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Set pieces key in Blues day one victory

The So Cal Blues (CA-S) capitalized on two free kicks and one penalty kick en route to a 3-0 victory over St. Louis Scott Gallagher (MO) in the opening game of the 2012 US Youth Soccer National Championships, at Manchester Meadows in Rock Hill, S.C. The Blues now sit atop of the Under-19 Girls division with CCSC SOL and Scorpions Elite tying in the other game, 1-1.

The Blues were lucky to escape the first 25 minutes unharmed as Scott Gallagher had its fair share of opportunities in the beginning stages of the game. Alexandria Rodriguez provided the first scoring threat for Scott Gallagher in the 11th minute when she curled a shot from inside the box towards the back post, only to be denied by Blues goalkeeper, Kelly McCormick. Ten minutes later, Kelsey Dinges’s long distance strike was bested by McCormick.

"It wasn’t a very good start for us, but we showed the championship resolve that we have," Blues head coach Randy Dodge said. "We are going to have to play better in the first half if we are going to have a shot at winning this thing."

After Scott Gallagher dominated early, the run of play leveled out towards the end of the half. In the 32nd minute, Blues’ Kelly Fitzgerald made a dangerous run on a beautiful through-ball sent on the left side of the box. Scott Gallagher keeper, Meghan Dolan, mistimed her tackle, and ended up clipping Fitzgerald, resulting in a penalty kick. Dolan guessed the correct side Natalie Werner’s ensuing penalty kick, but Werner’s placement was good enough to skip past Dolan’s outstretched hands and into the back of the net.

"Fitzgerald came up huge for us by drawing all three hard fouls, and we were able to put them away," Dodge said. "We have been practicing our set pieces over the last few days, and were able to capitalize."

Building on a strong finish to the first half, the Blues controlled the possession second frame. Veteran back core composed of Courtney Assuma, Kim Marshall, Mikhaila Bowden Barry and Werner, who Dodge admitted was a natural frontrunner helping out on defense today, stifled a Scott Gallagher team unaccustomed to playing from behind.

"In the first 15 minutes we had multiple opportunities but were never able to get a goal," Scott Gallagher head coach Kirk Moser said. "We then gave up a penalty kick, and from that point on we were chasing the game, which is something we haven’t had to do much of in the past."

Marshall scored the Blues’ second goal in the 81st minute on a free kick from just outside of the box. The shot sailed over Scott Gallagher’s wall and over Dolan’s head to put the Blues up 2-0. In similar fashion, Werner scored her second goal of the match six minutes later from set piece 25 yards out. Those three goals were the Blues’ only shots on goal.

The Blues passed their first test in their journey to win their second National Championship today, and will take on CCSC SOL at 7:30 a.m. tomorrow on field one.