W.Va. United falls in semis
BARBOURSVILLE -- Treated like royalty, the girls of the West Virginia United Soccer Club Elite got the luxury ride to a tent, via golf cart, to collect their semifinal trophies.
As they cruised through, one 12-year-old piped up and said to her driver, "This is awesome."
"No," the driver responded. "You girls are awesome."
It was high-fives and congratulatory hand shakes all around for Christen Seaman's team who, as West Virginia's last remaining team in the US Youth Region I Championships, made the Mountain State proud Monday by competing hard, yet falling softly, 2-0, to NJSA Blast (NJ).
"They work incredibly hard," Seaman said. "I couldn't ask for a harder working team.
"Everyday, they put in the hours and I think this probably gives them a taste to put in even more hard work. That's probably what they want to do -- get back to the drawing table and start working on next year.
"And working on getting back here to this point."
Seaman has had this particular team for three years and just playing in Monday's semifinal was certainly the high point on a successful season, that's included a state cup win.
Unfortunately, the Elite ran into a skilled Blast squad, who's won its four games this week by a combined 16-1 score.
With that momentum coming in and Elite's lack thereof after falling 6-0 Sunday, the Blast figured to be a substantial favorite.
But Elite wasn't buying it. By the time the referees whistled for the game's first water break, some 15-20 minutes into the first half, Elite was holding the Blast, a team it watched dismantle Rhode Island's Rays 5-0 a day before, scoreless.
Similar to how a basketball team slows down a high-scoring offense with a tight 2-3 zone, Elite packed things in a bit, not allowing any fast-break opportunities.
The Blast was stymied until it finally broke through in the latter stages of the first half when Nicole Whitley bodied a cross down around the 6-yard-box, turned on a defender and swiftly placed the ball in the right-side netting.
"They came at us hard and got that cross in," Seaman said of the first tally.
But strategy changed after that. Suddenly, the Elite got aggressive, scrapping its tight, defensive-minded approach for a more aggressive, attacking, winning 50-50 balls-style.
"What we were doing and lacking in the first part, and what we kind of fixed at the water break time, was going hard through the ball," Seaman said. "When we step to them, we can't just go lackadaisical at them. We have to go hard through them because when you go hard you make them make mistakes.
"And I think they kind of started doing that more throughout the game."
Running through and conquering tackles in the midfield led to balls being played up to Elite's forwards Madison Moon and Hannah Griffith, a pair of sharpshooters who barely got touches in Sunday's loss.
Late in the first half, Moon made the cleanest run, getting though to the edge of 18-yard-box before she was taken down.
The Elite free kick that ensued was bent around a wall and right into the Blast's keeper's hands.
"Those two are a dangerous combination," Seaman said of Moon and Griffith. "Especially when they're on, they're on.
"So I look for those two to grow together and start making more combinations."
Blast's final goal came in the second half when Whitley headed in a nicely-played cross from Francesca Tagliaferri.