ORLANDO, Fla. — Going into its third and final game of group play Thursday, the Wilson Youth Soccer Association Explosion Girls U16 team still has a fighting chance to advance to the championship bracket of the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championship Series.
But, following a 1-0 loss to RUSA FC Gold at the ESPN Wide World of Sports on Wednesday, the Explosion will need help to do it.
The loss leaves Wilson in third place in the four-team group with one team left for each team. The Greater Libertyville (Illinois) Soccer Association FC 1974 Elite, WYSA’s Thursday opponent, leads the way with four points, while Wilson and RUSA are tied with three points apiece and NJ Premier FC has two. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head wins.
So, for Wilson, the path to the four-team championship round is simple, and must include a win over Libertyville on Thursday. That would assure Wilson finishes ahead of Libertyville. WYSA would then need RUSA FC Gold to lose or tie its game with NJ Premier FC to win the group and advance.
Before the Explosion can think about getting help, however, the team must take care of business against Libertyville.
“We have to go out there tomorrow and treat it as a quarterfinal match regardless of what goes on in the other game,” WYSA head coach Randol Mendoza said. “Because we want to give ourselves an opportunity to go to the next stage, and you do that by winning the game. So we have to go out there, perform and try to have the best game so far, and just leave it on the field. … We have to go out there and play, leave it on the field and just know that we gave it 100%.”
Throughout the game, WYSA limited RUSA’s scoring opportunities, but struggled to generate its own. A goal from RUSA’s Mia Abbey in the 18th minute stood as the game winner.
“The game got away from us,” said Mendoza. “I always felt like we could tie the game and even win the game, but it was one of those games where events weren’t working in our favor. We were missing a ball, it was half a yard short or the shot was a yard wide. Things that normally would fall and get into the back of the net, it just wasn’t working in our favor today. So we were off a little bit and didn’t play 100% our best, but even then, we still had an opportunity. So we gave it what we had, but it wasn’t enough.”
Abbey headed in the rebound of a free kick to give RUSA lead it would not relinquish.
In the second half, the Explosion pushed for the tying goal, with Mariah Polk firing a shot off the top bar and Susan Guzman and Isabella Daza getting behind the defense a few times, but couldn’t find the equalizer.
“RUSA FC did a good job of closing us down, even though we beat one or two of their players,” Mendoza said. “So they remained compact out of the back and they made it hard for us to break them down.”
On the other end of the field, however, WYSA did well to limit RUSA FC’s scoring opportunities to give itself a chance to win the game.
Darby Wallig made 10 saves in goal, and the back line of Natalie Capps, Karys Wheeler, Eva Fatzaun, Avery Williams and Sydney Schwartz cleared balls out of harm’s way and minimized RUSA’s scoring opportunities.
“I definitely think that we did well not letting them get crosses in,” Wheeler said. “I know everybody on the back line did their best to try and stop that from happening. So that made it a little bit easier.”
For WYSA, the key part of the preparation for game 3 will involve flushing the tough loss Wednesday from its system and focusing on the task at hand.
“I think that’s the most important thing that we can do to prepare for tomorrow,” Wheeler said. “To forget about today and focus on the goal tomorrow. Anything that’s happened in the past, we’ve just got to put it behind us and keep a clean mindset.”
As opposed to its first two games, Wilson will face a somewhat familiar opponent Thursday.
The Explosion faced Libertyville at a USYS National League PRO event in Florida in February, and fell 2-1. WYSA will look to use that prior knowledge to its advantage in what amounts to a do-or-die contest Thursday, with a start time of 11:30 a.m.
“We know how they play,” Mendoza said. “We have prepared for this moment knowing that we possibly could run into them in the future. And here we are, we’re getting ready to play them in group three of nationals. So it’s a team that we know, it’s a staff that we know. We have somewhat of an expectation as to how they play. We saw film from their game one against RUSA, so we know they’re a talented team. We know that they attack with numbers. We know they stay compact on defense. So it’s going to be a good measuring stick of what we are, because that’s such a successful club.”