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16U La Roca pulls away for big semifinal win



One year later. Same situation. Different result.

After coming up a game short of the National final a year ago, La Roca-FD 02 (UT) pulled away for a 5-0 win over Fullerton Rangers 02 White (CA-S) in Saturday’s 16U Girls semifinal to earn a spot in the title game at the 2018 US Youth Soccer National Championships in Frisco, Texas.

Now that his team has navigated past the semifinal round, La Roca coach Felipe Diaz said his team will continue to take it one moment at a time.

“They were prepared to come here and not let what happened last year happen again,” Diaz said. “Now, we’ve got the spot in the final. We’re going to go step by step, work hard and take everything seriously.”

The teams exchanged some good looks at goal late in the first half on Saturday, but neither side managed to break through. Diaz said Fullerton sat back and let the game come to them, and he was happy with the patience his team showed in sticking to its game.

La Roca’s discipline and determination paid dividends when it netted an opening goal in the 49th minute. Caroline Stringfellow hit a dipping shot from 25 yards out that floated over the keeper’s outstretched arms and into the back of the net.

“Our team came out really strong in the second half,” Stringfellow said. “We felt if we could get a goal, we could just keep going after that opener. We were really pumped to come out and give it our all.”

The breakthrough goal opened Fullerton up a bit, which allowed La Roca to generate more scoring opportunities.

The Utah side needed just five minutes to double its lead. Stringfellow drove down the left side of the box before squaring a ball to Brynlee Meyerhoffer at the back post, and Meyerhoffer tapped it into an open net to put La Roca up, 2-0.

La Roca continued to build its lead, with Tiani Fonoti starting the build-up for the third tally by winning a 50-50 ball just inside midfield. Fonoti back-heeled a pass to Whitney Lopez, who slipped a ball through a defender’s legs to Stringfellow. The midfielder calmly finished inside the left post for her second goal of the game — putting La Roca up by three.

“They waited for us,” Diaz said of Fullerton’s early defensive shape. “We didn’t freak out or lose composure. When we found the first goal, and the game opened up.”

It took just three more minutes for Stringfellow to score again and complete her hat trick, as La Roca took complete control of the match. Whitney Lopez added a fifth strike in stoppage time to cap the victory.

Diaz said his team is hitting its stride at the right time, and he and the players will hope that continues on Sunday, when they face SJEB Rush 02 Academy Blue (NJ) in the final.

“After this win, they are believing in the team and themselves,” Diaz said. “They are ready. No matter what happens tomorrow, they have made it in to the National final. We’ll see what happens.”