Disaster struck for the Boise Nationals U-18 girls in the first minute when New Mexico Rush forward Elena Gurule scored on a cross near the corner flag that dropped just inside the far post.
Fortunately, adversity isn’t new to the Nationals.
The team had to win a penalty-kick tiebreaker Thursday just to advance out of group play at the US Youth Soccer Far West Regional Championships, and their quarterfinal game Friday morning marked the first time the team got to experience the pressure of the knockout round.
But nearly as fast as they fell behind, the Nationals got right back on their feet as forward Bailey Watson — a 2015 Centennial graduate — took advantage of a one-on-one opportunity against New Mexico’s keeper for a goal in the ninth minute.
Boise senior-to-be Sierra Smith then notched the game-winner in the 56th minute, sending the Nationals to a 2-1 victory and a spot in Saturday’s semifinals at the Simplot Sports Complex.
“It was unexpected in a way just because this was our first time ever making it out of our bracket. We were excited about that,” said Watson, who will play for the College of Idaho beginning this fall. “But once we stepped out on the field and realized we could play with this team, we put all of our heart into it.”
Boise takes on New Mexico’s Rio Rapids SC at 8 a.m. on Field 18. The Rapids are New Mexico’s reigning state champions, and they advanced with a 2-1 win over Santa Clara Sporting 96 Green.
“We feel good,” Smith said. “We can do it.”
The Rush did not have any substitutes on their sideline, and the Nationals exploited that with constant pressure, eventually leading to Smith’s goal.
“We have a really, really deep bench. We have 20 girls, 18 of which can play, so that helped us out a ton,” Nationals coach Chad Hartley said. “We just moved the ball and forced them to have to chase us. It tired them out.”
FC NOVA SURVIVES SCARE
The FC Nova U-14 girls saw their two-goal lead disappear in a matter of minutes late in the second half.
A pair of goals by midfielder Esabella Roybal of Southern California’s CUFC Elite in the 67th and 69th minutes sent the quarterfinal matchup into overtime.
With both teams tiring in the 100-degree heat, Kayla Soto came through for Nova.
The freshman-to-be at Vallivue High in Caldwell scored on a penalty kick with seconds to go in the first overtime, and she added an insurance goal in the second OT to springboard her squad into the semifinals for the first time with a 4-2 victory.
“I kind of gave up, but then I remembered what my dad always told me, to just keep going and try your best even though it’s the last minute,” Soto said of her reaction to Elite’s equalizer. “I just gave it my all at the end.”
Nova next plays Southern California’s Legends FC Gold in the semifinals at 10 a.m. Saturday on Field 15A.
After a scoreless first half, Nova moved into the lead with a goal from Abygail Keeley in the 42nd minute, and Olivia Smith put them up 2-0 in the 63rd before Elite made their comeback.
“Their response was massive,” said Eric Simmonsen, FC Nova’s director of coaching. “They just said ‘OK, we’ve been here before. Let’s tie it up. Let’s get going. Let’s get our heads screwed on, and let’s go after them.’ ”
BOISE NATIONALS U-17 BOYS ELIMINATED
Cole Fuller scored for BNSC Liverpool in the 26th minute off an assist from Jared Napoles, but Santa Barbara SC White took control in the second half, collecting a 5-2 victory to move two wins away from their fourth consecutive Far West regional title.
The Nationals played 60 minutes of the game a man down after Ahmet Huremovic received a red card in the 30th minute, and Boise trailed just 2-1 at the half as Santa Barbara converted on one-of-two penalty kicks and scored on a corner kick in the closing seconds of the first half.
Santa Barbara then took advantage of a pair of free kicks in the second half to extend its lead.
Liam Looney scored BNSC’s second goal in the 78th minute on Bekir Cinac’s assist.
“I’m really proud of the guys. Given the adversity we faced, we did exceptionally well,” Nationals coach Coe Michaelson said. “To be a man down for over an hour and give the national champs such a difficult match is something to be proud of.”
Santa Barbara won national titles in 2012 and 2013.
CDA STING SHUT OUT IN QUARTERFINALS
The Sting’s first foray into the knockout round ended in a 4-0 loss to Utah’s La Roca PO in the U-18 girls quarterfinals. Four different players scored for Utah in the span of 16 minutes beginning with Eden Jacobsen’s goal in the 30th minute.
UCLA STAR HELPS CHAMPS ADVANCE
Abu Danladi, the Top Drawer Soccer Freshman of the Year at UCLA, arrived Tuesday night to help Santa Barbara SC White defend its national title. The team won the U-18 boys championship last year and is entered in the U-19 division this year.
“Santa Barbara has done a lot for me,” said Danladi, who is from Ghana. “I owe them. I’m really proud to be a part of the team.”
Danladi attends summer school at UCLA. He had to work with his professors to get clearance to participate in the regional tournament. He missed games Monday and Tuesday but already is among the age-group leaders with four goals in two games.
He also opened the penalty-kick shootout with a goal Friday as Santa Barbara overcame two one-goal deficits and a man disadvantage to beat Westside (Ore.) 3-2 in the semifinals.
Santa Barbara and Danladi, who was nursing a hamstring injury late in Friday’s game, play in the regional final at 8 a.m. Saturday on Field 20.
Friday’s semifinal was hotly contested and crossed the line to unsportsmanlike at times. A Santa Barbara player received a red card for apparently striking an opponent, and the teams combined for more than a half-dozen yellow cards. Players cussed at the officials, one spectator was threatened with ejection by a tournament official and a Westside player had to tell his dad to back off because of angry complaints directed at the officials.
“I’m guessing it was the heat,” Danladi said. “It was really, really hot and everybody was going crazy. But the referee got it under control.”