By Ryan Kuhn
Gateway High School has always had a rivalry on the soccer field with International, but after 11 straight losses, the Gators have had enough.
Last year Gateway ended the streak by beating International in the Bay Counties League Central championship game and now they want more.
But a tie will have to do, as 80 minutes wasn’t enough to declare a winner in a 0-0 tie between the two teams on Tuesday at Silver Terrace Playground.
Even though a tie doesn’t move Gateway (6-4-1, 5-0-1) from atop the BCL Central standings, beating the Jaguars (10-3-1, 4-1-1) would have put the Gators in prime position to claim the regular season league title.
“If we won, it would have locked up first place in the [league],” said Gateway head coach Joe Killmaier. “It would have made it easier for us.”
Gateway had a chance to take the early lead in the fourth minute when Paul Bustamonte missed a header that was set up by a corner kick by Giovanni Luna.
Gateway controlled the ball for most of the game, but International was not short on chances.
In the 29th minute, International had a clear opportunity to score on a shot by senior forward Kai Leshne, but the chance slipped through his fingers when Gateway goaltender Fauris Franco made a diving save.
“The game could have gone either way,” Killmaier said. “They can always get that goal to win the game.”
Franco knew he had to have a big defensive performance in a rivalry game of this magnitude.
“I was just trying my best to let nothing go in,” Franco said. “We made some biggest stops and we shut down their best player.”
With just minutes left in the first half, International was awarded a free kick just outside the Gators’ penalty area, but another chance was lost after a missed pass.
“We tried different things but we just couldn’t find a way to score,” said International head coach Carlos Bover.
Gateway kept control in the second half and was the closest to score when midfielder Richardo Mendoza’s shot hit the crossbar in the 48th minute.
After a 2-1 loss to the Gators earlier in the season, the Jaguars felt the tie on Tuesday was a missed opportunity.
“We went in [thinking it] was the most important game of the season and a tie just isn’t good enough,” said International senior midfielder Reid Sata.
With Gateway leading the league and International nipping at its heels just a game behind, both teams are already preparing themselves for the postseason.
As for the rivalry, players on both teams look forward to the chance at playing one more time.
“It’s always us and them at the end every year,” Franco said. “They will always be our rival, no matter what.”