By Zach Cavanagh
Goals are precious in matches between the San Clemente and San Juan Hills girls soccer teams. Both teams are so strong along their defensive back lines that any opportunity at the sliver of an open net is tantalizing and game-shifting.
On Tuesday night, Jan. 17, it was the Tritons’ Camille Brophy who found the open slot, and a San Clemente back four that withstood the relentless pressure.
San Juan Hills couldn’t clear a high bouncing ball from within its own box, and Brophy connected with her left foot for a deft parabolic loft over the keeper in the 19th minute to give San Clemente the edge over the Stallions, 1-0, in a South Coast League game at Thalassa Stadium.
San Clemente (11-1-4, 1-0-1) handed San Juan Hills (10-1-3, 2-1-0) its first loss of the season by denying the previously high-scoring Stallions on a bevy of opportunities in the box.
San Juan Hills didn’t earn many set-piece opportunities throughout the match, but the Stallions were particularly adept at chucking long throw-ins toward the San Clemente defense. Time and time again, the Tritons’ back line, including the standout head of central defender Malia McMahon, turned away San Juan Hills’ advances.
In the game’s dying minutes, San Juan Hills got three throw-in chances into the San Clemente box, including one that got in deep before being cleared out by Isabella Maselli just before the final whistle.
“Our back four are solid,” San Clemente coach Stacey Finnerty said. “I can’t even ask for something better, and tonight, Bella just happened to be in that spot. She kept driving on the wide and serving balls in, and then she was getting back. Then, for her last one to save it off the line, and she’s the shortest one back there, for her to get up and head that thing out was impressive.”
San Juan Hills’ back line was equally impressive. Center back Peyton Leonard reversed many San Clemente forays, as the Tritons tried to push up the field. However, San Clemente kept coming as the push and pull of the game in the midfield would allow.
“I think we started reading the game and trying to read what they had, and I think it took us a bit, because we were trying to handle what they were bringing,” Finnerty said. “As we gained momentum and pressured them, then we felt like we can take more chances, and it became more up and down.”
San Clemente kept trying to get out and run, but the Tritons ultimately found their breakthrough by following the bouncing ball.
In the 19th minute, a long ball was played toward the San Juan Hills box, and San Clemente played it in for the chance. Despite several attempts, the Stallions failed to get the ball out, and Brophy was the beneficiary, tracking the ball for a left-footed swipe out of midair. The ball hung high and floated down just over the Stallion ’keeper’s fingers and under the bar for San Clemente’s lone goal of the match.
“I just knew I had to put my foot on the ball, and put one on frame of the goal, and it went in,” Brophy said. “Left foot, so not dominant foot, but it worked out.”
San Clemente had just one or two more dangerous looks at the net, but nothing came up cleanly, as San Juan Hills swept away every other opportunity. Brophy’s goal was the first allowed by San Juan Hills since Dec. 17.
On the Tritons’ end, goalkeepers Rylie McLeish and Addison Robertson again combined on another clean sheet, San Clemente’s eighth shutout of the season.
Between San Clemente, San Juan Hills and Aliso Niguel (1-2-3, 1-0-1), which played to a 1-1 draw with the Tritons in their league opener on Jan. 12, the South Coast League is already shaping up as another drag-out defensive struggle.
San Clemente is next at Tesoro on Thursday, Jan. 19, and hosts Capistrano Valley on Saturday, Jan. 21. San Juan Hills hosts Aliso Niguel on Thursday and is at Tesoro on Tuesday, Jan. 24.
San Clemente next locks up with Aliso Niguel on Jan. 26 and plays at San Juan Hills on Jan. 28.