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Sereno SC (Az.) U-16 girls looking to squeeze into ECNL playoffs

By Jimmy LaRoue

Sereno Soccer Club’s Under-16 ECNL team may still be adapting to top flight national competition, but it left the Elite Clubs National League San Diego Showcase Event earlier this week without giving up a goal.

After playing two scoreless ties against West Coast FC (Calif.) and Bethesda SC (Md.) on the first two days of the showcase, Sereno SC broke a scoreless tie late in its match with Mustang FC, picking up a late goal from U.S. U-15 national pool player Jorian Baucom and then withstanding a furious challenge to seal the win.

The win made the Arizona side unbeaten in its last eight games (6-0-2), with the last seven coming in the last month since the end of high school season.

“For us, we’re still learning to cope with Cal South and Cal North teams, so a lot of the times we have to sit in and keep our shape, and then break on the counter,” said Sereno coach Paul Taylor. “We’ve got the ability to play, but at times when you’re not matching up physically, sometimes you’ve just got to sit in and wait for those opportunities.”

He said the girls have bought into playing that way. Taylor said the team was unlucky in the tie against West Coast. Against Bethesda, he had the team open up more, feeling Sereno could matchup better against the Maryland side, but were left “disappointed not to win that one.”

But on the third day, Sereno took down Mustang, the sixth place team in the ECNL National Flight A standings and the top team in the Northwest Conference.

“To beat a great team like Mustangs is fantastic for the kids,” Taylor said. “It gives us a chance now to look in and get into the 16, which is what everyone’s gunning for at the moment.”

The top 16 teams in the A Flight qualify for the national championship group at the ECNL National Championships, which take place June 24-30 at the Waukegan Sports Complex outside Chicago. Sereno, at 2-2-5, currently sits squarely in the 16th and final spot in the National Flight A standings. Bethesda (2-2-4) sits one spot ahead of them, while West Coast (4-4-2) is in 12th.

“The conference play is fantastic for us, but the level of competition – to get three games like this … is something the girls have got to get used to,” Taylor said.

Sereno, still narrowly on top of the Mountain West Conference at 10-2-1 (2.38 ppg), doesn’t get back into conference play until an April 28 home game against last-place Utah Avalanche (0-4-2). Colorado Rush, at 10-1-3, trails them in the conference standings by just two one-hundredths of a point.

Taylor’s key leaders are “down the spine of the team,” he said, citing defender Kellie Peay, Baucom at forward and midfielder/forward Gabi Stoian, who has appeared with the U.S. U-15 Youth National Team.

Baucom, who has previously appeared on the U.S. U-14 Youth National Team, scored the lone goal in the win over Mustang and has 13 goals in 10 games this season.

In particular, Taylor praised center back Raquel Angelone as being a quiet leader that teammates look to and opponents underestimate because of her smaller stature, but said the team wouldn’t be nearly as successful without her.

“She’s a little bit special,” Taylor said. “She reads the game well, but she’s slight, so some people take a look at her and don’t think too much of her.”

He said he was pleased with the all-around team effort from the weekend in not conceding a goal. Taylor hopes to build off the performance at the showcase.

“I think what we take forward is that we’ve got to learn to possess the ball under pressure, and the speed of play has to improve,” Taylor said. “That’s something that if we want to–it’s OK trying to get into the 16, but now we want to try and compete on a regular basis with these teams and win games matching up with them. This is a foundation that we can build on. It’s a fantastic result, and a fantastic weekend.”

Remaining ECNL schedule for Sereno SC U-16s
• Apr. 28 – Utah Avalanche
• Apr. 29 – Arsenal FC
• June 9 – SC Del Sol

[ +Read more of our on-site coverage from the ECNL San Diego Showcase Event here ]