La Crescenta, Calif. – Hoping to get back to winning ways, SoCal Crush braved extreme heat in welcoming Houston Aces for their inaugural visit to Crescenta Valley High School, but it was not to be, as Aces won their first match of the season, 4-0, and dropped the Crush to 1-3 on the season.
Houston’s roster boasted five Colombian National Team players, including team captain and central defender Isabella Echeverri, last seen starting against the US Women’s National Team in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Echeverri was dominant in the back, especially in the air; but it was the Columbian-bred Houston attack that gave SoCal fits early, using their track-star speed to repeatedly cut around the edges and through the gaps of the Crush back line and manufacture multiple chances early in the match.
Houston broke through in the 22nd minute when one of the Colombian national teamers, Gisela Arrieta, flew around the Crush’s right flank and punched the ball into the back of the net to give the Aces the lead.
Houston would convert two more opportunities in the next ten minutes. In the 26th minute, Tatiana Ariza, yet another Columbian national team player, converted a penalty kick, and in the 32nd, Stephanie Garcia broke through to poke one in. By the half, SoCal found themselves in an 0-3 hole.
“Tactically, they had a really good game plan, keeping the ball, playing it wide, playing the ball down the line” said Crush FC head coach Reggie Rivas after the match. “And they had some quality players, two really good forwards, and their number 21 (team captain Isabela Echeverri), she won every ball in the air, we could not penetrate the center of their defense in the air.”
Halftime adjustments seemed to make a difference, as the Crush focused on possessing the ball to keep it off the fleet feet of the Aces attack.
“We tried to hold the ball. When we got the ball, we tried to let the ball do the work, rather than trying to outrun someone” continued Rivas. “We’re not always going to be the fastest. But we can try to counter by being smart.”
As she has all season, Nancy Avesyan produced the lioness’s share of dangerous chances for the Crush.
In the 61st minute, Avesyan spun her mark at the top of the Houston box and fired off a high hard curler that beat the Aces goalkeeper but slammed the woodwork just wide of the upper ninety.
Avesyan continued her second half torment of the Houston back line, and in the 72nd, flashed an extraordinary bit of individual attacking skill, fending off two fouls, both of which were called, and on both of which she was awarded advantage and allowed to play on. First, Avesyan nutmegged the Houston left back, and turned her so quickly that the fullback reached out and grabbed hold of Avesyan’s waist with both arms, but she could not hold on. Foul called, advantage awarded.
Then as Avesyan approached the goal, another Houston defender delivered a hard slide tackle to the diminutive attacker’s ankles (and for a second time a foul was called and advantage awarded by the referee), but Avesyan leapt over the prone defender and found herself 1 v 1 on the Houston goalkeeper as she closed on the goal box. But her angle of attack had pushed Avesyan too close to the end line, and her shot wound up striking the side netting. It was a frustrating end to a well-worked sequence, and summed up the Crush’s fortunes on the day.
“Number 14 is very very fast, she’s physical, she gets after it” said Houston Aces head coach Andy Smith after the match. “She was a handful for us the entire game.”
Despite pressing the attack for much of the second half, the Crush conceded one more time, on a well struck header off a well-taken corner kick in the 64th minute.
“I am very impressed with what the Aces brought to the table today” concluded Rivas. “We need to learn from it. Being a new franchise, we’re going to have to get better, quicker. It’s a challenge, but it’s a challenge we look forward to.”
The Crush have now reached the halfway point of their inaugural season, and with a record of one win and three losses, know there is work to be done to climb back into contention in the UWS Western Division table. It won’t get any easier, either. Three of the team’s final four games are on the road, beginning with a long trek to Alberta Canada to take on Calgary Foothills FC on Sunday, June 25th, at 4pm MDT.
by Mark Edward Hornish