After a gut-wrenching loss at Saugus to start the season, Canyon Cowboys girls’ soccer shocked the Centurions.
Canyon shut out the visiting Saugus Centurions on Thursday, 1-0, avenging its 8-1 loss from earlier this season.
The game’s only goal came off the boot of Chloe Miller, who scored in the 15th minute. Senior forward Jiliana DiDomenico took advantage of a missed ball by the Centurions (9-5-2, 4-2-1) and found Miller inside for the score.
Canyon coach Leonardo Neveleff wanted Saugus to have and control possession in the contest, but aimed to use the quick counterattack to find ways to score. Through his team’s hard work on the pitch, the plan worked.
“For the past three days, we’ve been talking about how we were gonna play this game,” Neveleff told The Signal in a phone interview. “After the mental and emotional situation we were in last game, we wanted to use their confidence against them. We planned the game on letting them have the ball but then win the ball and have a quick counterattack.”
The plan was risky, as Saugus dominated possession throughout round one with Canyon (4-4-1, 3-3-1), which led to eight goals. The Centurion blowout win back in late November was the first of six matches this season where Saugus netted four or more goals.
Neveleff knows the Centurion roster is overflowing with talented players, which led to the imminent double-teaming of certain stars.
“The girls understood how to cover the space and how to overload the areas when Sophia Ruys and Makenna Blum got the ball. We always had to double or triple team them. They are very dangerous players.”
Even with all the extra attention, Ruys still got multiple shots off that could’ve flipped the game into Saugus’ favor. Ruys hit the posts a couple of times before firing an absolute cannon on goal, forcing Cowboys keeper Makayla Charles to make a play.
“Makayla had the game of the season,” Neveleff said. “She’s super confident and is coaching the girls from the back. (Ruys) took a shot. The ball was way in the air and I thought, no way a goalkeeper can get the ball, but I just see Makayla flying through the air and deflecting the ball. It was amazing to see that.”
Charles was solid in between the posts and helped give Canyon its second clean sheet of the season.
Saugus kept finding ways for a potential answer but Canyon’s defense was up for the task for all 80 minutes.
“It wasn’t just the backline — the midfielders and forwards, all 11 defended. They worked so hard and covered each other. I was asking if some hurt players needed a sub but they didn’t want to come out, and that’s what makes a team successful. That’s priceless when players are suffering, putting in 110% on the field and don’t want to come out. It’s great to see as a coach.”
Canyon’s defense was anchored by center back duo Reese Shaughnessy and freshman Alyssa Cruz.
“We have a rookie, Alyssa Cruz, but it feels like she’s been playing with us forever. We have a great backline with her and Reese. They both work very well together and they keep growing as players. One is a freshman and the other is a junior, so they still get one more year together.”
Neveleff has had some younger players on varsity this season, who have needed some time to gel with the seniors. Now, with about a dozen games played together, the coach saw his players come together in a huge game.
“The girls did a great job against such quality players,” Neveleff said. “We played a really emotional and physical game, and it worked for us. The girls are getting along, they’re adjusting and the young players are understanding what the seniors and coaches want. It took time but we’re on the right path.”
The Centurions have cooled off from a hot streak, in which they scored 26 goals in four matches.
Saugus will likely bounce back and still has a shot at a league title. The team returns to action on Tuesday, when it’ll have round two with Valencia at 5 p.m.
Canyon will look to keep building, improving and hopefully carry some momentum into Tuesday’s home match with West Ranch at 5 p.m.
“This was a huge boost of confidence. They know what they’re capable of now and what they can do,” Neveleff said. “We have to stay humble, keep working hard and trust each other. The girls are blending, they’re getting to know each other more. I haven’t seen the girls work that hard for the last seven games. Hopefully we can keep that same work ethic and get the same results.”