SAINT LEO – The Brandon Flames girls under-15’s got a first half goal by Kourtney Rea, and another after the break by Nicole Naclerio to earn a 2-0 victory against Space Coast and move into second place in the Region III Premier League on Saturday afternoon at Saint Leo’s University Field.
The Flames dominated possession throughout the game, weathering the oppressive heat with good ball movement that had Space Coast chasing for possession. Taylor Decaire had an opportunity saved in the ninth minute, and Rea put a rebound into the side-netting in the 17th minute after a shot by Nacleiro was spilled.
The Flames finally took the lead in the 32nd minute. After Shea Rhoney won possession on the right, her pass found Decaire inside the penalty area, and Decaire fired a low ball across the six-yard box for Rea to finish from close range.
“It felt really good to get that first goal,” Flames midfielder Jackie Simpson said. “It calmed us down a lot. When we get a goal, it’s like a sigh of relief.”
Simpson was excellent in the center of midfield, winning possession and holding Space Coast’s Jackie Stengel in check. She was aided in that by center back Amber Coca, who continually read the game well and came up with key interceptions to prevent Space Coast from attacking cohesively and limiting the number of shots goalkeeper Dayton Wetherby had to face.
“They’re two special players,” Flames coach Randy Belli said of Simpson and Coca. “Amber Coca herself is not a fast player. If you put her on the line with any other player on the team, she’s probably going to lose, but she reads the game on a different level. She’s a very intelligent player, she’s always in good position.
“Jackie is probably the best one-on-one defender I’ve ever coached, including the college level. I think her ability to track players back and win balls off them even though they’re in front of her, I’ve never seen anybody like that, so those two have listened, gotten better and improved, and their thought process is just on a different level.”
That was evident in the second half, as the Flames either held possession or didn’t allow Space Coast much opportunity to break out of their own half. Having been told to try to shoot more from distance, the Flames finally added a second goal two minutes from full time as Naclerio took a quick free kick from Aubrey Riggins 25 yards out and blistered a shot in off the underside of the crossbar. The goal was Naclerio’s first in the 11-game league season.
Second place in the league doesn’t automatically advance the Flames to the Southern Regionals in Baton Rouge, La. next summer, but they would be eligible for the berth if two things went their way. First, league champion the CASL Spartan Elite from North Carolina would need to win their state title, and the GSA Phoenix, who could tie the Flames with 23 points, tie or lose one of their remaining three games to leave the Flames alone in second place.
The Flames, of course, could also reach regionals by winning the Florida State Cup in the spring. Naclerio joined the team recently, and said that since she had been with the Flames the goal had been to reach the regional tournament.
“I know everyone on this team has worked hard at every practice because we just want to go to Southern Regionals,” Naclerio said.