LAND O’ LAKES – RSL Florida’s girls under-17 team completed pool play with their third win out of three on Sunday afternoon, but did so in an underwhelming performance that saw them concede a pair of goals in the first 15 minutes before a late flurry gave them a 5-3 victory against the MPS Renegades.
The Renegades took the lead in the sixth minute, a lifted ball from the midfield finding Scout Benson, who lifted her shot over an advancing goalkeeper. RSL Florida answered a minute later, Thea Linkfield breaking through on the left to shoot home, but MPS retook the lead in the 13th minute, Stephanie Ribeiro driving a low shot from the right side of the penalty area into the bottom left corner of the net.
At that point, RSL coach Jim Cote had seen enough, and in order to liven his team up, withdrew a player, putting his side at a 10-on-11 disadvantage.
“I said when we started to play soccer, we would put another player on. ‘Til then, we were just playing with 10,” Cote said. “If you’re going to walk around, what does it matter if we have 11 or seven? And that’s what we were doing, for the first 25 minutes we were walking around, that just because we had the RSL shirt on the other team were going to walk away and hand us the match.”
The players appeared to get the message quickly, and despite being a player short began to take control of the game. Jessica Giblin had a pair of shots well saved, and then five minutes for the break Ellen Moore tied the game after Zoe Lombard made a run down the right and centered, Linkfield’s initial shot was blocked but Moore came in on the right to knock home the rebound.
Giblin then hit the post early in the second half, but while RSl continued to have the better of the play, it wasn’t until 12 minutes remained that they took the lead for good. Moore stole the ball in midfield, and slid a pass through to Niki Carter on the right. Carter crossed the ball through the six-yard box, and Jessica Jagielski was at the far post to put home the finish.
RSL made it 4-2 in the 82nd minute, Taylor Batye winning possession, this time on the left, and her quick pass through released Lombard for a low shot to finish. Jagielski then scored her second a minute later, capitalizing after Lombard’s shot had been partially blocked, and while MPS pulled a goal back with three minutes to play, Isabelle DeSouza scoring from a corner after her initial shot had been tipped over the crossbar, RSL closed out the victory.
Cote was full of praise for Jagielski, who brought excellent energy to the team off the bench.
“We knew that when you play a team like that that sit in and are condensed, you need to be able to get flank play, you need to be able to have quality service,” Cote said. “Thea was getting it down the left side, we weren’t really getting it down the right, and (Jessica) came in and gave us a huge boost. She had three or four serves that should have been goals, and then she tucked away a couple and got an assist on one. She was the difference in the game today.”
RSL will face the Fort Wayne Fever in Monday’s semifinals. The Fever finished second in Group C, and advanced as the wild card after a pair of wins in three games, scoring 11 goals in the process. Cote expected his side to be sharper with the tournament entering the knock-out stage.
“We’re just looking forward to the opportunity of playing whoever we play,” Cote said. “At this point, there’s going to be four good teams left, and now you’ve got to take care of your business.”