For the first time since the club’s inception in 2004, the Central Valley Chilipeppers - led by Morgan Hill natives Colby Carson and Samantha Riolo - will play in the U.S. Club Soccer nationals July 24 through July 29 in South Carolina after finishing in second place during last weekend’s regional tournament in Arizona.
The Chilipeppers posted a 6-1 record, losing only in the championship game to Southern California’s Breakaway 1-0.
The Chilipeppers, a club team associated with the Central Santa Clara Valley Youth Soccer League, were crowned the California Youth Soccer Association Northern California State champion earlier this month. But before Sunday, the Chilipeppers had never advanced past the regional tournament.
Carson, a Morgan Hill native who attends Valley Christian in San Jose where she will be a senior in the fall, led the offensive attack for the Chilipeppers throughout the tournament, scoring 10 of the team’s 19 goals. Her scoring started for the Chilipeppers in the tournament’s opening game against Utah, tallying all four goals in a 4-0 win.
“I started out nervous, but I just told myself ‘this is the regionals’ and I played better,” she said.
The team was strong defensively and did not allow a goal until the third game. After its opening win over Utah, the team shut out Oregon 5-0 before beating Washington by a close 5-3 margin.
Riolo, from her deep midfielder position, controlled the team’s defense, limiting opponents’ offensive push, she said. Her play helped the Chilipeppers gain control of games early.
“It took a lot of leadership,” Riolo said. “We had to work together to play well in the regionals. It put a lot of pressure on me.”
The team responded, though, and following the three victories, the team defeated Idaho 2-1 in double overtime to advance to the tournament’s semifinals against Colorado, where again an early charge contributed to a 3-1 triumph.
The win automatically gave the Chilipeppers a berth in July’s national tournament – a fact the team didn’t know about until halftime of the championship game against Southern California.
“Our coach didn’t tell us until halftime because he wanted us to keep playing hard,” Carson said. “After he told us, we wanted to win even more. It made us play harder.”
A first-half goal from the Breakaway stood as the decider. However, the loss has provided the team more motivation in preparation for nationals, Riolo said.
“We want to win and play and beat Breakaway,” she said.
To win, the team will once again rely on its two captains Riolo and Carson, who have played on the same team since they were seven years old. That familiarity with each other only makes them better, they said.
“Colby and I are leaders,” said Riolo, a 2012 Live Oak High School graduate who will play at San Jose State in the fall. “We help each other play better.”
And the experience of making it to the regional tournament in 2006 and 2007 was key in the squad’s advancement through to nationals this time around, Carson said.
“All the hard work paid off,” she said. “We worked so hard to get to the regionals and it paid off.”