Orem, Utah – When the SoCal Crush met at Burbank Airport Saturday morning at 5am, it was the first time the entire team had ever been together in any capacity outside of their six practices.
“That was our bonding experience. Getting on an airplane together in the dark. All of us were thinking ‘this is it. This is really happening,’” said head coach Reggie Rivas, when asked about his new club’s mental state heading into their first match ever.
Sixteen hours and one time zone later, the newest addition to United Women’s Soccer found all the bonding they could handle, winning their inaugural match, 2-0, defeating Real Salt Lake Women, a well-established women’s team that helped found United Women’s soccer in 2015, and has been together in some form since 2008.
“I’m still a little bit in shock, to be honest” said Rivas. “They (RSLW) were an extremely strong team. They were talented, organized, and you could tell from the start they had a very clear idea of what they wanted to do.”
Rivas admitted that it was a challenge to match RSLW in terms of game plan, given that the club had never actually played a game before.
“I didn’t share this with my players, but going into this I was nervous, a little bit uncertain what to expect” Rivas remarked. “I just kept telling myself that if we could just get through the first ten minutes without giving up a goal, let us get our feet under us, we might be able to make it a match.”
Enter 21 year old goalkeeper Adriana Maldonado, who plays collegiate soccer at Cal State Los Angeles. Maldonado was forced into several saves in the first few minutes of the match, and handled them cleanly, including tipping one shot over the bar to keep the game level.
“I warmed her up myself, and I could see that she was completely focused, quick hands, quick off her line” Rivas said of his young netminder – the only goalkeeper the club brought with them on their inaugural road trip. “RSL outshot us, and she kept us in the match. She was very demanding inside her box,. Adriana kept us in the game every step of the way. She was amazing.”
The defense held Salt Lake, and slowly SoCal was able to work their way into the match, battling to establish a possession game. The Crush stood the game on it’s head in the 38th minute when Hailey James banged home a perfectly weighted ball from Nancy Avaysyan to give the SoCal Crush their first goal ever, and their first lead.
“Nancy Avaysyan really had a very good game for us tonight” said Rivas. “She really just kept us in the game offensively. Playing in college, playing overseas, playing in the W-League, she brought her experience to the game, and really made a huge difference tonight.”
SoCal suffered an early injury when center back Olivia Leyna went down with a hamstring injury. Team co-captain Tatiana Zuvic dropped from the midfield into the center back slot. “She’s one of our captains, and she really came up big for us in that role” said Rivas. “In fact, our entire back five really stepped up for us. They played with a bend but don’t break mentality, and it worked.”
The Crush travelled with only fifteen players, and Rivas used all three of his remaining subs in the second half. Trinidadian national team player Janelle McGee answered the call by notching the club’s second goal less than five minutes after entering the game.
“When we got that second goal, it really helped relieve a lot of pressure on the players -and especially on the coach” Rivas laughed after the match. “We are so excited.”
Rivas was also quick to point out that the host team was actually a huge factor in making the Crush’s first road game such a great experience. “They (Real Salt Lake Women” were amazing on the field and amazing hosts. They greeted us, they helped us, they treated us extremely well. Such a professional organization.” Rivas stated. “They were very friendly, and welcomed us to the league in such a great way. We are just so excited to be a part of this league.”
Real Salt Lake Women will stay in Utah for their next match, and host Calgary Foothills on Friday night, May 26th. SoCal Crush will return to California to host their first home match against instant Southern California rivals Santa Clarita Blue Heat, who are the defending national champions.
By Mark Edward Hornish