The Pali Blues soccer team entered Thursday night's game against Santa Clarita hoping to maintain its place atop the W-League standings. The Blues were able to do that, despite settling for a 0-0 tie at Palisades High's Stadium-by-the-Sea.
Both teams entered the match undefeated and even in holding the visitors to eight shots the Blues had to overcome some close calls and tense moments.
“It was a really tough game," Pali Blues Coach Jacob Tudela said. "It was like a light bulb, on at times, off at times. Our players were sloppy. The small stuff wasn’t being done right--the simple passes and simple receiving. In the second half, they got it together, they transitioned well and played with heart.”
Santa Clarita started the game on the attack and the Blues couldn’t get out of their own half.
In the seventh minute, Pali goalkeeper Anna Picarelli was called on to make a save off a Hannah Beard shot on the left side of the box. It was headed towards the goal, but Picarelli dove and deflected the ball out for a corner kick.
In the 15th minute, a ball was played into the Blues' penalty area and took an unpredicted bounce on the turf field, forcing Picarelli to punch the ball over the crossbar.
The Blues' first scoring chance came in the 18th minute when Courtney Joyner took shot from outside the penalty area that sailed just wide.
Momentum started shifting the Blues’ way and in the 24th minute Anisa Guajardo received a ball from Jamia Fields, turned and shot, but the ball went high and wide of the goal.
The Blues' next chance was in the 27th minute when Guajardo placed a corner kick low and short to Tiffany McCarty, who dummied it, allowing the ball through to Ashley Bowyer, who played it to captain Christie Shaner, but her shot was saved by Blue Heat goalkeeper Cynthia Jacobo.
Santa Clarita had its next shot in the 35th minute. Anne Marie Tangorra went one-on-one with Picarelli, but she shanked the ball wide right.
After the intermission, the Blues dominated the first 10 minutes of the second half.
“I would say that first of all we needed to clean it up," Shaner said, assessing the Blues' first-half performance. "A lot of the chances they had were ones we were creating for them.”
She also shared what was said in the locker room at halftime: “We weren’t connecting passes; we weren’t putting them to feet. We just told everyone ‘it’s a new half, new game, it’s our home field, let’s pick it up. Let’s find the energy for 45 minutes and dig deep.’”
Players seemed to take the message to heart as five minutes into the second half Jamia Fields took a shot from the top of the penalty area, but Jacobo was there to save it. Jacobo once again came up big for the Blue Heat in the 55th minute when she tipped a shot by McCarty over the crossbar.
Santa Clarita (1-0-1) had its first scoring chance of the second half in the 62nd minute. Holly Hein took a shot from outside the box that was deflected by a Pali player. Picarelli was able to pivot quickly and made a diving save to keep the ball from going into the net. She then managed to grab the rebound.
Momentum shifted again as the Blues (2-0-1) came up with a series of opportunities midway through the second half.
In the 65th minute, Shaner headed a corner kick on goal but it fell right into Jacobo’s hands. A minute later, Bowyer headed a long ball from Joyner, but it went just wide of the back post. Two minutes after that, McCarty was doubled-teamed but managed to play a square ball to Guajardo, whose shot missed wide right.
Santa Clarita’s Elizabeth Franco released on a breakaway in the 67th minute but defender Sasha Andrews proved why she was named to the W-League Team of the Week by recovering to close on Franco, while Picarelli cut down the angle forcing Franco to shoot wide right into the side netting.
In the 77th minute, Andrews was at the end of an accurate throw-in by Jessica Price. Her header was on frame, but it was saved at the line by a defender.
As the ball was played up the field on the counterattack, Franco took a shot on Picarelli, who was caught slightly out of position, but she made another key save and grabbed the ball in mid-air.
As the game was winding down, both teams pushed pressed for a goal. In the 80th minute, Price brought a lobbed ball down,turned to face the goal and shot wide.
One minute later Fernandez had a dangerous shot from outside the penalty area following a throw-in. Picarelli just got to the ball and avoided the left post to keep the game scoreless. The final minutes wound down with a battle in the midfield.
“We had a lot of unforced errors," Andrews said. "We need to clean that up, but it’s early in the season and I think it’ll get much better.”
Defensive midfielder Ashley Bowyer echoed the sentiments of Coach Tudela.
“We came out a little slow in the first half," she said. "We weren’t playing our game and keeping the ball. But in the second half we came out hard, we had a lot of opportunities that we just couldn’t put away. There were three or four on the line, so it’s unfortunate that we couldn’t finish.”
The Blues will host Vancouver (2-0-0) next Wednesday, June 1, at 7 p.m. at Palisades High.
-- Alondra Hernandez
To view more images of Thursday's Pali Blues game, please visit photographer Chuck Cohen's website: www.chuckcohenphotography.com.