FC Nova defender Shayla Schoensee closed from the slideline, left her feet and won the ball away from a charging Savannah DeMelo inside Nova’s penalty box.
But the referee ruled Schoensee’s 84th-minute slide tackle a foul, and Jessica Johnson coolly converted the penalty kick for a 1-0 victory Sunday, earning Southern California’s Beach FC Academy the U-18 girls US Youth Soccer Far West Regional championship at Boise’s Simplot Sports Complex.
“I thought she got the ball first, and then the player,” Nova coach Brian Smith said. “It was a bang-bang (play). But I think with six minutes to go in a regional final, I think it was a little questionable. But again, referees make decisions, and we live with them.”
The penalty kick decided a scoreless game that saw the Meridian-based club push the Southern California powerhouse. Beach won a national title two years ago, finished as the national runner-up last year and added a third regional title to its mantle Sunday.
Beach advances to the national tournament July 26-31 in Frisco, Texas, for the third straight year.
“Today was everything this team is about — hard work, committed, give everything you got,” Smith said. “The team we were playing is an unbelievable squad that we ran with for 90 minutes.
“It’s unfortunate that a game ends in a penalty kick. Whether it was or wasn’t, it’s a tough way to go with five minutes to go.”
Nova entered the tournament with little fanfare, and it finished second in its group. But the Idaho club rallied from a 1-0 halftime deficit against New Mexico’s Rio Rapids with four second-half goals, then knocked off Northern California’s West Coast Wild 3-2 to advance to the regional championship.
A win Sunday would have made Nova the second regional champion in Idaho history.
“I think we exceeded a lot of expectations, including our own,” Nova goalkeeper Maggie Burton said. “But we just put the pressure on in every game and showed up every day, didn’t get ahead of ourselves, took it one game at a time and got all the way to the championship.”
Burton stood on her head Sunday, stopping 10 shots — including back-to-back diving saves in the 70th minute — before the penalty. Burton missed the entire spring season for Nova after graduating early from Eagle High to enroll early at Baylor, where she signed a scholarship. But she returned just in time for a run at Far West.
“It was great getting her back and plugged in with this group,” said Smith, the College of Idaho’s head women’s soccer coach. “She had an unbelievable game and was a big reason why we stayed in it. Great goalkeepers keep your teams in games, and she certainly did that today.”
Southern California dominated the podium stand again, winning half of the age groups at the Far West Regionals.