What a difference a week makes.
The Santa Clarita Blue Heat rebounded from their season-opening loss by defeating the LA Strikers 4-1 on Sunday at Occidental College.
Unlike last week when the Blue Heat had trouble connecting and finishing, this was a more polished team, with quick, accurate passes and speedy runs on the attack – and the ability to put the ball in the net.
“I’m so excited, it’s a good win,” said Blue Heat head coach Charles Martinez. “We saw a whole different team after our first presentation. We just very much controlled the whole game.”
The difference may have had something to do with having team captain Edite Fernandes and newcomer Nadia Link in the starting lineup. Link made her presence known early, scoring in just the fourth minute of play to give the Blue Heat a 1-0 lead.
Link, who returned from U-23 national team camp last week, said she was better rested this week and had been able to spend more time practicing with her new teammates.
“I think we just came with the right mentality,” Link said. “I think we developed a little more chemistry this week and I think it really showed on the field today. We just came out strong.”
The Strikers had a couple of quick opportunities to tie the game, but shots by Sam Johnson and Hannah Beard soared wide of the goal, and a strong attack by Beard was halted by Blue Heat defender Taylor Ramirez.
In the 40th minute, Blue Heat forward Laura Luis put the Heat up 2-0 on a strong strike from 25 yards out.
The Strikers’ Johnson popped the ball over the head of Blue Heat goalkeeper Cynthia Jacobo in the 44th minute to cut the Heat’s lead in half for a 2-1 score heading into the break.
The Blue Heat kept up the attack in the second half, with Fernandes and Dinora Garza both taking shots early, but it was Ana Borges who scored from the left side off an assist by Fernandes in the 51st minute to push the lead to 3-1.
Beard quickly tried to cut the lead for the Strikers, but her shot was saved by a diving Jacobo.
Fernandes, who showed off some of the skills that helped make her a finalist for the W-League MVP, scored her first goal of the season in the 56th minute, giving the Blue Heat a 4-1 lead.
Just minutes later, it looked like Fernandes had her second goal of the night, but LA Strikers’ team captain Vanessa Valentine made an amazing save, catching up to the ball just as it was crossing over the goal line and knocking it out of the area as she tumbled into the net.
“I thought it was a goal for sure – I threw my hands up already and then she was in there and getting the ball out of there,” said teammate Rachel Flemming. “She works hard –she’s so dedicated. She never gives up on a play and you saw it with that.”
Although the Strikers are still looking for their first win this season, Beard said the team just needs to get accustomed to playing together.
“It is basically just about it coming together now,” Beard said. “We’ve got all the players and the talent, it’s just a matter of us playing together and I think that really showed tonight.”
Flemming agreed that her team has potential and said it’s still early in the season.
“I think we will peak at the right time,” Flemming said. “Right now we are working out the kinks.”
The Strikers face the Pali Blues next at Palisades Charter High School on Wednesday at 7 p.m. PT. Santa Clarita travels to Palisades on Saturday for a 4 p.m. PT kickoff against Pali.
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