After failing to win their first two games in pool play, the members of the Ohio Premier Under-19 girls soccer team knew the odds were stacked against them making it to a semifinal of the 2008 Midwest Regional Cup, which was held last Saturday through last Wednesday at Sportscore Soccer Complex in Rockford, Ill.
Entering its pool-play finale last Monday, Ohio Premier not only needed to beat TORO Magic from Nebraska by more than one goal, it also needed the Bloomfield Force from Michigan to defeat Carmel (Ind.) United Crossfire by more than one goal.
Undaunted, Ohio Premier defeated TORO Magic 4-1. Moments later, the players started celebrating after learning that the Bloomfield Force beat Carmel 3-1.
Ohio Premier finished tied with Carmel United Crossfire for second (1-1-1, 4 points) in its four-team pool behind the Bloomfield Force (2-0-1, 7) and ahead of TORO Magic (0-2-1, 1), but Ohio Premier earned the wildcard in its age bracket because it had a better goal differential in pool play (5-3) than Carmel United Crossfire (3-3).
Ohio Premier faced Kansas City College Select last Tuesday in a semifinal. The winner advanced to the final last Wednesday against Bloomfield Force or Eclipse Select from Illinois.
In 2002, this same Ohio Premier team won its club's first and only Regional Cup title.
"We were (emotional) because we knew this might be the last time we could play together, but we managed to keep our focus on our game, even though Carmel was playing on the field directly next to us," goalkeeper Jillian Hewitt said. "We focused on what we were doing because that was the only thing we could control. Luckily, we got some help from Bloomfield."
Cassie Matchack scored five minutes into the game, but TORO Magic tied it less than 10 minutes later.
Alyssa Brown scored off a crossing pass from Amanda Buechel to put Ohio Premier ahead 2-1 at halftime.
"Bloomfield was up 2-0 at halftime, so we knew we just needed to score another goal to put ourselves in a good position," Hewitt said.
Jordan Hilbrands scored off a pass from Kelsey Hunyadi early in the second half, but Ohio Premier's celebration was short-lived.
"We saw that Carmel had scored to make it 2-1 in their game, so we knew we had to score at least one more goal," Hewitt said.
Buechel scored Ohio Premier's final goal with less than five minutes remaining.
"I didn't face a single shot in the entire second half -- that's how good our defense was," Hewitt said.
Ohio Premier opened pool play last Saturday with a scoreless tie against Carmel United Crossfire as Rachel Bachtel made five saves. Ohio Premier had to compete with one fewer player on the field over the final 36 minutes after Matchack received a red card for striking an opponent.
"Carmel is a very good team, so we were fortunate to tie them considering that we were a player down," coach Chris King said. "Cassie had been elbowed in the face, and she got caught retaliating. She's not typically the kind of player who does something like that. She just got caught up in the heat of battle."
Ohio Premier then lost to defending national champion Bloomfield Force 2-1 last Sunday. Bloomfield Force went ahead 1-0 in the first half after the ball took an awkward bounce past Bachtel. The ball was thrown in from the sideline to a Bloomfield Force forward, who headed the ball toward the goal. The ball hit the ground twice as it made its way into the back of the net.
"Soccer is a funny game," King said. "You can play really well or even dominate a game and still lose. I thought we played well enough to win this game, but it was just one of those days where the ball didn't bounce our way."
Trailing 1-0 at halftime and needing a win, Ohio Premier was forced to switch from a 4-3-3 formation to a 4-2-4 formation to try to generate more offensive opportunities against a stingy Bloomfield Force defense. The Bloomfield Force scored on the counterattack 10 minutes into the second half to go ahead 2-0.
"A 4-2-4 is not typically a formation you would play an entire half in, but we needed to get something going," King said. "They had only one shot in the second half, but they scored on it."
Ohio Premier dominated the final 30 minutes of the game and scored with 13 minutes left when Hunyadi beat the goalkeeper to the lower-left corner.
Jenna Cooper headed the ball past the goalkeeper five minutes later, but a defender saved it from going over the goal line. Hilbrands also had a shot that beat the goalkeeper but was cleared by a defender.