Myers Park girls’ soccer coach Bucky McCarley says senior Caileen Almeida is a student of the game.
“She is always studying what is happening out there, always analyzing,” McCarley says.
Almeida, one of the Mustangs’ leading scorers, was held in check for a chunk of Tuesday night’s 4A Western Regional final match against visiting Page.
But in a 10-second span of the second half, Almeida put what she had seen of the opposition to work for Myers Park. She drove ¾ of the length of the field and scored the decisive goal in the Mustangs’ 3-2 victory over Page.
That sends Myers Park (17-0-1) into the 4A championship match this weekend against East Region winner Pinecrest (13-1-1).
The finale will be played at Greensboro Grimsley High, either on Friday or Saturday. The N.C. High School Athletic Association is expected to announce the game day and time on Wednesday.
Raleigh, Charlotte-area teams advance
Myers Park was one of several Charlotte and Triangle-area teams to advance to the finals.
▪ In 3A, Cox Mill outlasted AC Reynolds 2-1 and Chapel Hill beat Northern Guilford 1-0. Those two will play for the title Friday or Saturday.
▪ In 2A, Lake Norman Chrater beat South Point 4-0, and Carrboro and Clinton tied at 1, but Carrboro won 3-1 on penalty kicks. Those two will play Friday or Saturday for the state title.
▪ And in 1A, Community School of Davidson beat Christ The King 3-0. It will play Franklin Academy in the finals.
At Myers Park, sitting helps
For Myers Park, sitting on the bench some may have helped Almeida.
When McCarley lifted his leading scorers during some of the Mustangs’ lopsided victories this season, Almeida often would spend the rest of the match standing next to McCarley, asking questions about strategy.
“She wants to know what she can do to make her teammates better,” McCarley says.
But on Tuesday night, Almeida changed the direction of the game largely by herself.
Page (14-4) had rallied from a 2-1 halftime deficit and tied the match when Maria Vanore connected with a left-footed kick from 15 yards out with about 30 minutes remaining in the match.
The Pirates continued to apply pressure, and Myers Park goalkeeper Lizzie Sarmiento made a diving stop of another Vanore shot with 16 minutes left.
About a minute later, Almeida, who plays for the Puerto Rican under-21 national team in the offseason, intercepted a pass near midfield. She dribbled the ball down the field, zig-zagging and faking her way past three Page defenders.
When she got just outside the box, she cut loose with a right-footed kick that beat Page goalkeeper Eva Hecht.
That gave the Mustangs a 3-2 lead, and they held off the Pirates for the victory.
Sarmiento made two big saves in the closing six minutes to help send Myers Park to its second 4A championship in three years.
The visitors from Greensboro struck first, with Madelyn Goas lofting a high looping shot into the Myers Park goal a bit more than 17 minutes into the match.
The Mustangs pulled ahead with two goals in the final six minutes of the first half.
Senior Caroline Pulliam evened the match with a right-footed 15-yard shot, and sophomore Charlotte Simas put Myers Park ahead with a 20-yard kick that went over the head of Hecht.
THREE WHO MATTERED
Caileen Almeida, Myers Park: After a relatively quiet opening 60 minutes, Almeida beat several Page defenders and scored the winning goal.
Mia Lynch, Myers Park: A junior midfielder, Lynch had a big role in preventing Page from taking the lead in the second half. At least four times in the closing 20 minutes, Lynch broke up a Pirate surge by blocking or intercepting passes deep in the Mustang zone.
Maria Vanore, Page: Vanore scored the Pirates’ second goal and nearly scored two more times. She also stymied the Myers Park attack by stealing several Mustang passes in the midfield area in the first half.
▪ Caileen Almeida was the second-half hero, but she had a rough first half. She was called for five fouls in the opening 40 minutes.
▪ Myers Park coach Bucky McCarley pulled off a remarkable “double” in the past six weeks. He took the Mustang boys’ team to the 4A championship match and now is doing the same with the girls.
▪ This will be the Mustangs’ second appearance in the girls’ soccer championship. They lost to Fuquay-Varina in the 2018 finals. But Myers Park has played 82 playoff matches alltime, winning 52.
▪ Pinecrest won the East 4A Regional final by a 4-3 score Tuesday over Hoggard. Pinecrest trailed 2-0 but scored four times in the final 12 minutes. The Patriots’ got the winning goal from Morgan McGuirt with about six minutes remaining.
Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle