Palm Desert seemed to dominate the majority of their CIF-SS first-round Division 5 game against Rowland on Tuesday. But they had to wait until Kaitlin Clapinski’s goal in injury time to clinch their 3-1 win over the Raiders and ensure passage to the second round.
The Aztecs led 2-0 and appeared to be coasting before Rowland freshman defender Braelynn Llamoca snapped a curling free kick over the head of Palm Desert’s senior goalkeeper Alex Fabela and into the back of the net with 11 minutes to play.
Rowland pushed into the Palm Desert half in a desperate attempt to forge an equalizer, but in the end, they left themselves open in the back, and Clapinski took advantage. She collected a through ball on the break just inside the Raiders half, and sprinted another 35 yards before coolly rolling the winner past Rowland’s senior goalkeeper Viviana Trujillo in the third minute of stoppage time.
“Thought in the first half we played very well, thought we were controlling the ball and the game pretty well,” said Palm Desert coach Chris Keuilian. “We finished chances well, because we didn’t create a lot of great chances, we created a lot of half-chances. But to bury the two that we got was outstanding. It gave us a cushion.”
Palm Desert dominated the first half, both territorially, in the number of scoring chances, and corners, and their 2-0 halftime lead was well-earned. But throughout the half, the Raiders continued to show they had the ability to hit back, and hit back quickly.
In fact, Palm Desert enjoyed a territorial and corner kick advantage (2-0) in the first 10 minutes, but it was Rowland who had the best early chance when junior striker Melissa Rodriguez broke behind Palm Desert defense and latched on to a through ball. She was able to eventually get around Fabela, but was only able to turn and get off a weak shot that was eventually cleared by Palm Desert junior defender Dessa Keuilian.
The Aztecs pressure was rewarded in the 14th minute, when two Aztecs forced a lone Rowland defender to cough up the ball deep in her own end, and Palm Desert senior forward/midfielder Afton Kalkoske ended up with the turnover. She steadied herself with a minimum of touches, then smacked a smart shot from just outside the penalty area into the upper left corner of the net, giving the Aztecs a 1-0 lead.
After the goal, Rowland’s back three looked increasingly shaky, and Palm Desert continued to press high up the pitch to force turnovers, and apply constant offensive pressure once they had the ball. Senior captian/defender Jane Jordan took a free kick just inside the Rowland half ended up producing a direct free kick for the Aztecs when Kalkoske was clipped down from behind some 25 yards out from goal.
Jordan eventually stood behind the kick, and laced a low, deceptive shot, skimming the grass and beating the diving Trujillo to her right and settling into the lower left corner of the net. With just over 12 minutes to play in the half, the kick gave Palm Desert had a 2-0 lead and all the momentum.
Rowland opened the second half with its best spell of sustained pressure in the Aztec half, but couldn’t make the pressure pay outside of a long, curling shot from Rodriguez that was easily handled by Fabela. The Aztecs then wrenched possession away for a spell, and a series of corners nearly produced a third goal and a second from Jordan when she headed a corner off the right post that was eventually cleared away in the 52nd minute.
Yet the Raiders stunned the Aztecs in the 69th when Llamoca pulled one back with her free kick that Fabela seemed to see late. For all their dominance to that point, the Aztecs would have to validate their victory over the final 10 minutes with only a 2-1 lead. As expected, the Raiders got their chances, most notably in the 78th minute when Fabela stopped both Rodriguez and junior striker Melanie Romero from close range to keep the Aztecs in front.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH: Jane Jordan, senior defender, Palm Desert: Jordan did just about everything a defender can do in a match, including scoring on a long free kick. She stepped in front of passes, gummed up the Rowland midfield, made sliding blocks in her own penalty area, and was dominant in the air. She nearly scored a second goal that would have given Palm Desert a 3-0 lead when she headed off the post early in the second half.
THE SUPPORT: Alex Fabela, senior goalkeeper, Palm Desert: On the occasions the Raiders were able to get behind an otherwise solid Palm Desert defensive wall, Fabela was there and steady, bravely challenging for 50-50 balls and tightly securing all loose balls with strong hands. She was beaten twice, but one shot hit the crossbar, and the second accounted for the Raiders only goal.
NOTABLE: Palm Desert (17-4-4) now goes on the road to play the Rancho Verde/Nogales winner in the second round on Tuesday….Only two yellow cards were issued in the match, one to Palm Desert in the 69th minute that lead to the free kick which produced Rowland’s only goal, and another to the Rowland bench in stoppage time….Palm Desert unofficially enjoyed a 17-6 advantage in corner kicks.