“Probably the goal of the season.”
Saugus coach Kai English was amazed yet again by his senior Sophia Ruys after her goal that beat the Valencia Vikings on Tuesday.
Ruys’ score was the only goal of the game and it came early. Junior Makenna Blum stole the ball at midfield and set up Ruys for a run in the eighth minute. The senior sprinted to the center of the field in Valencia’s territory, and with nowhere to lay the ball off, she fired in a rocket from nearly 30 yards out that scorched passed numerous defenders before hitting the back of the net.
“It’s just something that I’ve been working a lot on,” Ruys said. “I’ve just been trying to finish my chances because we lost Makea (Leonard), sadly. She’s going to be back soon but since she’s not scoring, we have to have someone out there and I just wanted to take initiative. I just want to score more.”
Saugus had over a dozen chances to make the game a runaway. However, the Centurions were either just wide or met by Vikes standout goalkeeper Rebecca Ferguson.
Ferguson made seven saves on the night, while constantly communicating with her teammates. The Valencia backline also played well, with numerous deflections on some tough Saugus shots.
“(Ferguson) makes big saves to keep us in the game when we need to be in the game,” said Vikings coach Brian Miller. “But it’s not just Fergie. It’s the defense throwing themselves in front of balls and shots. But when you play, it feels good to have a good goalkeeper behind you. She’s great.”
Valencia aimed to move the ball up the field with senior Sophia Rooney facilitating runners. Rooney nearly tied the game herself after getting a solid pass from sophomore Taya Pickup, but the senior’s header went just wide of the post in the 13th minute.
Rooney is always a threat to score herself and was a big focus for Saugus.
“I know Rooney well from club and she’s a great player,” English said. “She’s probably 90% of our game plan defensively, with just making sure she’s never having space in transition. But apart from that, we played well. With possession we played well. Creating chances, we played well. I think we executed the game plan very well.”
The Centurions were without sophomore star Makea Leonard, who is out for a few weeks with an ankle injury. Most of the offense is run through Leonard but other Centurions have stepped up in her absence.
“It’s really tough losing her and we do really need her,” Ruys said. “But a lot of the girls have stepped up and they have shown that they can take that spot as well. They want to play and they want to have that starting spot.”
The Centurions have plenty of options at the forward spot, and the team has still been able to create numerous chances each game without Leonard. However, the number of goals is certainly down as English looks for answers.
“We’ve got great players,” English said. “We’ve got great midfielders and great attacking players. We’re very creative. We have players on the wing that’ll beat other players. We have players up top that’ll create space. But at the end of the day, the most important thing is we have to score goals. So, I’m glad we’re creating chances and I hope we keep creating chances but I’m hoping at some point it’ll click a little bit for one of our forwards and someone else will start helping Sophia out a little bit.”
Sophomore Gianna Sandoval also played well, as she had multiple plays where she tore through numerous Valencia defenders and nearly scored.
Valencia had a solid first half but entered the second with a whole new energy. Rooney pushed the ball right up the field in the opening minute and better-quality attacks ensued. The Vikings couldn’t put together many strong attacks but that’s just part of the game for Miller.
“It’s just the bounce of the ball sometimes,” Miller said. “I think for both teams there were a lot of half opportunities. And then one that wasn’t really an opportunity and (Ruys) puts in the screamer from the edge of the box. That probably was deserving to win any game. We are happy with our performance. I’m very happy with the girls and the effort that they put in.”
The win avenges Valencia’s 3-1 win over Saugus earlier this year. Pickup netted a pair of goals in that game to mark the first Vikings win over the Centurions since 2019.
English believes the team had much better energy in this go-around, leading to the win.
“The last game against Valencia, they wanted more and they worked harder,” English said. “They came to our field and just beat us up. The way we played today, even if we ended up tying, you can’t say, ‘Valencia wanted it more.’ We definitely stepped up our intensity today.”
Playoffs are on the line for both teams with the final two weeks of the regular season coming up. Saugus sits in second place of the tight Foothill League standings while Valencia is tied for fifth with only four points in between the two teams.
Valencia is looking for its first playoff berth in two seasons while Saugus is looking to make its sixth straight postseason appearance.
“I’d love to get a playoff game for the girls,” Miller said. “That’s for the girls, the work that they put in before the season, during the season, the effort they put into games, it would be nice to make the playoffs for them. Especially the seniors, of course, but it’s their last chance to do it. It’s an old cliche, but you have to take every game as it comes. We’ll just look forward to the next game now and if we can get a result in that, then we’ll look for our next game and try and get results in that. We’re not looking too far ahead because there’s no point doing that.”
Both teams hit the road on Thursday as Valencia heads up to Castaic while Saugus will play at West Ranch. Both matchups will start at 3:15 p.m.