By Jonathan Duren 

It’s Not Over Until It’s Over

Connecticut FC’s U15 team found itself down 2-0 early to Penn Fusion SA but refused to give in, as the squad battled back for a 3-3 draw after a late free-kick equalizer by Faith Graziano in the team’s showcase opener.

Penn Fusion piled on the pressure early, resulting in a pair of goals in the first nine minutes by Angelena Deluhery. Her first tally came unassisted and followed it up by connecting with Charlotte Grim immediately after to take a 2-0 lead. 

Despite the 2-0 hole, Connecticut FC withstood the early pressure and started to turn the tide in the final 20 minutes of the first half. Graziano got her team on the board with a fantastic left-footed strike to halve the deficit right before the midway point.

Penn Fusion regained its two-goal lead after an own goal early in the second half, but even that wouldn’t deter Connecticut FC. The team pressed the Penn Fusion SA defense and was rewarded by a goal pinned to the top corner by Abigail Ortolano to again bring Connecticut FC within one.

Connecticut FC kept driving forward in the late stages, and drew a free kick on an attacking move with less than five minutes remaining. Graziano lined up from about 20 yards out and blistered a free-kick over the wall to complete the comeback. Right before the final whistle, Graziano nearly netted a winner for Connecticut FC, but it ricocheted off the top of the crossbar, solidifying the 3-3 draw.

Connecticut FC Head Coach Rich Sutherland said his team got off to a slow start, but eventually found their footing, and that Graziano was effective in pushing the attack for the team.

“She’s technically very good,” Sutherland said. “She’s got two wonderful feet, and she’s very intelligent on the ball. From an offensive point of view, she certainly helps her team going forward. She even could have had a hat trick at the very end, if not for the crossbar.”

Sutherland also said he’s looking forward to getting all of his players game opportunities during the rest of the weekend at the showcase.

“You have to make sure all of the time is shared,” Sutherland said. “But at the end of the day, it’s about getting them opportunities to play and be seen.”

Go With The Flow

Match Fit Academy and San Diego Surf U16’s sides played a wide-open, free-flowing game Friday afternoon, but the goals didn’t show up until the second half, where San Diego Surf scored twice to take a 2-0 victory.

The defense for Match Fit Academy stood out in the first half as defender Cassidy Brown broke apart key attacks with blocks and deflections, and goalkeeper Salange Bell made quite a few saves to keep the game level after 40 minutes.

San Diego Surf was able to finally break through in the 50th minute after a great attacking move resulted in a goal by Elli Emri to put her team in front 1-0. Surf stayed on the front foot for the remainder of the game, and added the insurance tally after a well-placed shot by Sophia Memory with just three minutes left in the match.

San Diego Surf Assistant Coach Philip Wolf said while it took some time for the team to find their game, once they did, success followed. 

“I think we struggled at the beginning against their pressure,” Wolf said. “But, once the game kept going and we kept passing, spaces began to open and we gained control of the game.”

Getting a win in the opening game of the showcase is always a good feeling, but coach Wolf said it was more about his team finally getting the experience of being back on the field.

“This has been a crazy time,” Wolf added. “We’re just trying to get these girls minutes, get to know them, and let them play the sport they love.”

Safe Hands

The defenses came to play for FC Stars White and Eastside FC’s U17 squads, but Eastside was able to find a late winner to take a 1-0 decision. But the biggest storyline of the day was midfielder Catherine Lewison, who kept a clean sheet after stepping into goal as a last-minute replacement.

Eastside FC’s goalkeeper was injured earlier in the week, and Head Coach Tom Bialek said the players have been true teammates, stepping up as the last line of defense when called upon. Today, it was Lewison’s turn.

“Kudos to our kids,” Bialek said. “They didn’t bat an eye. I just said, ‘When it’s your turn, go in there and do your best,’ and that’s what they did. None of those players have played in goal; they’re all field players. They’ve just stepped in and did their best and the team has rallied around every one of them when it’s their turn. Today that was Catherine and she was great back there.”

In true fashion, the goalkeepers headlined the contest, as FC Stars’ netminders Katie Wright (first half) and Eliza Teplow (second half) were tested often, both turning away multiple scoring chances to keep the game level throughout the contest. Lewison mirrored her opponent on the other side of the pitch, challenging FC Stars’ shots and making a couple of big saves to keep the score even. 

Eastside FC was unrelenting in their attack as well, and was able to capture the winning goal with just 10 minutes remaining in the game, when Avery Libed punched in a deep cross into the box, earning the 1-0 win.

Bialek said he was pleased with his team’s effort Friday to stay strong and pick up the victory.

“This is a showcase, so this is really just about playing and not being as concerned about results, but of course we always want to win,” Bialek stated. “Whenever you step on the field, you want to try to score. So, I’m very pleased to see the way we were able to get a hold of the ball and make connections.”

Bialek also said ECNL North Carolina presents a great recruiting opportunity for his team, especially with the NCAA dead period ending June 1. 

“This is an important time for them to be seen,” Bialek said. “We’ve got a lot of good players that haven’t committed yet, so we hope scouts are watching and they leave here with opportunities to play at the next level.”