By Justin Vigil-Zuniga
Signal Sports Writer
The Santa Clarita Blue Heat (8-2-0) downed the visiting FC Arizona (4-6-0), 3-1, in their final United Women’s Soccer game at College of the Canyons.
SCFC ended their season on a four-game win streak and, while the team won’t be able to defend their title in the postseason, it was another year of success for the local UWS club.
The Blue Heat had plenty of chances but had a plethora of shots go just wide or off the crossbar. The home team struck first with a goal from Angeles Escobar.
Midfielder Laurel Saviana fed a great ball from midfield to forward Alyssa Thompson. Thompson worked the ball inside and hit Escobar for the opening goal.
The Heat held on to a 1-0 lead going into the halftime break but were constantly working to put another ball in the back of the net. SCFC controlled the possession game all game long, placing a ton of pressure on Arizona to make the most of the few possessions they’d get.
The pressure led to some long bomb shots that kept goalkeeper Aubrey McKessy on her toes. Arizona managed a few good looks from over 60 feet out.
The game looked in hand, leading head coach Leonardo Neveleff to put in a number of substitutes to start the second half. The Blue Heat subbed out their starting keeper McKessy and defensive captain Lauren Sesselmann.
SCFC had chances to really pull away throughout, with excellent shots from Thompson. However, the forward was just off the mark as she hit the crossbar or went just wide on several shots.
“We played the way we wanted to play,” said Neveleff. “The ball just didn’t want to go in. I’m very happy with the performance of every player.”
FCAZ finally got some luck to go their way after forward Shaelyn McCarty forced a ball in play from the corner. The ball bounced around in traffic in front of the goal and managed to get behind keeper Mia Ferkranus with 21 minutes left in the game.
It was a brutal own goal for the SCFC but the squad never let off the gas.
Thompson still led the charge and fired one of her best shots minutes after the Arizona goal. A leaping bump from AZ keeper Catherine Corlett would be just enough to send the ball up and off the crossbar.
“Their goalkeeper, I think, was the player of the game,” said Neveleff. “She was amazing. She kept them in the game for 85 minutes.”
SCFC kept firing and moments later they would get their golden goal. Second-half substitute Sofia Cook launched a rocket of a turnaround strike in traffic past Corlett to retake the lead with 15 minutes to go.
“It’s always nice to start but I don’t think of it as a sub,“ said the UCLA Bruin Cook. “I think of it as a game changer. I think I was able to come in and do that for the team.”
Cook was then joined on the scorecard by Salome Prat in stoppage time and SCFC emerged victorious.
It was a tough game throughout but the Blue Heat secured the season sweep over Arizona with another big win. SCFC previously beat the AZ side 4-2 at Arizona.
SCFC finished hot and registered 12 goals scored to three conceded in their four-game win streak. The biggest reason for their success is playing as one unit, the players said.
“Playing as a team,” said Cook. “Obviously everyone can do it on their own but once we start playing together, it’s like magic.”
The Blue Heat will look to retain the majority of its players as well as bring in some new weapons to retake the UWS throne in 2023. The team has key contributors from various age groups all over the roster. The Pro-Am SCFC has rostered players ranging from some still in high school to some decorated national players.
“It’s been awesome,” said Cook. “I’ve had a lot of fun. I think we’re a really great team, it’s fun playing with them. I think we did good this season even though we weren’t able to make it to the playoffs.”