CHULA VISTA, California - The U.S. U17 Women’s National Team and U16 Girls National Team scrimmaged against each other on Thursday as part of the combined camp that is taking place at the Olympic Training Center this week.
The final score of the game over three 30-minute periods was 3-3, but the result hardly mattered for either coach as the goal to evaluate players took the necessary priority on the day. There were some standout performances on the day from both squads.
“I’m really proud of the performance today,” U.S. U16 GNT head coach Tricia Taliaferro told TopDrawerSoccer after the game. “I proud of how we handle the ups and downs through the game and we continued to improve as the game went on. We stayed focused on what we wanted to accomplish. We could have easily gone directly and gotten into an athletic game, but we slowed it down and kept our style.”
“I thought it was a great opportunity for both teams to learn about how we want to play,” U.S. U17 WNT head coach B.J. Snow told TopDrawerSoccer after the game. “I was a really disappointed with how we played in that first 30 minutes, not tactically or technically, but in the energy. In the second period, we did some really good things. Above all, this camp is about evaluating individual performances so we need to give them a platform so we can see what we need to see. Sometimes that is positive and sometimes that is negative, but we need to see it.”
U.S. U17 WNT 3-3 U.S. U16 GNT
It did not take long for Summer Yates to introduce herself to the sizable crowd of ECNL and college coaches on hand for the scrimmage on Thursday. The attacking midfielder showed brightly in the opening minutes when she kept popping up in pockets of space and making life difficult on the U17 WNT midfielders. Yates whirled with the ball around defenders with the same grace as a ballerina. And her teammates made sure she saw plenty of the ball early.
It took 21 minutes before the U16s found the break through in the game. Yates, the recent Washington commit, was tripped in the 18-yard box and she converted the penalty kick for a goal on her unofficial debut.
U.S. U17 WNT head coach B.J. Snow lamented the lack of enthusiasm and effort from his squad in the opening 30 minutes after the game. That blasé attitude only helped the U16s grow in confidence after goalkeeper Hensley Hancuff made a great save in the opening minutes on a breakaway shot from Rachel Jones. The U17s had another chance in the eighth minute when Isabel Rodriguez whipped in a cross from the left flank, but Alexa Spaanstra’s shot went well over the bar.
After the two early chances, it was the U16s that took control of the action with the midfielders winning most of the battles and Yates putting her foot on the gas with an unrelating approach until the whistle blew for the end of the period.
Beyond the goal, the younger side had two other good chances to add to the score. Olivia Wingate split the two center backs and then tried to beat goalkeeper Brooke Bollinger from 12 out. The Space Coast United Storm goalkeeper dove to her right and blocked the initial effort. The rebound fell to Yates who tried to punch it away, but Bollinger managed to paw her shot away too. The ball was still in play and Kaya Frazier tried to hammer it in. This time Karina Rodriguez made the block and cleared the danger.
With five minutes left in the opening 30-minute period, the U16s had another look. Right back Kennedy Wesley played a wonderful ball forward to Ashlynn Serepca who chested it down and into her stride. With a defender on her shoulder, Serepca pulled up and played it back to Yates. The attacking midfielder ripped a cross to the far post, but Frazier had drifted into an offside position, which negated the play.
The U17s came out in the second period with a commitment to high pressure and making sure that the U16 defense was uncomfortable. Center forward Civana Kuhlmann set the tone with her commitment to chasing down every defender when they had the ball. The Colorado Rush star was not alone though. The U17s did well as a team in stepping with the forward.
“We haven’t been doing anything in terms of high-pressure,” Taliaferro said. “It rocked us and put us on our heels. Some of us were able to adjust and some needed a little more time to grasp that speed of play, but they had us. It was good for us.”
The pressure was rewarded four minutes into the second period. Kuhlmann put the two center backs under pressure and then a botched clearance eventually led to the ball falling for Brianna Pinto. The North Carolina commit hit a thunderbolt that deserves a place in any highlight reel for over 25 yards out.
Nine minutes later, the U17s took the lead when Rachel Dorwart picked the pocket of a defender who was trying to shield the ball out of bounds about 40 yards from goal. Dorwart picked up her head and played the ball into Kuhlmann near the penalty spot. Kuhlmann played it off to Kerry Abello, who smashed it home.
The U17s capped the scoring with five minutes remaining in the period. Dorwart linked up with Emily Knous for a quick combination at the top of the box before she was brushed off the ball. The referee awarded a penalty kick, which Dorwart finished for the third goal of the period for the U17s.
The third period saw the U17s drop off a bit in the pressure, as Snow emphasized after the game that one of the layers the squad was working on this week was how they play when they aren’t playing high pressure.
With a bit more time on the ball and some of the starters back on for both teams, the U16s were able to go toe-to-toe with the older group again.
Brianna Martinez, the pride of New Mexico, was a major reason why the U16s struck first in the third period. Martinez started the play with a mazy run down the right flank. She earned a corner kick after dribbling through three players. The U16s elected to go short with the corner and Martinez hit a perfectly driven ball into a pile of bodies about six yards out. Yates put the final touch on the ball for her second goal of the day.
The U17s had a couple of chances in the third period, but the finishing was not there for the older squad. Jones had a chance that went wide of the post with 18 minutes left. Mattison Interian also came up big with a save or two.
The U16s found the equalizer in stoppage time when Sophie Hirst picked the pocket of a center back after the U17s tried to recirculate the attack from the back after a free kick. Hirst finished the chance with the confidence of an experienced veteran as she roofed her shot from a tight angle. Yates deserves partial credit for the setup after she fully committed to running down a pass back to the goalkeeper for 30 yards to put the U17s under pressure. Hirst joined her in the pursuit and it led to the steal and then expert finish.
Both squads will review film from the game and return to training tomorrow. The camp concludes on April 13.