth seed in a 16-team field. The Gore Rangers beat D’Evelyn in the first round and then upset No. 1 Colorado Academy, 3-1, in the quarters. (Danny Mackintosh, Oscar Alcantar and Wade Cheatham scored in the win.)
The Gore Rangers lost to Faith Christian that year, as Denver soccer fans had no idea why there was so much orange in the stands.
VMS faces No. 1 Kent Denver (17-0-1) at 5 p.m. on Wednesday at All-City Stadium.
“There’s only four teams left,” Petrovski said. “We know whoever’s in there, they’re all going to be good teams. I like our chances. I love the way the boys are playing.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and @cfreud.