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Benficas run falls short of State Cup championship
Madeleine Iniguez (right) and Jocelin Roa of MFC Benfica 04 on the attack against Juventus Sole Black 04 on Sunday in a 3-1 loss in the under-9 NorCal State Cup championship at Woodward Park. - photo by DAVE CAMPBELL/The Bulletin

“Big, Bad Benfica” earned the respect of its peers and the adoration of an entire soccer community, just not the cup it chased for months.

The under-9 girl soccer team clinched a berth in Sunday’s Northern California State Cup final at Woodward Park, where it came oh-so close to the Manteca Futbol Club’s first premier division championship.

Ultimately, that honor went to Juventus Sole Black 04, which scored twice in the game’s first eight minutes and then held on for a 3-1 victory.

Savannah Cordero notched the only goal for Benfica, which throttled Elk Grove 4-1 in Saturday’s semifinal.

The girls streamed off the field in tears following Sunday’s final whistle. The loss capped a State Cup run that began in September with 87 other teams.

Head coach Manuel Pires reminded his club of that fact after the game.

“They all started crying because they felt bad,” Pires said. “I told them they played an awesome game and there was nothing to cry about. Plenty of teams would have loved to be in their position. ‘You were one of only two teams and you gave them a helluva game.’”

Pires said nerves didn’t play a role in Benfica’s rocky start.

Juventus scored inside the first minute, winning a long ball inside the Benfica penalty box. Juventus would stretch the lead to 2-0 with a goal seven minutes later.

Cordero answered around the 15th minute, pushing her penalty shot toward the right post. The opportunity was created when Madeleine Iniguez was pulled down in the area.

The game played evenly the rest of the way. Pires credits goalie Annika Beall and defenders Zoie Willson and Preeya Singh for keeping Juventus at bay.

Center midfielder Julianna Camenzind Rodriguez was also defensive force, applying early pressure on Juventus’ playmakers.

“It was a tough loss, but we knew it wasn’t going to be an easy game,” Pires said. “It was a hard game. Still, I was very impressed. The girls played their hearts out.

“I don’t think the girls were nervous. They played hard all the way through. We got a lot of compliments from other coaches about how our girls played.”

Benfica (44-12-6 since March) saved its best soccer for the championship weekend. MFC surged out to a 4-0 halftime lead over Elk Grove in the semifinal.

Iniguez scored twice, while Melissa Diaz-Manzo and Cordero each netted one.

“We came in and we were on fire in that first half,” Pires said. “We took it to Elk Grove, which was a very strong team.

“This State Cup, they played their best soccer. They moved the ball around and weren’t afraid to take anybody on. We had players in different positions playing with confidence. They played with each and they played for each other.”