WEST CHESTER SUMMER CLASSIC CHAMPIONS - U15 GIRLS
West Chester, PA - Often referred to as “the beautiful game”, soccer is a sport that demands both technical prowess and superior fitness in order to excel on a consistent basis. The attractive brand of football developed in the streets of South American cities and European academies is now being mimicked by American soccer clubs, in an effort to spotlight the game, and the individual players who can perform on the world’s stage. Undoubtedly, though, soccer remains a team sport and oftentimes that can translate into results which do not directly correlate to the on-field performance of the team which provides a more attractive style of play. Throughout pool play in the West Chester Summer Classic, this proved to be the case for the Riverhounds Development Academy girls.
On Saturday, the RDA team looked to be in phenomenal form, maintaining over 70% possession in their two opening matches, despite a lower level grass surface in their first match and extreme heat throughout the day. Creating a plethora of chances throughout the two matches, the RDA players simply could not convert, thus allowing the opposition to remain in the game and even take the lead. However, with class and composure, the team, together for only six weeks including just one session on a full sized field, replied in both cases. Led by co-captain, Maggie Coulson, and a stellar performance from midfielder, Katie Banbury, the Hounds controlled the middle of the field and ensured regular outlets for the girls to see goal.
With both games ending in draws, the Riverhounds staff knew they had done enough to earn a place in the playoffs on Sunday, but were left feeling for the girls.
“We were very unlucky on Saturday, but the girls learned a valuable lesson,” said Jason Kutney, who travelled as part of the RDA Staff. “We were certainly the better team, but this game can be very unforgiving, and when you don’t capitalize on your chances, you face the consequences.”
Sunday’s semifinal saw the RDA girls face off with the tournament hosts, West Chester United SC, who won their group by way of Saturday’s results. The game started in a similar fashion for the RDA, who solidified their possession from the start, applying constant pressure on their opponents and stifling all attempts to counter attack. Just as the game began to look all too familiar, RDA’s Mikayla Mance came into proper form, slicing through the West Chester defense on a brilliant individual effort, finishing cleanly from 12 yards out to take the lead.
Conceding a tying goal off of a broken play in the box, the Riverhounds were faced with another test of resilience. Again, Mance was prepared to provide an answer. With a great setup from striker, Jayna Fittipaldo, who drew several defenders with a successful slashing run, Mance was able to elude a defender and showed terrific final quality in tucking away the go-ahead goal.
With one minute to play in regulation, the Hounds saw a major set of scoring opportunities fail them, and how the deficiency could yet again prove to be punishing. With five point blank shots saved, deflected, and finding posts, the Riverhounds eventually lost possession on a desperate clearance from West Chester. The clearance was helped along on a long, overhead ball that put West Chester’s striker in on goal. The West Chester player exhibited great pace and quality to find the back of the net with less than thirty seconds left in regulation.
Following a scoreless 10-minute overtime period, the Riverhounds went on to win the semi-final match in an exciting penalty kick shootout. Finishing seven of their nine kicks, the Riverhounds were rewarded by their keeper, Emma Bruno, who calmly buried the first penalty kick attempt as a shooter and then came up with two huge saves, including the game-winning stop.
In their fourth match in two days, the RDA girls decided that the championship match was the best time to marry the scoresheet with their fantastic on-field display. Unleashing a strong attacking style of play, the RDA maintained refined possession within their opponent’s half, producing opportunity after opportunity. Once again, it was Mikayla Mance who was prepared to be the goal scorer. With two tremendous goals in the first half, including a left-footed laser from the corner of the 18-yard box, Mance took her team into halftime with a 2-0 lead. Mance would deservedly complete the hat trick after the break, capping off a 5-goal day that was truly a fitting representation of the Riverhound’s overall team performance.
“The girls were brilliant and a lot has to be said for their physical preparation for the two days,” commented Kutney following the final, on a happy drive home to Pittsburgh. (Director of Sport Science) Mike Whiteman deserves a lot of credit in preparing the girls to maintain their form through four matches in temperatures exceeding 90 degrees. The girls garnered tremendous respect for themselves and the Riverhounds as being fit and polished on the ball.”
The Riverhounds Academy continues to push forward with efforts to help in developing the most technically sound and tactically adept soccer players in the area through a structured focus upon technique and an understanding of the commitment required to truly play the right way. Throughout the tournament weekend, the RDA team’s defensive unit could best be characterized as ‘new’. With a rotation of six girls who had not previously spent time as defenders, the Riverhounds coaches were tasked with an incredible amount of instruction regarding shape, pressure, balance, cover, and composure. Understanding the magnitude of this task, the Staff welcomed Riverhounds First Team defender, Niko Katic, on the trip. Katic spent his time studying the defensive unit in all games, making changes and addressing areas of defensive vulnerability throughout the games. With the group learning to adapt and improving through experience, it was fitting that the tournament final saw the girls from Pittsburgh keep a clean sheet, not conceding a single shot on goal.