A couple of timely goals intermixed with numerous key defensive plays helped 18U Girls Michigan Jaguars 01 Green (MI) to a 2-0 win over 1776 United FC 01 Xtreme (PA-E) on Tuesday.
The victory left Michigan at the top of Group A after one day of play at the 2019 US Youth Soccer National Championships, presented by Dick’s Sporting Goods, at the Scheels Overland Park Soccer Complex in Overland Park, Kan.
“Getting three points is a huge advantage to start off the tournament,” Michigan Jaguars coach Dan Dalzochio said. “When you look at this game, we probably didn’t dominate opportunities or possession, but we played well defensively and put away the opportunities we had. Knowing this is a game that could have gone the other way, I’m really happy with this result.”
With the end of the first half nearing, the Jaguars produced a breakthrough goal to give themselves some momentum heading into the break. After Michigan earned a corner kick, Riley Balconi rose up to send a header into the net and put the Jaguars up, 1-0.
If the Jaguars felt any comfort following the breakthrough, 1776 United made sure it didn’t last long, as the Eastern Pennsylvania side began quickly began a second half full of periods of extended possession in its attacking half of the field.
After withstanding a period of pressure from 1776 United, the Jaguars countered and extended their lead to 2-0 in the 73rd minute. When the ball got behind the Xtreme back line, Julia Stadtherr ran it down and slid a shot around the charging keeper that tucked just inside the right post to give the Jaguars some breathing room.
The Eastern Pennsylvania side went right back on the attack immediately following the goal — forcing Jaguars keeper Maya Etienne to tip a shot just wide of the post and nearly missing on a near-post volley off of the ensuing corner kick.
“We defended, I want to say, eight corner kicks in the second half,” Dalzochio said. “Our goalkeeper made some unbelievable saves, and we must have blocked shots five or six times.
“Credit to them, they’re a really good team and have some excellent players. They broke us down a few times, but our goalkeeper came up big all day.”
The final 15 minutes featured several instances of 1776 United pressuring the Jaguars’ goal, as it looked to cut into the deficit.
Alivia Hamilton hit a slicing corner directly off the back post in the 80th minute, and the Etienne dove to her left to make an acrobatic save on the follow-up attempt — pushing it just wide of the post. Minutes later, Hamilton played in a low cross from the right wing that could have resulted in a tap-in at the back post if not for strong positioning by Michigan defender Ailie Raske.
The team defensive effort, coupled with Etienne’s saves, helped the Jaguars secure the clean sheet to open the week in Kansas. Etienne said it’s beneficial for her to face some pressure from a strong team to open the tournament, as it helps her get comfortable moving forward.
“I’m so happy with how my team played,” Etienne said. “We had to adjust. They were attacking us and attacking us and changing their formation. I think we did really well handling them and keeping the ball out of the net. I’m really proud of how we played.”