Los Angeles Soccer: Randy Dodge
DOWNEY -- The battle to determine the nation’s top girls’ soccer team lived up to its billing and, in the end, it was Aliso Niguel beating Los Osos of Rancho Cucamonga, 3-2, Saturday afternoon in the Southern California Regionals Girls Division I championship at Justice Stadium on the campus of Warren High School.
Freshman Lauren Miller had the game-winner in the 66th minute, capping a furious rally that stunned the nation’s top-ranked squad, according to ESPNHS.
“I didn’t bat an eye,” Aliso Niguel co-head coach Randy Dodge said of his team’s three-goal flurry early in the second half. “Without a doubt now, we’re the national champions for the Winter season.”
Aliso Niguel (22-1-5), which avenged its only loss in the CIF-Southern Section final, initially struggled to build rhythm, getting flagged for offsides four times in the first 10 minutes. And despite falling behind 2-0, the Wolverines never really lost control of the match.
Lindsay Doyle cut the deficit in half in the 56th minute before netting the equalizer four minutes later.
“That first goal just got us back in it,” Doyle said.
Los Osos forward Ifeoma Onumonu reached the 30-goal plateau. She struck in the 24th minute thanks to a fortunate bounce, taking advantage of failed clearance. The ball deflected off teammate Sydney Johnson, and Oregon State-bound keeper Sammy Jo Prudhomme tried leaving the box but Onumonu wasted no time, depositing a bullet shot into the lower right corner from 20 yards out.
Onumonu scored again six minutes into the second half, cleaning up a giveaway inside the box. Los Osos (25-1-3) nearly made it 3-0 a few minutes later but Prudhomme was heroic with a diving save in a one-on-one situation.
Then the tide shifted.
“Our team has a tendency to come back,” Prudhomme said. “We created chances to win it. I think my save got us a little excited.”
Aliso Niguel rallied for two goals in the final 15 minutes to claim a 2-1 triumph over their South Coast League archrival to win the Division 1 title at Mission Viejo High School.
“Dudes, this is frickin' awesome ...,” Dodge exclaimed as the Wolverines (19-1-5) collected their trophy. “We weathered their storm, and our kids just believed. Our kids just believed. One thing we talked about was no regrets ever.”
Sophomore forward Dominique Bond-Flasza netted the winner with a little more than seven minutes to go, poking home a loose ball after Ashley McCutcheon's header from Ashley Ramirez's corner kick was blocked on the goal line by San Clemente's Ally Lynn.
It gave Aliso Niguel, from Aliso Viejo, its second CIF soccer crown and ensured its participation in next week's CIF Southern California Regional Championship, the closest thing California has to a state tournament. The Wolverines are fifth in ESPNHS's Fab 50 national rankings.
San Clemente (18-3-7), the only team to beat Aliso this season, lost in the final for the third straight year. The Tritons were making their fifth successive title-game appearance and seeking their sixth championship in 11 years.
“We always play great soccer,” said San Clemente coach Stacey Finnerty, whose team, No. 4 on ESPNHS's list, went 1-2-1 against Aliso this year and hadn't lost since a Mater Dei tournament defeat to the Wolverines in mid-December. “You play against a team that kicks it constantly and [is] physical, it got to us at the end of the game. It wasn't quality soccer, but it worked today. We couldn't keep our quality game.”
Nikki Faris gave the Tritons a 14th-minute lead, catching star Aliso goalkeeper Sammi Jo Prud'homme off her line, but the Wolverines started taking control at the end of the first half, were unfortunate not to equalize shortly after halftime and received a goal-saving clearance from Jordan Ansara midway through the second half.
The Titans (1-0-1) took a physical approach to the Labor Day Classic encounter at Cal State Northridge, keeping 11 men behind the ball and committing 28 fouls -- to only seven by Akron -- benefiting from a masterful performance by goalkeeper Trevor Whiddon, who made nine saves.
“We're not going to make excuses. We didn't play our best game today,” Akron coach Caleb Porter told his school's athletics website. “But, clearly, Fullerton's game plan was to chop the game up with fouls and be physical and not allow us to get into a rhythm.
“We could be disappointed with the way the game was officiated, but bottom line is we didn't handle [the physical play] very well. To me, we looked like a young team that wasn't ready to deal with a physical team that came to play. Fullerton wanted to rattle us, and in some ways it worked. We have to do better next time.”
The Titans, who survived a first-half onslaught and outshot Akron, 12-10, after halftime, nearly scored three times: Roberto Vernaschi hit the left post from distance at the start of the second half, and Zips goalkeeper David Meves was required to make two big saves. Fullerton cleared a Scott Caldwell shot off the goal line in the 29th minute.
UNLV beat Cal State Northridge, 2-1, in the second game on Jonny Espinoza's overtime goal. Edwin Rivas (Los Angeles/Santee Education Complex) had pulled the Matadors (1-1-0) even in the 79th minute.
CSUN (1-1-0) meets Akron (1-0-1) in Saturday's tournament finale at 7 p.m.