By Steve Hunt, contributing writer for USYouthSoccer.org
At halftime, the match between the 1991 Girls from New Jersey and California South was scoreless. It stayed that way until the 61st minute when New Jersey striker Natalia Torosian converted to give her side a 1-0 edge. That goal stood up and the squad from the Garden State advanced with a win in their first match of the 2008 US Youth Soccer ODP National Championship at Pizza Hut Park.
At the break, New Jersey head coach Krissy Turner issued a challenge to her players and they clearly responded.
"I think in the first half, they sort of lost it at midfield," Turner said. "They (California) were winning a lot of balls in there and were very strong. We weren't able to set the pace at midfield and that's where our best players lie. We just told them at halftime that the midfield needed to step up a little more. I think we got that out of them in the second half."
She was clearly pleased with the response her team showed her in the second half.
"It was a rematch of last year's national championship finals in which we were down 1-0 but came back to win 2-1,""Turner stated. "So, we knew it would be another tough match. In the end, I think that either team deserved to go through because it was such a hard-fought match. But in the end, one goal pushed us through. We capitalized on a limited number of opportunities and just defended for good portions against a very strong team."
Both teams had their share of chances in the opening frame but it was California South who controlled the run of play for the first 45 minutes.
New Jersey's best chance of the first half came in the 21st minute when Nicole Stone hit a shot from the right side that was right at California South 'keeper Kathleen Messenger. The 'keeper made the save but the ball popped out but with no New Jersey players around, there was no serious threat and the chance ended.
Torosian's goal came off a corner. The ball first went through her legs and into the box, where it was deflected and landed at her feet. Once she saw her chance, she took advantage and knocked her shot into the left side of the net for the 1-0 edge.
After surrendering the goal, California South never gave up the fight. In the final minutes of the match, they had a free kick from about 40 yards out that was taken by Kelly Johnson. Lauren Matherson sent a great ball through the box from the right flank which was met by Samantha Johnson but her effort went wide left.
But in the end, New Jersey's back line bent but it never broke and Turner took notice.
"We have some really gritty players back there and some good speed," she said. "That allowed us to shut them out. I thought our goalkeeper, Sarah Keane, was amazing. She was a golden glove winner here last year. If we can get the result tomorrow, it's well-deserved."
For Torosian, today's win boiled down to a very simple philosophy. "All we tried to do was work hard," she said. "Our team has been together for a long time and all we've tried to do is work hard. Even though they were in our half, we did our best to clear it and worked hard."
Despite today's win, which secured New Jersey a spot in the 1991 Girls championship game tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM on Field No. 5, Torosian knows there is plenty they can improve on by then.
"We need to work on relaxing," she said. "We were really nervous about today's game. We want to keep possession, take more shots and keep the ball. If we can do that, hopefully, we can get it done again."