By Jonathan Duren 

Comeback City

Scorpions Soccer‘s U16 team took a 1-0 lead just three minutes into their contest against FC Alliance, but their counterparts didn’t let that bother them as the Knoxville, TN-based squad scored three goals in the second half to rally for a 3-1 victory.

FC Alliance played a high-pressure defense to start the game, but Scorpions were able to put together a counterattack that led to Sofia Schallmo striking a well-targeted shot into the low corner in the third minute to give her team a 1-0 lead. 

Despite trailing, FC Alliance stuck to its game plan and created quite a few opportunities for an equalizer before halftime. FC Alliance’s best chance was in the 10th minute, when a shot seemed destined for the net but was turned away on a diving save by the Scorpions’ goalkeeper, Lauren Calabro, at the last second. Her save created a corner kick, and FC Alliance ran a crafty set-piece that opened up another opportunity to score, but strong play by the Scorpions backline shut the door.

FC Alliance continued to drive forward to start the second half, and drew a penalty just four minutes out of the break. Megan Burleson stepped up and calmly placed the ball in the bottom-left corner, bringing the game level in the 44th minute. Just five minutes later, FC Alliance pulled into the lead after Victoria Soutuyo played a great pass into the box that Kayla Barr was able to send into the net in the 49th minute.

Undeterred, Scorpions went on the hunt for a tying tally with multiple strong attacks downfield. They also stayed strong at the back, using smart tackling to set up counterattacks. FC Alliance withstood the pressure and stopped a key attack by Scorpions in the 58th minute with the centerbacks stepping up to break up a cross into a dangerous area. Bolstered by the strong defensive effort, FC Alliance was able to head down the field and collect a decisive third goal from Sydney Clements on a rebound after a save in the 60th minute.

After a flurry of three goals in the first 20 minutes of the second half, neither side added to its total and FC Alliance earned the 3-1 victory at the final whistle. 

FC Alliance Head Coach Josh Gray said he was proud of his team for not letting the early goal disrupt them or their game plan.

“It was important for us, as a team, to battle back,” Gray said. “I’m super proud of my team and the way they played. The opponent was very good and coming back to win games at this level is very hard to do. And when you go down early, it’s even harder to win games in this league.  I’m proud of this team and now we have to get ready for tomorrow.”

Barr was key in the early high press for FC Alliance and was able to add a goal in the contest as well. Gray said the kind of energy she brought to the contest is no different than any other game she’s played in.

“In each and every game that we play, Kayla is one of the best players on the field, and that’s what’s expected of her,” Gray said. 

Hats Off

NC Fusion’s U17 team jumped out to a 1-0 lead within the first 15 minutes of the game, but Real So Cal was able to shake off the early goal for a 4-2 win, spearheaded by a hat trick from Kendall Campbell

After allowing the opening goal in the 13th minute to NC Fusion’s Chloe Ausburn, Real So Cal leveled the game at 1-1 with Campbell’s first goal of the contest. She ripped a long-range shot from the left side of the pitch in the 24th minute that caught everybody by surprise as it sailed through the air and dropped into the goal. 

Both sides pressed hard to find a go-ahead goal before the first-half whistle, but it was Real So Cal who made the next entry into the scorebook after Campbell scored her second goal of the match on a corner in the 38th minute.

Real So Cal kept the pressure on to start the second half and earned a free kick in a strong attacking position in the 44th minute. They ran their set-piece to perfection as Erin Zeile was able to run unmarked to the near post for a goal to push Real So Cal ahead 3-1.

NC Fusion didn’t take long to respond, as they quickly worked the ball up the field and found Rachel Fry, who beat the keeper on a shot off the back post in the 52nd minute to pull her team within one. 

With Real So Call pushing, NC Fusion’s Whitney Lorio made a handful of saves in a flurry of attacking opportunities during the ensuing 10 minutes to keep her team down just one.

But Real So Cal kept charging down the field as they tried to find another goal, and a tangle just inside the box led to a penalty kick for Real So Cal. Campbell took charge and capped off her hat-trick with a shot to the right side to give her team a 4-2 advantage.

“She’s a fantastic person, most importantly,” Real So Cal Head Coach Christopher Osment said about Campbell. “She’s a great teammate and a great role model as well for the players in the club. She works hard and she’s driven and the goals represent how well she played today.”

Another player that stood out on the pitch, even without finding the scoresheet, is Savannah King, Real So Cal’s defender. 

A multi-sport athlete, King recently set a school track record at Agoura High School in the 400-meter event with an impressive 56.87 mark, a new school record after previously setting a record in the 200-meters as well. King’s performance helped her school qualify for the California Interscholastic Federation, but instead opted to compete in ECNL North Carolina, knowing how important a positive showcase would be for her team’s postseason opportunities.

“She’s a very fit individual,” Osment said. “She’s rapid. Her quality both on the field in soccer and on the track is incredible.”

Osment said his club grew into the game as the match went on and that they played their best in the second half.

“Our team was fresher today than yesterday,” Osment said.  “Today was a very good response, and it showcased a lot of their talents.”

Osment added he was grateful his team had the opportunity to participate in ECNL North Carolina, especially with playoffs right around the corner.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity,” Osment said. “It’s wonderful to see all of these college coaches, so firstly, thank you to all of them for coming to watch. I know it meant a lot to all of the players and all of the teams. The opportunity for them to showcase their talent is brilliant. This is a very well-organized tournament, and I’m very proud to be a part of it, the ECNL and this showcase.”

NC Fusion Head Coach John Pardini echoed Osment’s comments, saying it’s great to be able for his club to participate in a high-level showcase.

“It’s always enjoyable,” Pardini said. “You’ve got intensity and wonderful personalities in the games. And then, you have an environment with hundreds of college coaches around the fields. I really think it brings a tremendous atmosphere that is unmatched by any other event or organization.”

Quick Off The Draw

Tampa Bay United Rowdies’ U17 needed only one goal to dispatch with Pacific Northwest Saturday afternoon, and that goal came right after the opening whistle, as the Florida team stormed out the gates and took control early. 

Tampa Bay United pressed immediately from the opening kickoff, and Anna Gore was able to fight through defenders to not only get a shot off, but put it into the back of the net before 60 seconds had elapsed.

Unfazed by the deficit, Pacific Northwest stuck to their game plan, knowing there was plenty of time to get an equalizer. The team continually worked their way into a dangerous position after good passing on an attack down the right side, and that led to back-to-back corners in the 24th minute. But once again, TBU’s goalkeeper Christina Tsaousis and the defense stood firm to prevent an equalizing goal in the first half.

Pacific Northwest stayed on the front foot in the second half as they made a couple of dangerous attacks in the opening 10 minutes, but each time, the chance was cut short after a player ended up just a step offside. 

Tampa Bay United nearly doubled their lead in the 66th minute, if it wasn’t for a fantastic diving save by Kendra Donley as she tipped the shot over the bar for a corner. Tampa Bay United Rowdies organized well for the corner, but a headed attempt went just wide.

Pacific Northwest had one last rally in the 73rd minute after Alysia Snyder cut along the end line to free herself up to send in a cross. After the first shot was blocked, Snyder had another opportunity on goal, and in the end, Tampa Bay United Rowdies stopped three shots on the same attack to defend their one-goal lead.

Tampa Bay United Rowdies Head Coach Tricia Taliaferro said she and the rest of her staff were proud of their team’s effort, especially against such a strong opponent.

“Our defense was gritty,” Taliaferro said. “I thought we did an excellent job of getting adjusted from the beginning. It took us about 15 to 20 minutes, and then we started to shift as a group. It was pure discipline and grit. It was a hot day, they were pressing us, but I thought our center backs and outside backs did a great job of stepping forward and winning balls.”

As far as scoring in the first minute, that was all a part of the plan for Tampa Bay United.

“I was not surprised to see us score that early,” Taliaferro said. “Whenever we start a game, we’re trying to press. We were able to watch a little bit of their game yesterday, so that was something that we scouted, and we wanted to put high pressure on them from the beginning. And honestly, Anna had a fantastic goal. It was just pure effort to be able to get that shot off. Compliments to her to be able to finish the play that we were trying to execute.”

Taliaferro said it’s been a great opportunity to be able to play against great teams like Pacific Northwest during the showcase as well.

“It’s always a privilege to participate in these showcases, especially at this time of year,” Taliaferro said. “To see the high-level athletes and individual performances, and the tactics that they’re working on, it’s been on another level for us and it’s been a great challenge. It’s a blessing for us to be able to compete here, and then three weeks from now, we get to go to Nationals.”