Linfield FC 2
FC America 0
Report by Steven Boucher
In the opening round of the Girls’ Junior section a strong Linfield side managed to see off a stubborn FC America squad. The Diamond in Rathcoole played host to the fixture, in near perfect football conditions, and a decent crowd arrived to take in the action.
Linfield applied pressure right from the off, with Charlotte Havern regularly looking play the ball in behind the American defense. Goalkeeper Nolah del Gaudio, however, was quick off her line, and sparked an early attack that saw FC America test Madison Bell in the Linfield net. America did try to build from the back, sometimes causing trouble for themselves as Linfield applied the high press.
The impressive Ava Hurl on the left wing for Linfield, was starting to cause problems for the American defense, with a chance not taken by herself on the 10-minute mark, and then breaking in behind to pull back for her striker Ava Crozier – her shot deflecting wide for a corner.
In midfield, Havern was busy for Linfield, showing a wide range of passing, but she soon had the chance to shoot herself from a direct free kick, which was well held by del Gaudio.
After this early onslaught from Linfield, the Americans started to find their feet a little, and good link up play between Kacylee Mitchell and Jodie Roche saw them ask questions of the Linfield defense. Soon, though, Havern had a shot in open play, that was parried for a corner to Linfield. From this, a shot from close range saw America’s Sienna Ferris head clear from just in front of the goal line.
America kept plugging, with standout striker Riley Piscitelli showing pace, skill and desire, though the team just couldn’t manage to fashion a telling chance. And in the 19th minute, it was the girls in blue who finally got that chance – a corner fell to Abbie Smyth, whose shot was parried in the 6-yard box, and Grace Campbell pounced to knock the ball home.
This gave Linfield the confidence boost to moved up the gears, and as the applied pressure shots came from Hurl and Crozier. Del Gaudio was equal to the test, though, her defense pitching in as well with numerous blocks on the edge of the box. Just at the end of the half, though, it was Cassie Henderson for America who nearly equalized, her long hard shot pulling an excellent save from Bell in the Linfield net.
Halftime: Linfield 1-0 FC America
The second half couldn’t have started worse for the American side, as after only a minute a skillful drop of the shoulder from Hurl saw her fouled in the box and a penalty awarded to Linfield. Crozier stepped up to confidently slot home from 12 yards, sending the keeper the wrong way.
America looked to bounce back immediately, though, and a strong burst of pace from Piscitelli saw her break into the Linfield box and draw what looked like a foul herself – the referee was unmoved, though, drawing criticism from the FC America coaching staff and fans.
At this point the game entered a very back and forth phase. Crozier first tried to make space in the America box, but was thwarted at the last second by Ellie McGarrigle. Piscitelli took aim from 30 yards for America, and drew a top save from Bell. Mitchell soon hit a bullet of a shot, unfortunately just wide of the Linfield post. Hurl then headed over the bar from close range for Linfield. The newly introduced sub Josephine Darragh soon put her shot just wide of the America post.
America were strong minded, and continued to dig in against a strong Linfield side, with Leah Craig and Sally Lynch in particular robustly winning duals in centre midfield.
America’s Roche showed great skill and trickery, beating an opponent with a nutmeg, and dispatching a shot from distance, unfortunately just not powerful enough to beat Bell. Hurl for Linfield didn’t want to be outdone, though, and went on a mazy run of her own, her shot being deflected away for a corner at the last second.
The ever impressive del Gaudio continued to gather in any shot that came her way, and watched Hurl again put a powerful shot just over the bar, and Havern also go just wide from another free kick.
Full Time – Linfield 2-0 FC America
Those in attendance witnessed a very enjoyable encounter, with the better team on the day coming away with the win, a sentiment expressed by FC America coach Tommy Kovacs. He was, however, proud of the strength and character shown by his FC America team in the second half, a team that comprises a travelling group of girls from the USA, and a contingent of local talent, who had only trained together for the first time just days before the tournament.
Coach Scott Nesbitt was impressed by the Americans as well, but was pleased with the good on-the-deck football played by his Linfield team, in just the first fixture of the tournament, hinting he feels there is even more to come from the Belfast side.