UNION — As Union enters a season-defining stretch comprised of an absolutely unrelenting schedule over the next two weeks, it was important for the Farmers to start off on the right note Monday.
It didn’t come easily for Union in a 95-minute back-and-fourth bout in which the Farmers endured a ferocious Randolph rally, questionable officiating, and ambient distractions. But Union fought through it the same way it will need to grind out that tough schedule, as “the Kaylas up top” scored all three goals in the Farmers’ 3-2 double overtime triumph over perennial powerhouse Randolph Monday.
Kayla Veloso-Lima netted the golden-goal on a header off a restart kick sent from Nicole Alfano late in the second overtime to give Union its fifth victory of the season. The other Kayla up top — Kayla Miller-People — equalized it at two with about 20 minutes left in regulation, after giving Union a 1-0 lead ten minutes into the game. Veloso-Lima assisted on that first goal.
"They were able to fight through everything," Union head coach Cassiano Dos Santos told TAPinto.net. "The referees were not calling it our way, the stands weren't helping, and there's was a lot going on. But they did a great job of picking up their head and playing forward."
Dos Santos emphasized that Union has worked harder on refining its set pieces this year, and it payed off for his team when it mattered most in the 95th minute.
Union was on the receiving end of a restart kick just moments before an imminent draw, and sent Alfano to boot the ball, which was placed about 45 yards out on the left side. Alfano sent a hearty ball into the 18-box where it found the head of Veloso-Lima above a crowd. The senior forward flicked it backwards and into the left corner of the net, finishing off an up-hill and tumultuous battle.
"We have been concentrating on set pieces more than any of the years that I've been coaching," Dos Santos said. "Kayla Lima is absolutely devastating as a forward up in set pieces. We obviously look for her -- we also have Kelly Severini, who's great inside the box -- and we're always gonna look for her."
Randolph looked as though it was going to pull away when it came out firing in the second half and netted two quick goals to erase Union’s once 1-0 lead. But for as quickly as the Rams jumped ahead, Union responded even faster.
Literally seconds after Lauren Robles gave Randolph a 2-1 lead, Union tied it back up on a stunning strike from Miller-People. Union drove into its offensive third after the kickoff from midfield following Robles’ goal, and the ball quickly went to Miller-People. From the left elbow of the 18, the senior banked her shot off the right side wall, forcing overtime.
Miller-People also gave Union a 1-0 lead early by finishing a through ball on a feed from Veloso-Lima, though Randolph countered with a goal from Hailey Tamres minutes after halftime.
"[Miller-People] has been having a phenomenal season," Dos Santos said. "I couldn't ask for a better season from all my forwards this year. The Kaylas are just doing a great job. They're using each other, and when they use each other, we're one of the best teams I want to say in the state."
Miller-People and Veloso-Lima have been integral in Union's recent rise atop the New Jersey girls' soccer scene, and the two will be heavily counted on during the Farmers' strenuous upcoming schedule. Crazy as it may sound, and certainly not an insult, Randolph -- always a Group 4 title player -- might be one of the weaker teams on it. The Farmers play county foe Oak Knoll Thursday before visiting state championship contender Montclair on Saturday. Then, next week, they meet last year's defending county finalists Westfield and Scotch Plains before hosting Cranford, which became one of the best teams in the country overnight.
"We have a tough schedule all season; I think this might be one of the toughest schedules we've had in the past few years and that we'll have in a long time," Dos Santos said. "But you know what? I think the girls are up for the challenge. They're doing a great job."