AURORA — With the regular season of girls soccer down to less than a handful of games for most teams, now is the time to look to play the best soccer.
And for a team like CHSAANow.com No. 5-ranked Cherokee Trail (11-0-2), who is no stranger to playing top-notch soccer, Thursday night presented the perfect opportunity to hone their craft as they took care of business in a dominant 3-0 victory over Mullen (7-6-1), the No. 8 team in 4A.
“They worked hard, they came ready to play even though this was our third game in three days,” Cherokee Trail coach Jeremy Schaller said afterward. “We had to do everything we could to make the game as easy as possible for ourselves by trying to control the offensive end and the ball and that’s what we did.”
It seemed as if the Cougars capitalized nearly on every possession they had offensively and even though they all didn’t result in goals, they were able to constantly get shots off as well as establish a rhythm with their passing. Cherokee Trail created opportunity after opportunity as free runners cut up the wings all night making it difficult for Mullen to collapse the middle.
Conversely, the Cougars were aggressive on the defensive end as they were able to limit the opportunities the Mustangs had and any time Mullen did break through the toward the Cougar box, Cherokee Trail swarmed the ball-handler, stymieing any hopes for a score.
Yet with such an aggressive and patient offense attack being established early on, it wasn’t long before the Cougars would find the back of the net. Sure enough, in the eighth minute, they struck gold as a cross in the box from junior Rebekah Burton to her teammate streaking down the opposite wing led to a foul in the penalty box.
Burton stepped up to take the penalty kick and nailed it with ease.
“Offensively, we were just trying to keep the ball in the attacking third mostly and defensively we usually do a really good job of using our width, so I think we did a really good job on those things,” Burton said.
The penalty kick ultimately proved to be the jump start Burton needed as from that point on, as she was a burden to stay in front of. The junior notched her second goal of the night around the 20th minute on an unreal boot from at least 25 yards out on the right wing, scoring near the far post as the goalie could only watch in despair.
“She’s been a great player for us, last season she was the Centennial League MVP and led the league in goals scored and I know that was one of her goals going into this year,” coach Schaller said of his star junior. “She’s a dangerous player as she can score inside and outside, she’s got speed, while also a very strong player as well.”
The second half didn't bring much change as the 2-0 deficit that existed going into halftime loomed for much of the second half until the final minute of play when Cherokee Trail sophomore Alesia Garcia netted the Cougars’ third goal of the night.
For the Mustangs and coach Matthew Guglielmo, this was a great learning experience as they were playing a league opponent in 5A, which makes for a great “measuring stick” type of contest.
“Our girls are well aware that our league season doesn’t look like the 4A state tournament, but it leaves us battle-hardened,” Guglielmo said afterward. “For the most part, teams like Trail, Creek, and Grandview, don’t play in the 4A tournament but maybe the finals or the semis.
“So we know these games are important and we want to be victorious, however, this prepares us for the playoffs and there are no heads hung after these games. So we just go back to practice and just try to fix it and get better, that way when we really need them, we’ll get the W’s.”