Despite a depleted roster, the IMG Academy soccer program's U-19 girls decided to participate in the Southern Regional Finals -- the last tournament they'd play together as a team before several players head to college.
Game 1: IMG 3, Houston Challenge 4
The U-19 women got off to a dream start, with three goals in the first 11 minutes of the match. Sydney Payne scored the first goal on a nice finish across the goalkeeper in the opening 5 minutes, with her twin sister, Shelby Payne, adding the second goal a few minutes later. IMG was able to continue the pressure with a terrific strike from distance by Sydney Payne, beating a back-tracking goalkeeper from 35 yards out.
With sustained pressure throughout the first half, IMG went into halftime with a 3-0 lead. The second half started well for IMG, but the Texas heat began to take its toll. With 18 minutes to play, Houston turned the momentum in their favor and added their first of four goals in the final eighteen minutes of the match. With only twelve players for the match and two players picking up injuries late in the second half, IMG had to fight to keep the lead but were unable to hold on, conceding four goals and the game to Houston Challenge.
Game 2: IMG 0, Alabama (state champions) 2
The U-19 women started the first half against a strong wind. Despite controlling the game and moving the ball very well, they could not score. Sydney barely missed a goal on a cross from her sister Shelby. She made a strong connection but it barely missed the outside of the post. Many other attempts were made on goal but IMG could not find the back of the net. Near the end of the first half, Alabama put a goal away off a misplaced pass from IMG.
The girls still continued to fight and remained consistent in their performance but also in their struggle to score. Erika Tymrak had to end her performance early from a calf contusion that she received in the first game. Though she fought to make a difference, her mobility was hindered. With 20 minutes left in the game, we played with three in the back with hopes of evening out the score.
Kielty Wright, who missed the first game because she was out with the flu, provided the other players with some rest. Despite not being completely recovered, she did very well when she found the field by contributing to the attack and disrupting the other team on defense. Lauren Foropolous was struggling with a calf strain, but found the strength to give us another good chance on goal. She took the ball down half the length of the field, flying past two players and gaining a corner kick for us.
Though the girls never gave up, Alabama capitalized on a miscommunication with the defense and beat the IMG keeper on a one on one with 30 seconds left. In the end, the IMG girls never gave up. They even outplayed the competition at times, but could not score and could not get the final result.
Game three: IMG 1, Georgia (state champions) 3
By the last game, the lack of subs for the U-19 women had taken its toll both physically and mentally, but they never stopped fighting. They gave up an early goal to Georgia in the first 15 minutes, but still played as if it were a 0-0 game. At times, IMG moved the ball very well and Georgia was on their heels, but once again, the energy in the final third was not sufficient enough to complete the attack. It continued on this way for the rest of the game. IMG missed their opportunities on goal, and Georgia capitalized on IMG's mistakes. The game ended in a 3-1 loss after Shelby Payne scored in the last 10 minutes.
The weekend was a disappointment only in the fact that we should have advanced past the group stage. On a brighter side, we realized that we have the ability to compete with the state champions of other states in our region. This is a testament to our training environment and the types of players we produce. Our girls have worked very hard to get here. We will now be better prepared for this future opportunity when it arrives again.
The following players performed admirably: The Payne sisters, who consistently gave all their effort regardless of the situation. Sydney Robinson, who played great in a new position this weekend as an outside back. She welcomed her role and competed without complaint or lack of confidence. Kielty Wright, who played more each game and had an impact despite her struggle with the flu. Madison Solow, who was the back bone of the midfield with her attitude, ball winning ability, vision, and distribution. Lauren Foropolous, who never stopped fighting whether it be a tackle, struggle with an injury, or cheering on her teammates. Brittany Cohen who had a very good performance in the last game. She was everywhere on the field.
Congrats on a great season, girls!