MELBOURNE – The Miami Springs girls soccer team made the three hour trip north to Melbourne for its Class 4A regional final contest against Melbourne High School at Tom McIntyre Stadium last Tuesday night (Jan. 29) knowing the odds were stacked against them.
But Melbourne, a decorated program with multiple state titles including back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010, sporting a 22-0-1 record and stacked with eight Olympic Development players, demonstrated why it was a prohibitive favorite by dominating all night long and cruising to a 4-0 victory over the Golden Hawks. Melbourne advances to the 4A state semifinal this Friday, Feb. 1 and will host Bradenton Lakewood Ranch while Springs closed out its season 17-6-4.
Perhaps hoping to get a little mojo from playing in the very same stadium they won their only state title nearly 25 years ago to the month, it never happened for the Lady Hawks as Melbourne, with superior ball-handling and blinding speed from their forwards, ran the show from the opening whistle.
“They’re (Melbourne) just a great soccer team and to make matters worse, we didn’t come out with very much energy and it showed early on,” said Springs coach William Drew. “We tried to drop some players back and keep things close in order to offset their speed but once they got up quick on us, things just snowballed from there.”
The first goal came eight minutes into the game to give Melbourne a quick lead when Kiera McCarthy, whose goal just three minutes earlier had been disallowed by an offsides call, knocked one past Springs keeper Lianna Guerra.
Just 30 seconds later, McCarthy got a breakaway down the left side and hit the left post. Springs probably felt fortunate to only be down one goal at that point but Guerra was continually peppered throughout the first half by numerous Bulldog chances and struggled many times deciding whether to come out of the net to make a play or stay in.
Melbourne finally found the goal again to make it 2-0 six minutes before halftime on a Hannah DeBose goal from the right side. Four minutes later, Abigail Baloun centered a perfect pass from the corner to a streaking Jessica Hopping who knocked it in to make it 3-0 at halftime and the Lady Hawks trudged off frustrated and discouraged. Not only were they down three goals but could’ve easily been down six or seven.
The second half was an exercise in futility for Springs. Guerra was replaced by Jenecil Villar in front of the net and, after McCarthy popped her second goal of the game in to make it 4-0 six minutes into the second half, Melbourne just scaled things back and controlled the ball the remainder of the game eating up the clock and waiting for the whistle to blow.
“We just came out slow and couldn’t get out of the gate and against a team as good as they (Melbourne) are, they make you pay and we paid,” said Salazar who, on a night where Springs had virtually no quality shots on goal, gave her team its best chance of scoring in the game’s 13th minute when she nailed a perfect direct kick from 25 yards out that hit the crossbar. “They’re just a much better team skill-wise and athletically that it was just such a struggle to keep up with them.”
“What really makes them tough is the way they control the ball,” said midfielder Sophia De La Puente. “Their passing was so effective that many times it would seem like we were outnumbered when we actually weren’t.”
But, with just one senior on the roster and her not even being a starter, the Springs girls were able to keep things in perspective as they headed to their bus for the long ride home.
“We still had a great season and really came together and played well,” said Salazar, just a junior who led the team in scoring and is a virtual lock to make First-Team All-County. “I’m definitely looking forward to next year and see if we can take things even farther.”
“We had some real rough patches during the season but really stuck together and I’m proud of that,” said De La Puente. “This was a good year for us as far as building for the future and with just about everyone coming back things should get even better.”