Los Amigos High needed to weather a difficult first half in its CIF Southern Section girls’ soccer semifinal Saturday afternoon, but the Lobos poached a goal and then, with the wind at their back after the break, dictated terms the rest of the way to advance to their first title game.
Vidalia Abarca scored goals on each side of halftime, then retreated to the rear to clean up everything that came her way and lead the No. 3 seeds to a 3-0 Division 5 triumph over Thermal Coachella Valley at Garden Grove High, setting up a showdown next weekend with surprising Pasadena Westridge.
Jennifer Rincon also tallied for the Lobos (18-3-1) in a game that featured an often stiff eastern breeze. That wind kept them penned in their half most of the first 40 minutes, but a strong defensive showing limited Coachella Valley’s ability to turn territorial dominance into scoring chances, and Abarca’s 34th-minute strike turned command of the encounter Los Amigos’ way.
“Our team is really aware of our strengths and weaknesses,” said coach Cassidy Abad, who guided the Lobos to their first final four last season. “The wind was a huge factor in the first half, and we knew we just had to hold them off for that half and that we could produce in the second half.
“They came at us really strong, and we were able to hold them off, just working as a team and [my players’] heart and finishing off the whole game.”
The Arabs (17-9-5) used attackers Eva Torres and Miranda Torres and ballwinners Rubi Borjas and Cynthia Valadez to dictate terms for at least a half-hour, but the best chance they created — a Daniela Iniguez ball into the box for Monserrath Bedolla in the 27th minute — was scooped up by Los Amigos goalkeeper Andrea Mendoza-Reyes.
Abarca scored against the run of play seven minutes later, beating Coachella Valley goalkeeper Layzha Lombera at the right post after Vanessa Granados took an Iris Grandarilla throw-in and squeezed it through a crowd of defenders.
Grandarilla tallied four minutes after that, finishing a ball from Rincon, but she was flagged offside. Lombera went down on the play without contact, left the game, and Arabs coach Francisco Morales said she’d suffered a knee injury and heard the pop that accompanies torn anterior cruciate ligaments, an injury that usually comes from non-contact situations.
Los Amigos dominated the second half, getting off 10 shots (to six for Coachella Valley) and putting eight on target as Abarca dominated in central defense, freshman holding midfielder Lauren Knoob repeatedly dispossessed attackers, and Mya Rodriguez ran things in midfield.
Abarca made it 2-0 four minutes into the second half, slotting past reserve goalkeeper Melissa Cebrera from a Rincon through ball that was handled by a defender — referee Miguel Chicas played advantage, letting the play continue on — and Rincon scored in the 55th minute, firing in off a deflection that put the ball out of Cebrera’s reach after a long Abarca free kick was knocked out of the Arabs’ box.
Abarca said there’s a difference with this year’s Los Amigos team.
“I think it’s the effort, the passion,” she said. “I think this team wanted it more than last year.”
Abad, in her seventh season, said the Lobos have succeeded despite a lack of experience.
“If there’s a team I’ve had that deserves it, it’s this team,” she said. “We have some players that only started playing soccer when they came onto the high school campus. They’ve surprised me, but they put in all the hard work necessary to reach this level.
“I’m proud to be part of this team. I’m very proud. Our program has definitely had some ups and downs, and this year has given me all the hard and all the effort that I could ever ask.”
SCOTT FRENCH is a contributor to Times Community News. Follow him on Twitter: @ScottJFrench