• DIVISION IV: Colfax at East Union, semifinal game. Kickoff: Wednesday, 7 p.m.
• DIVISION VII: Ripon Christian at Victory Christian, semifinal game. Kickoff: Wednesday, 3:30 p.m.
On a championship-caliber team with no Sac-Joaquin Section championships, Jim Todd isn’t leaning on a rich core of veterans for the missing ingredient.
The East Union girls soccer coach hopes a fresh-faced, fearless pair can provide some postseason magic.
Playmaking sophomore Marissa King plays like a bolt of lightning, flashing through the box or down the sideline.
Striker Isabella Cardenas is the perfect compliment. The freshman thunders through the offensive third with a strength and tenacity that belies her age.
Each played a key role in the top-seeded Lancers’ first round victory last week, a taut 3-2 decision over No. 8 Foothill. King scored the game’s first goal, while Cardenas seemed to create chances with her every touch.
She just didn’t cash in on any, which helped turn the opening-round contest into a down-to-the-wire thriller.
East Union (20-1-2) led 2-0 after 48 minutes and easily controlled possession, outshooting Foothill 14-0 in the first half. But the Mustangs mustered a tie with back-to-back goals within a 10-minute span, forcing the Lancers’ into a last-minute scramble.
Meghan Wallace answered the call with a volley in the 78th minute.
“We can’t wait until two minutes left in the game to settle an outcome,” Todd said. “There were a lot of finishing opportunities that just didn’t happen. We need to seize more opportunities for the best percentage shots on goal.”
That’s a challenge Todd has put to his entire team. East Union worked exclusively on finishing on Friday and continued to mix in drills on Monday afternoon in preparation for Wednesday night’s Division IV semifinal against Colfax.
One particular exercise saw the Lancers move the ball from one wing to the other, before bending a cross back into the box.
“If you can go side to side before bringing it back in the defense is going to get dizzy. Almost like, “Hey, what’s going on?’ ” Todd said. “It’s almost unfair if you execute it well.”
Todd believes he has another advantage: The 1-2 combination of King and Cardenas in the attacking third of the field. Each is a threat individually with their physical abilities and ball skill, but combined?
Watch out, Colfax.
King scored the first of East Union’s three goals on Thursday evening, curling a short-range shot into the left panel just three minutes into the game.
She has six goals and three assists in 20 matches, and her speed makes her a breakaway threat no matter where she’s playing on the field.
“Marissa is able to completely bypass somebody like a slow truck,” Todd said. “She has extra speed and she can pour it on. When a defender has been dealing with a forward all day and up pops a midfielder with the speed of a striker … it’s overwhelming.”
King is best paired with a player like Cardenas, a ball-controlling forward who ranks second on the team in scoring.
Cardenas is tied with senior Erica daSilva with seven goals, five back of Wallace.
Ideally, Todd would like to see Cardenas receive a ball at her feet, attract a crowd and then locate King or another attacker on an overlapping run.
“Isabella is tough outright,” Todd said. “She will physically win 50-50 balls and then distribute them.”
Cardenas nearly made it 2-0 midway through the first half on Thursday, racing onto a cross at the back post. She lunged with her foot, hoping to touch the ball into the open net.
She just missed.
And so it went for the top-seeded Lancers. A team that scored 81 times in the regular season, including 52 times in Valley Oak League play against defenses much deeper and stronger struggled to finish its chances against the Mustangs.
Todd is convinced that the Lancers’ inability to put away the pesky Mustangs gave the opposition confidence and hope. Foothill turned its first two shots of the game into goals and suddenly found itself on the brink of an unlikely upset.
Wallace earned the headline with her dramatic finish, but Todd traces the game-winning goal back to a key substitution. Moments before Wallace’s heroics, he and assistant Juan Sandoval put Cardenas back on the field. Her activity helped give Wallace a shooting crease.
“Isabella was a little out of game late in the game,” Todd said. “We took her out and put her back, and I think she contributed to Meghan’s goal.”
Now the stage is set.
East Union is one win away from clinching the program’s first-ever section finals appearance. Wednesday’s semifinal will kick off at 7 p.m.
Todd hopes the game is the evening’s only late finish.
“Last game we didn’t finish a ton of opportunities. It made the other team look good when we weren’t finishing, but I’m confident – totally confident – these girls can do it,” he said. “They’re a humming machine right now and they’re having fun.”