Cabalo's goals help Villa Park reach MD Premier Invitational title match
SANTA ANA- Before his team’s semifinal match with No. 10 Los Alamitos, Villa Park head coach Brent Whitfield pulled junior forward Naydeen Cabalo aside and told her that he felt she was ready for a breakout performance.
Cabalo, who missed the early portion of the season with a left ankle sprain, responded to the pregame talk by putting her coach’s words into fruition and leading the Spartans to within one victory of a tournament championship.
Cabalo scored two goals, including the match-decider in the second half, as the Spartans rallied for a 2-1 victory over the Griffins Saturday at the Mater Dei Premier Invitational.
“I told her that this would be the game she would breakout for us, and having her back in the swing of things is big for us,” Whitfield said.
Villa Park (7-2-2) has won three of its’ four matches in the tournament and will face Harvard-Westlake in the finals Saturday evening. Harvard-Westlake defeated No. 1 Aliso Niguel, 3-1, in Saturday’s other semifinal match.
“We are trying to gain respect and wanted to see at this time of the season where we fit in with the top teams in the county and in Division 1,” Whitfield said. “I’ve seen these girls play with fight and will throughout this tournament and they believe. I’m proud of the girls for making to the finals, but I want them to not just be happy to be there and to go after the championship.”
The Griffins (5-3-2) took a 1-0 lead in the second minute of the match. After Villa Park defender Jenna Reeves was called for a foul just outside the box, Griffins senior Raya Young hit a perfectly placed free kick over the right shoulder of Spartans junior goalie Breana Martinez and into the upper corner of the goal.
Villa Park battled back with pressure into the attacking third and tied the match in the 13th minute. On a run toward the goal, Spartans junior midfielder Kacee Thoren chipped a well timed pass to Cabolo streaking in the middle of the box. Griffins junior goalie Savannah Sickler moved up to try and stop the ball, but Cabalo chipped a shot over her and into the empty goal.
“I saw the keeper stepping up and the goal was pretty clear,” Cabalo said. “I was able to chip the shot over her.”
The defenses on each side played strong throughout the remainder of the half, and the match remained tied at the intermission.
Young nearly put the Griffins on top in the 42nd minute, but Martinez made a nice diving save to her right to stop a shot headed for the corner of the near post.
Cabalo got free for a great scoring chance in the 49th minute, but her shot in the box twisted just wide of the far post corner of the goal.
Led by senior Cassidy Hodson, the Spartans began to possess deep into the attacking third toward the midway point of the half. Stout defense efforts from Griffins freshman Maureen Kennedy and senior Leah Pepper helped the Griffins withstand the Spartans attacking pressure.
Los Alamitos had a scoring chance in the 54th minute, as junior Allie Emmons sent a pass through the Spartans defense to Young streaking down the middle of the field. But Martinez stepped up in time to grab the ball before Young could reach it for a shot attempt.
The decisive play of the match came in the 60th minute. Off penetration into the attacking third, Hodson crossed a ball from the left sideline over to Cabalo, who tapped a shot that rolled past the run-up challenge of Griffins freshman keeper Siena Ruelas and rolled into the far corner of goal.
“Cassidy (Hodson) got a through ball and I barely got my foot on it,” Cabalo said. “Luckily, it got past the keeper and through the last defender.”
The defensive efforts of Reeves, senior Aryanna St. Pierre, and sophomore Emily Colon, helped the Spartans shut down the Griffins' final attacks to close out the win.