Both Utah FC 99 Black (UT) and AFC Lightning 99 Elite (GA) left their 19U Girls game with a point, but they also walked away with some valuable lessons.
While a late AFC goal forced the game to finish in a 1-1 draw, each coach said there were learning experiences he hoped his respective team would take advantage of moving forward at the 2018 US Youth Soccer National Championships in Frisco, Texas.
Utah led for much of the match, but Mollie Belisle netted an equalizer in the 83rd minute to help the Georgia side earn a point while leaving Utah knowing it was moments away from a victory.
“She made a good play, so credit to her,” Utah coach Eric Brady said of Belisle’s strike. “It is disappointing because you come this far and there’s seven minutes left in the game. You want to defend it to the end. But they’re teenagers, and these are the life lessons they learn.
“We’ll learn from that moment. That could propel us to winning it all. Even though it was a tie, if you can learn from that, it will make you better.”
Utah grabbed a lead when Tiana Tolman netted the game’s opening goal in the 12th minute. She took a pass while running into the box and used a good first touch to create an angle that allowed her to slide her shot inside the right post.
After withstanding the goal and some additional early pressure from Utah, AFC came out from halftime and immediately created more spells of possession in its attacking half. Brady said his team had some chances to put the game away, but Samantha Hoffman made some key saves on close-range shots to keep AFC within striking distance.
AFC took advantage of those saves and the increased offensive pressure when Belisle finally broke through late in the game. Rebecca Morris sent in a low cross from the left wing, which Belisle received six yards from goal. She spun away from a defender and sent a shot high and inside the far post to pull the Georgia side level.
“Our second half was much better,” AFC coach Steve Muccillo said. “We were much tighter, and we didn’t allow them to play with the ball as much as they did in the first half. That started some chances for us to possess a little better and to get some territory and create some chances.”
Muccillo said it is huge to get a point in the first game, especially after trailing for a majority of the game. As a coach of the 2014 McGuire Cup-winning Concorde Fire Elite (GA), Muccillo has an idea of what it takes to claim a National title.
“One of the things I learned from that tournament is that everyone has to feel a part of it,” Muccillo said. “Today, we got everyone in the game in the first half. Everybody did well. I was pleased that everybody got to be a part of this experience, and I thought everybody contributed today.”