UCLA goalkeeper Chante Sandiford made three saves in a shootout to lead her Eagles SC Under-23 soccer team to a historic victory over the Kansas City Dynamos on Sunday at the Lovers Lane Soccer Complex in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
The Eagles, a club squad based in Camarillo, claimed their second straight USASA national title and become the ﬁrst team ever to earn four age-speciﬁc United States National Championships.
In a game every bit as dramatic as the Women's World Cup final in Germany later in the day, the Eagles and Dynamos battled to a 2-2 tie through regulation and overtime before the California club prevailed in the shootout.
"Kansas City is an incredibly talented team. [All-Americans] Libby Jandl of Duke and Molly Campbell from Notre Dame are two of the best in the country, and from the start this was a heck of a battle," Eagles Coach Vince Thomas said of Sunday's opponent. "I started my three Big-12 forwards and it paid off as Emily Cressy (University of Kansas) found Amanda Lisberger (Texas) cutting hard to the goal. She ﬂicked it to Kelsey Kraft (Oklahoma) who ﬁnished strong."
Sandiford and fellow Bruin Amelia Mathis, a senior defender, both played key roles in Sunday's championship game and each was on the field for all 210 minutes of soccer over the weekend in 100-degree heat and 90-degree humidity. The Eagles had blanked the Dallas D'Feeters 5-0 in Friday's semifinals.
Mathis is expected to start at right outside back for UCLA in the fall. Her speed was on display throughout Sunday's final as she continually raced up the sideline to create opportunities for her teammates.
The score was tied 1-1 late in regulation when both teams came within inches of scoring. Campbell one-touched a serve that bounced off the post, and moments later Lisberger found a seam through two defenders and hit the left post.
With 30 seconds left in the second overtime and Kansas City ahead 2-1, Lauren Jackson (Kansas) found Haley Boysen on the wing and the USC sophomore blasted a shot from 25 yards out that hit the far post and bounced at a 45-degree angle into the net, sending the game to penalty kicks.
Kraft, Lindsay Bullock (Long Beach State) and Coco Goodson (UC Irvine) all converted shots with low, hard line drives, and when Sandiford made her third diving save the Eagles thought they had won their fourth national title. However, the referee ruled that Sandiford had come off her line early and the Dynamos were given another opportunity.
When the second attempt sailed high the Eagles' 4-2 shootout victory was finally secure and the celebration began.
"I feel so comfortable, absolutely at home in the goal, and I love the challenge of keeping the ball out of the net," said Sandiford, a fifth-year senior who is expected to start her third season for the Bruins in the fall. "All the girls on this team are just incredible soccer players, so I just have to do my part — keep the ball out of the net — and they'll take care of the rest."
Sandiford is the only non-Southern Californian on the Eagles. When some UCLA teammates approached her to play club soccer one last time this summer for the Camarillo-based club, Sandiford couldn't pass up the opportunity.
"Their track record is unreal, everything is like clockwork with them," Sandiford said of joining the Eagles. "So it's been real easy for me to come in and be a part of something that's already so well run."
Sandiford posted a 21-2-1 record in 2009 and started 23 of the 24 games she played for the Bruins, allowing only 15 goals all season. Mathis played in 23 games for the Bruins in 2008 on a team that had blanked 19 opponents.
Two other UCLA players are on the Eagles' roster but couldn't play at Nationals. Senior center midfielder Charney Burk, who transferred to UCLA from Portland a year ago, re-injured her ankle just before the start of the tournament and was not able to over the weekend. Burk has been involved with the U.S. National Team Program since the U-15 level.
Incoming freshman defender Ally Courtnall was sick and also missed Nationals. Her father played in the NHL and she was one of the top recruits in the country but decided to play for BJ Snow at UCLA. She was a standout at Oaks Christian High in Westlake Village.
Under Thomas, the Eagles won two U.S. Youth Soccer national titles – the U14 crown in 2004 and the U17 crown in 2007. They are six-time Cal South state champions (2004, ‘07, ‘08, ‘09, ’10, ‘11) and two-time state finalists (2005, ‘06). A year ago they defeated Arizona Rush Nike in the U23 ﬁnal to become only the second side in the 32-year history of women’s championships to win three U.S. national titles, matching the Rush of Littleton, Colorado, who won the U17, U18 and U19 crowns in 1999-01.
“It's amazing what these girls have accomplished, starting when they were just 13,” Thomas said. "Now, eight years later, they've won more national titles than any club soccer team in history. From the outset, they relished competing against the best players in the country and came to appreciate that to win at the highest level you must be very good individually and even better as a team."
Rounding out the Eagles' U23 roster are Judy Christopher (UC Irvine), Shannon McFadden (Washington State), Monique Pendleberry (UC Irvine) and Kelsea Smith (Pepperdine).