A goal late in the first half helped fuel Sunrise Sting 2000 (FL) to a 3-1 win over Scottsdale Blackhawks Taylor (AZ) in a must-win 18U Girls matchup.
Both teams entered the game even at three points in the Group B standings, but Sunrise walked off the field with second place secured, along with the accompanying semifinals berth at the 2018 US Youth Soccer National Championships in Frisco, Texas.
The win provided a good rebound for Sunrise, which entered Thursday coming off a 1-0 defeat in its second game.
“Last night, we all talked to each other after the loss. We were saying, ‘it’s win or go home — simple as that,’” Sunrise captain Chloe Laureano said. “We all thought about the game before we stepped on the field and envisioned what we were going to do today. As soon as we started, we had that quick goal and continued to motivate each other.”
The early opening goal that gave Sunrise its ideal start came courtesy of Kayla Fernandez, who gathered the ball at the top of the box and blasted a shot into the left side of the goal.
The Florida side applied defensive pressure high up the field, which made Scottsdale work hard to pass the ball around and build out of its own end. However, the Blackhawks overcame the Sunrise press and secured a 20th-minute equalizer when Haley Willibey lifted a shot over Sting keeper Liz Matei and inside the near post.
“[Scottsdale] tied it up, but we kept our heads up,” Matei said. “A tie didn’t mean anything to us. We kept pushing until the last minute, and I’m so grateful for my defense. They came up big in so many moments.”
With Scottsdale holding a goal differential advantage, Sunrise couldn’t afford a tie and needed to push for a go-ahead goal. The Florida side got that goal in the final minute of the first half — a time of the game when any goals can provide a big swing in momentum.
Alysa Vazquez made an acrobatic attempt to head a long free kick played into the Scottsdale penalty area. The header forced the Blackhawks keeper to tip the ball off the crossbar, but Megan Morgan followed the initial shot and hit home the rebound to put Sunrise up, 2-1.
“That goal boosted our spirits, and we felt it kind of dropped theirs,” Laureano said. “That was an amazing team, and they still came out hard all the way to the finish, but that second goal really helped us.”
Scottsdale possessed the ball in the attacking half for large portions of the second half, but Sunrise prevented any overly dangerous shots on goal.
Samantha Wald sealed the Sunrise victory when she slid a 90th-minute shot past a charging keeper to cap the 3-1 win — sending the Florida side through to Saturday’s semifinals.
“It’s very exciting because it was a very tense game,” Matei said. “We all needed to gather ourselves after yesterday, and I think we came out and performed as a team, rather than individuals, to come out with the win.”