By Tim Grainey
This week The Grainey Report examines the championship tournaments for WPSL Elite, WPSL and the W-League - each involving four teams - two of which involved fantastic final game finishes.
WPSL ELITE: FLASH WIN AGAIN
The Western New York Flash won their third league championship title in three years…in three different leagues. Staging the final at their Sahlen Field home in Rochester for the second year in a row, they triumphed in dramatic fashion on Saturday July 28. In 2010 they captured the W-League title as the Buffalo Flash during their second year of operation, then moved to the Women’s Professional Soccer League and won again in 2011 and now are the inaugural champions of WPSL Elite. They defeated the Chicago Red Stars on penalty kicks after tying the game in the last seconds of injury time on a long shot by defender Toni Pressley, a rookie out of Florida State University. The thirty minute overtime period remained scoreless before the Flash won the penalty kick session 4-2.
Chicago had more of the play in the first half and four minutes before halftime eighteen-year-old Ashleigh Ellenwood scored from a goalmouth scramble. Ellenwood, a forward from Michigan City, Indiana, will be a freshman at the University of Arkansas this fall. The match was played at full tempo physically; a number of players were forced from the game through injury, including the Flash’s Jamaican international Omolyn Davis and Stephanie Ochs as well as Chicago’s Ella Masar and Lori Chalupny.
The Flash had more offensive pressure in the second half but the Red Stars’ defense held fast. The Red Stars, who won the 2012 USASA (Amateur Division of U.S. Soccer) Open Cup earlier in the month, were seconds from their first ever league crown deep into the six minutes of injury time. Their hopes were dashed when defender Toni Pressley took a bouncing pass from Canadian international Jodi-Ann Robinson and blasted a ball from well outside the box that bounded off the crossbar, just over goalkeeper Jamie Forbes (ex-University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee), and into the net. Pressley explained: “I focused on getting the shot off. I didn’t think it went in at first.”
After thirty scoreless overtime minutes, the teams went to penalty kicks, with the Flash winning a title the second year in a row through the controversial deadlock procedure. Spanish international forward Adriana, defender Katherine Reynolds, Australian international midfielder Emily Van Egmond and midfielder Angela Salem scored for the Flash, while McCall Zerboni had her attempt saved in the third round. For Chicago, Lauren Fowlkes scored but then Julianne Sitch saw goalkeeper Brittany Cameron save her attempt in the second round. Goalkeeper Forbes scored on Cameron in the third round but Michelle Wenino saw her shot rebound off of a post on Chicago’s fourth and final attempt.
The Flash had only four players from last year’s title side and head coach Aaron Lines said that one of the more difficult tasks with his young players was to, “make them believe that they are good enough to win.” He also declared that the team this season was “tremendous.” You can’t argue with that, or with Lines’ and his staff’s consistency in setting and achieving high standards for success on the field.
The WPSL Elite Final Four was a magnificent show of talent as only four points separated the teams in the regular season. The top three were all former WPS teams--Western New York Flash and Boston Breakers tied for first with 33 points, but the host Flash took the regular season title on goal difference (22 vs. 17)--whereas the Chicago Red Stars (who played in WPS in 2009 and 2010 and were losing finalists in the WPSL championship last season) finished third on 31 points. Former WPSL side New York Fury finished on 29 points. The Fury, coached by former Philadelphia Independence coach Paul Riley and stocked with former WPS players, finished eight points ahead of
the New England Mutiny, who also moved up from the WPSL to help start the Elite League.
2012 WPSL ELITE STANDINGS
In the semifinals held Wednesday July 25, the Flash came from behind late to defeat the Fury 2-1. Allie Long (ex-Washington Freedom/Sky Blue FC) scored for the New York Fury in the 8th minute, which controlled the game in the first half. In the second, Western New York pressed more but it was two inspired substitutions by coach Lines in the 74th minute that helped the Flash to the victory. Canadian international Jodi-Ann Robinson and rookie Laura Heyboer (ex-Michigan State U.) came on and Robinson fed Katy Frierson (a rookie out of Auburn University) who scored the equalizer in the 78th minute. Just two minutes later, Frierson turned provider with a long driven ball to Heyboer who scored the winner. Frierson explained that, “[Heyboer] is a sneaky player. She made a great hard run.”
In the other semifinal, the Red Stars defeated the Breakers 3-1, with goals by Lori Chalupny (ex St. Louis Athletica/Atlanta Beat), Ella Masar (Ex-Red Stars in WPS and magicJack) and Lauren Fowlkes (ex-Philadelphia Independence).
WPSL’S YOUNGEST TEAM IN THE FINAL FOUR CAPTURES THE TITLE
The WPSL final four had a much different look than last year, with champions Orange County Waves folding and strong sides Chicago Red Stars and New England Mutiny moving up to WPSL Elite. Of this year’s final four, Boston Aztecs were the only club that had regularly appeared in the WPSL final four. Oklahoma F.C. made the last four two years ago but has had to turn down playoff spots in 2008 and 2011--despite winning their division--due to financial difficulties; a situation that seems to happen every WPSL season and should be curtailed by league officials in the future. The other two final four contestants, Salt Lake United and Gulf Coast Texans, were debutants at a WPSL championship. It was the youngest franchise, the second year Texans of Pensacola, Florida, that triumphed through using players from abroad, and were less affected by players leaving early for college pre-season camps than the other sides.
Aztec MA (a club based in the Boston Area) has supplied sides that made the last three final fours and won the title in 2010 (Boston Aztec Breakers Reserves.) They were due to move up to WPSL Elite this season but held off, replaced by the New York Fury. Northeastern University’s Greta Samuelsdottir, a forward from Iceland, led the team with seven goals. Forward Jill Kinter, who plays at Colgate University, scored six times while midfielder Maddy Evans of Penn State had five tallies.
Oklahoma F.C. was taken over by local sports management and marketing agency Sold Out Strategies, which has helped them elevate from a “mom and pop” organization to be more professional and long-term focused. The club has been successful on the field: Oklahoma F.C. was 11-1-2 entering the weekend and 29-4-2 across their last four seasons (they were formerly known as Oklahoma Alliance FC).
Salt Lake United (formerly Salt Lake Sparta) affiliated this year with Major League Soccer’s Real Salt Lake, a trend in the women’s game that we featured recently.
The relationship has helped with the club’s marketing and player recruitment. The United shocked the California Storm and San Diego SeaLions by identical 3-1 scores the weekend before in the Conference semifinals in San Diego. The team is older than typical WPSL teams—many which are comprised of high school and college students—Sara Cowley (ex-Utah State), Kendra Halterman and Brianna Bennion (ex-Westerminster College) all have children. Former Gonzaga University midfielder/forward Annie Hawkins scored 9 goals as did former Metro State (Colorado) NCAA Division II All-American Kira Sharp.
The second year Gulf Coast Texans of Pensacola, Florida—this year’s host as well--were crowned 2012 WPSL Champions with a perfect 11-0-0 record. The Texans, boosted by a number of internationals who play collegiately in the south, defeated Aztec FC 4-0 in the final with goals from Swedish midfielder Mia Persson and Danish forward Ida Gregersen, who both play at NAIA power Lindsey Wilson College, and Jamaicans Shakira Duncan and Tina Murray, both formerly with the local college side University of West Florida. Murray was named the 2012 WPSL Player of the Year and also of the Final Four and finished the year on 9 goals and 10 assists, while Duncan scored 11 times and had 5 assists. Head Coach David Kemp, the coaching director for the youth club that the Texans are aligned with, said that the team’s focus on ball work in training paid off: “I think that's what sets us apart, is we train every day, we work together and we do a lot of stuff on the field, and it shows. We do no fitness, no fitness tests. Everything we do is with the ball, so I think it's also a victory for soccer in general, for the coaches who believe in doing everything with the ball and believe in technique.” The Aztecs finished the season at 10-2-1.
In the semifinals on Saturday, West Texas defeated Salt Lake United 3-0. Duncan, Murray and Gregersen all scored to hand the Utah side its first defeat of the year (8-1-2). In the other semifinal, Aztec MA needed overtime to outlast Oklahoma FC on Greta Samuelsdottir’s 117th minute effort.
W-League Final Four
Ottawa Fury Finally Wins Their First Crown--As we saw with the WPSL Elite final, one W-League finalist led for much of the game only to lose the advantage in the last seconds and then the game during the penalty kick decider. The Pali Blues, W-League champions in 2008 and 2009, were seemingly home and dry with their third title in five years sewn up after forward Nikki Washington tallied in the second minute. Backstopped by W-League goalkeeper of the year and Italian international Anna Picarelli and an experienced defensive line of Christie Shaner (ex-Notre Dame, Sky Blue FC and L.A. Sol), Whitney Engen (ex-University of North Carolina and Western New York Flash and U.S. international), Cammi Levin (ex-Stanford) and Sasha Andrews (formerly with the Canadian National Team and the University of Nebraska), the Blues held off the tournament hosts Ottawa Fury for long periods. Ottawa was appearing in their fourth final and had never been crowned champions in their 13 years in the W-League. It looked like the home crowd would go home disappointed but Australian international Katrina Gorry lined up a free kick just outside the box at the end of the three minutes of stoppage time. Her blast made it through the wall and Picarelli dived to save the ball but couldn’t hold it and Ashley Seal (ex-Oregon State University) quickly followed up to drive the ball into the corner of the net and knot the game at 1-1. Thirty minutes of scoreless overtime led to penalty kicks. Whitney Engen and Mariah Noguiera saw their kicks saved by Ottawa goalkeeper Jasmine Phillips. Courtney Wentzel, Seal, Norwegian international forward Lisa Marie Woods and Kelly Conheeney (Virginia Tech) scored the title clinching spot kicks for the Fury.
In the third place game, D.C. United women won 7-6 on penalty kicks after a 1-1 tie. A Jen Skogerboe (University of Connecticut) 53rd minute goal cancelled out a Danielle DeLisle goal for the Quebec City Amiral in the 17th minute.
In the semifinals on Friday, July 27, the Pali Blues defeated Quebec City 2-0 while Ottawa beat D.C. United 1-0.
D.C. defeated Virginia Beach Piranhas 3-0 and then the Charlotte Eagles in the Eastern Conference championship game to reach the last four. Pali Blues defeated Seattle Sounders Women for the Western Conference Final title (2-0) as the Sounders were missing some of their key U.S. internationals who were at the London Olympics. Ottawa made the Final Four automatically as hosts while fellow Central Division side Quebec Amiral won their spot by defeating Laval Comets 5-4 in a Central Conference final shootout after a 1-1 tie. The Amiral defeated playoff debutants Hamilton FC Rage 6-1 in the conference semifinals.
Tim Grainey is a regular contributor to Soccer365. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham was released earlier this month. Get your copy today.
The Juventus jersey for the 2013/14 was released earlier this week. Be the first to wear the colors of the Old Lady.
Borussia Dortmund hears Wembley Calling and are headed to London for the Champions League final.
The adidas Nitrocharge is the most talked about new cleat in years. It was released on May 15 and will take your pitch by storm.
Chelsea won the Europa League on Wednesday. The Blues defeated Benfica 2-1 on injury time goal from Ivanovic.
Bayern Munich are kings of Germany and hope to be crowned kings of Europe at Wembley later this month!
The push for more color on their cleats, adidas has added the infrared colorway to the adiZero f50 Line.
One of the top soccer cleats for control the Nike CTR360 will not let you down on the field in tight spaces.
adidas has added some color to the Predator line with this new colorway. Released on May 17. Be the first to own a pair.
The Liverpool 2013/14 soccer jersey is available for pre-order. The Reds are eager to compete for silver next season.
Ajax has released their away soccer jersey for the 2013/14 season. Get in the Gear.