IRVINE, Calif. – With the pressure off, Real Salt Lake-Arizona Elite U-16 and U-18 finished up the 36th Annual North Huntington Beach Cup on a positive, with two wins after Saturday’s rough start to the season.

“From the beginning we were ready, we didn’t come out nervous,” said U-16 Aidan Dayton. “In the first two games we gave up silly goals, just came out shaky. We were more stable, moving the ball and we turned it on defensively.”

RSL-AZ Elite U-16 1-0 Albion OC Cruz

Having already been eliminated from contention for the knockout stage, RSL-AZ Elite U-16 took the field at Cerritos College on Sunday morning in a test of the team’s resolve.

Following a controlling opening ten minutes, Luis Mejia, Jr. played Jesus “Chuy” Garcia through on a counter attack, but Garcia’s shot flew just over the crossbar.

In the 14th minute, Gage Rogers jumpstarted a counter attack from the back following a save, with Alex Vedamanikam eventually playing Mejia through, who slotted past the keeper to give RSL-AZ the 1-0 lead.

“I was really, really happy… I can’t explain it,” said Mejia. “You score a goal, your first goal with the team, it’s really exhilarating.”

Five minutes before half time, Isaac Diaz ran onto the ball at the top of the 18 but finished on the wrong side of the post.

In the final 20 minutes of the game, Albion OC Cruz stepped up the pressure, generating all of their most dangerous scoring chances. In the 40th minute, two chances developed within a minute of each other, but the resulting shots from both went wide.

RSL-AZ Elite U-16 were able to hold on for the 1-0 win, their first of the season.

“I thought we did pretty good,” said Mejia. “Compared to the other two games that we played this weekend, this game was the best. We played the ball better, we opened up better and we communicated better. We did lots of things better today.”

RSL-AZ Elite U-18 2-0 Impact Force

RSL-AZ Elite U-18 faced off against Impact Force in their final match of the NHB at UC Irvine on Sunday. Also having been eliminated from advancement, the 18s entered the match with pride at stake, looking to show improvement over the course of the season’s first competition.

“It was difficult,” said Martin Lopez. “But we played our best game of the tournament.”

In the 8th minute, a tricky touch from Lopez down the left wing freed Anthony Negrete on a breakaway, but the Impact Force defense was able to shut down the attack before a cross could be hit.

RSL-AZ opened the scoring in the 25th minute when Matome Maleka played a penetrating ball to Lopez, who fired with his weak foot into the top corner of goal.

Following the goal and the half time break, the attacking play slowed to a halt with no chances for either side until the game’s final ten minutes.

In stoppage time, Negrete took on two defenders and worked his way to the end line where he crossed low to a wide-open Darian Huerta for the tap-in goal and 2-0 win.

“From the beginning game to now we’ve improved a ton and I think that’s going to show next week,” said Dayton. “From the beginning, I think we’ll start playing better as a team.”

Following a disappointing 1-0-2 record and group stage exit for both Real Salt Lake-Arizona Elite U-16 and U-18, the teams will be joined by the U-17s this weekend at the Tuzos Soccer Challenge in Phoenix. Stay tuned to for more information on this weekend’s games.