Albuquerque, NM – Welcome back to the desert.
Another ordinary, bone-dry 110˚ New Mexico day awaited Region IV’s best teams on the final day of group play at the Far West Regional Championships Wednesday, but the players didn’t seem to mind.
While I was busy guzzling Gatorade and slopping sunscreen on my neck, the region’s best players put on a show. They ignored the elements, because there was plenty of heat beside that of the sun – and some teams dealt with it better than others.
Today we take a look at how some of the top teams handled the pressure. In the U14 Boys’ Flight C and the U16 Girls’ Flight A, South Coast Bayern and San Diego Surf charged into the knockout rounds with plenty of momentum on their side.
Here’s how it went down.
96 Blackhawks (AZ) and South Coast Bayern (Cal South)Walking the line:
South Coast Bayern cut it close Wednesday in their final group game against Arizona’s Blackhawks; but the 0-0 draw was enough to get the Cal South team through Flight C and into the knockout round.
In the first half, Bayern, not the Blackhawks, played like a team needing a win.
Midfielders Luis Dominguez and Jaime Salazar repeatedly crashed the Blackhawk box, making cutting runs and sending in dangerous crosses from all angles.
Forwards Daniel Hererra and Paul Salcedo
looked great, using their size, quickness and tenacity to collapse the Blackhawk defense. Salcedo would have had a goal on a breakaway late in the first half had Blackhawk goalie Chase Bishov
not made an excellent save from point-blank range.
But in the second half, the Blackhawks appeared to realize their imminent fate, and decided to try and do something about it.
Tyler Dial started controlling the rhythm in the midfield, and winger Grant Lillard
used his pace to put Bayern defenders on their heels. Forward Luis Lopez held the ball up well on the attack, and winger Samuel Gleadle
showed flashes of creativity and speed to turn the corner on the flanks of the Bayern back line.
But as much as the Blackhawks penetrated, Bayern would not surrender the draw.
Gleadle, Lillard and several others had good looks on goal, but Bayern ‘keeper Edwin Elizazzaraz deflected every attempt and earned his team a spot in the quarterfinals.
Meanwhile the Blackhawks, despite tremendous effort (and plenty of hollering from their devoted coach), are sent packing.
The Blackhawks performed admirably against a brutal draw, but goal differential sends Santa Clara Sporting to the quarterfinals as the second-place team from Flight C.
U16 San Diego Surf White and Slammers FCSurf’s up:
Wednesday’s U16 Girls showdown between Flight A’s San Diego Surf White and Slammers FC was a heavyweight battle featuring two teams with their sights set on the regional title.
Although it was obvious these two teams would advance from Flight A (both had 6 points going into the game, while their competitors had 0), I had to watch because of the sheer quality of the players on the field.
The Surf had the edge in the first half, going ahead when Allie Bailey sliced across the right flank and found Stephanie Hamilton alone at the penalty spot, where she finished with a quick touch into the side-netting in the 21st minute.
Surf had another great chance 10 minutes later, when Olivia Buechler connected Sarah Adams and Nicole Sherwin for a series of shots on goal that barely missed.
Adams looked very dangerous all half, but most of her chances were cut down by Slammers goalkeeper Sarah Cox, who was impressive in her shot-blocking, communication and distribution as she kept the Slammers in the game.
In the second period the Slammers started pressing more people forward, but could not penetrate the Surf back line.
Makenzy Doniak showed great ball-winning and holding abilities as a target forward, Aubrey Baker repeatedly threatened from the left flank, and Natalie Donaldson was tenacious and smart in a center back role. Still, the Surf would not surrender.
Their bend-but-don’t-break mentality, anchored by outstanding defenders Cassie Callahan and Maya Theuer, proved enough for the victory.
But both teams remain confident, as they’ll each have an opportunity to prove their worth in the knockout rounds.
That’s it for today. Be sure to check back with us daily between now and Monday, as the Region IV Championships are only starting to heat up.