The Cook Inlet Soccer Club's two teams seeking supremacy at the U.S. Youth Soccer National Presidents Cup combined for an undefeated start Thursday in Greenville, South Carolina.
The U-16 boys beat the Austin Texans 3-1 and the U-17 girls played to a 1-1 draw against GSA Force of Texas.
The boys used a goal from Brady Graff nine minutes into the early-morning match to deliver a strong start, but surrendered the equalizer two minutes later off an Austin corner kick.
Cook Inlet's Talon Stanley, at the 21-minute mark, regained momentum for the Alaskans with a heads-up play after his team was awarded a free kick near the center of the field about 25 yards from goal.
Instead of taking a measured approach – considering options while the defense aligned and his own teammates prepared for the kick – Stanley made a clever, fast restart and scored the go-ahead goal that stood up as the match-winning strike.
"He just took it quick,'' said Cook Inlet coach Matt Froehle. "It was really smart and savvy.''
Robert Schock added an insurance goal for the Alaskans early in the second half for a 3-1 lead that stood until the final whistle.
The U-16s on Friday play FC Europa Samba of Pennsylvania, which beat the Mid Rivers Soccer Club of Missouri, 5-1, in its opener Thursday.
Thursday's victory in the opening day of group play – Cook Inlet will play each of the other three teams in its age group to determine spots in Sunday's championship and consolation games – proved an encouraging beginning.
"Dream start,'' Froehle said.
Cook Inlet's U-17 girls, who like the boys qualified for nationals by winning the Region IV title in California in June, also started nationals well by gaining a point from their tie.
Malia Lyken furnished the Alaskans a 1-0 lead early in the second half before GSA Force responded two minutes later. Lyken's goal came when Haleigh Van Allen delivered a through ball and Lyken outraced the defense to chase it down before tucking a shot into the corner of the net.
Though Cook Inlet controlled play and won a series of corner kicks in the final 20 minutes, it was unable to produce a go-ahead goal.
The girls on Friday play FASA Impact Premiere of Virginia, which fell 2-0 to the Evansville Shooting Stars of Illinois on Thursday.
"The girls still have a great chance to play for the national title,'' said Cook Inlet coach Tim Valesko.