Four of the year’s best players: Spirit Reserves’ Sam Lofton and Ashley Herndon battle Braddock Road’s Allie Wisner while Marisa Park looks on. (photo by Larry J. Clark)
1. Washington Spirit Reserves
2. ASA Chesapeake Charge
3. Braddock Road Stars Elite
4. ACF Torino USA
ACF Torino USA
Torino underwent significant upheaval in the offseason with founder and head coach Dave Jones moving to Florida for family reasons. They found a great replacement head coach in Fabio Diletti, but he had trouble adapting to the vagaries of a summer league.
“I didn’t quite understand how this league and teams work, having players one time, and then having different players for practice, for other games. It’s very confusing. We had about 35 players to work with, but every single game it was a different lineup. Even after the whole season I still don’t have a system of play. They worked hard, and they progressed a lot, just by playing together, but we’ll keep working for next season.”
There were a lot of new players to assimilate as well, and the team just didn’t come together over a short season, finishing in fourth (and effectively last) place in the WPSL’s South Atlantic Division with a 4-6-0 record.
Most Valuable Player: Rachelle Beanlands. The Canadian youth national team goalkeeper and starting goalkeeper for the University of Maryland kept them in some of their tougher matches.
Torino’s Ashley Weisenberg and Chesapeake’s Marissa Green fight for the ball (photo by Ken L. Harriford)
Honorable Mentions: Elise Bender, Ashley Weisenberg, and Krista Hagen – when she wasn’t serving as the other team’s punching bag – were active in the midfield, and Lo Badalamente scored a bunch of goals for them.
Braddock Road Stars Elite
I’m still embarrassed to admit that I knew nothing of the Braddock Road Youth Club until this year despite its storied history, featuring alumnae like current NCAA champion UCLA head coach Amanda Cromwell, current USWNT coach Jill Ellis, and someone named Mia Hamm whom by all accounts was pretty good back in her day.
My original plan was to give the new W-League team a decent plug as part of my W-League season preview and pretty much leave it at that. With four other teams to keep up with, I wasn’t figuring on crossing the river to keep tabs on yet another one. But I was impressed with the team and grew enamored of the players, and their games were generally conveniently timed not to conflict with other activities. So I got to see a very young team mature rapidly, from at one point being in last place in the conference to winning five of their last seven games to earn a playoff spot. Though the maturity and poise isn’t always there, they play a sophisticated style of play. Their patient attack seems able to break down almost any defense, even the Spirit Reserves – pass, pass, pass, and suddenly there’s a player through and in on goal.
Now that their season is done, I’m looking forward to seeing what their players can do as they get seeded out in the college world: Rachel Moore and Elysse Branton at William and Mary, U-20 national teamer Carlyn Baldwin at Tennessee, Natalie Larkin at Princeton, and Kahla Seymour at Wake Forest, just to name a few. Then I’m looking forward even more to seeing what they bring back to the team next summer.
Most Valuable Player: Marisa Park, their captain, leading scorer, and leading assister.
Allie Wisner came east for the first time in her life just to play for the Stars Elite.
Honorable Mentions: Allie Wisner came east for the first time in her life, joining the team sight-unseen, and proved to be a key element of their attack. Former professional Kristen Meier, more local, did likewise. But the heart of the team is the 95ers with defender Larkin, forward Seymour, midfielder Moore, and defender Branton being the key contributors in that age group. (U-20 national teamers Carlyn Baldwin and Kaleigh Riehl, while outstanding when they were out there, didn’t get enough minutes to merit serious consideration.)
ASA Chesapeake Charge
It’s got to be tough when your team’s standards are so high that anything less than a championship is a disappointment. The Charge ruled over the WPSL’s South Atlantic Division all year, winning some matches by 4-0 scores or even higher. Their 15-0 demolition of the Lions Soccer Club led to that team being removed from the league. But they lost two of their key attacking players in Alexis Prior-Brown and Erica Suter before the season even started and struggled against the few tough teams they faced. On the other hand, their defense was almost indomitable, giving up just two goals during the regular season. (I’d love to see the Stars’ determined attack take on this defense.)
Still it wasn’t enough, and the Charge fell short whenever they faced truly tough competition. In the Memorial Day weekend US Women’s Amateur Championship they lost in the opening round to the Houston Aces 3-1 on penalty kicks after tying 1-1 in regulation. In the USASA Women’s Open Cup, they cruised through group play with 2-1, 4-0, and 5-0 wins, but then fell to the New York Athletic Club, 2-1, in the final. Finally, despite being the hosts, they lost their opening playoff match, 2-1, to the CFC Passion.
Central defender Jennifer Gillette had a terrific final season. (photo by Ken L. Harriford)
Most Valuable Player: Jennifer Gillette. It’s a tough call, but I’ll give this one to one of their “Twin Towers” central defenders. Gillette had a strong season as one of the anchors – along with fellow central defender Jess Hnatiuk – of their stingy defense. In particular, Gillette had a career match in a losing cause against the Passion, repeatedly coming in at the last second to stifle CFC attacks.
Honorable Mentions: Defenders Hnatiuk and Nikki Boretti, plus forwards Ali Andrzejewski, Marisa Kresge, and Cheyenne Skidmore, who went a long way toward making up for the absence of some of their speedy, goal-scoring teammates.
Washington Spirit Reserves
The Spirit Reserves were arguably the best amateur team I’ve followed in a year when there was also a professional league. (No current team is going to compare to the 2007 W-League Washington Freedom, which featured a lineup’s worth of past or future professional players.) To last year’s solid roster they added North Carolina’s Satara Murray and Adelaide Gay, James Madison’s Sam Lofton, and Tori Huster’s little sister Maddie, who’s now starting her freshman year at Wake Forest. Additionally, returning players like Katie Yensen and Kelsey Pardue had standout years. The only negatives might have been the limited availability of Amber Stobbs, who was recovering from an injury, and Andi Sullivan, who was busy with the U-20 national team much of the summer.
Like the Charge, they cruised through the regular season undefeated, in their first eleven games scoring 33 goals and giving up just 3. Their final match – played after they clinched the conference title – was a surprisingly close 3-2. They then demolished Braddock Road in the Northeastern Conference championship match, 6-0, to earn a trip to Florida for the W-League Final Four.
They looked to win their semifinal match against the Ottawa Fury, 1-0, in regulation, but the Fury tied it up in second-half stoppage time to send it to overtime. That proved to be scoreless, so it went to a penalty shootout, that the Spirit absolutely nailed, 4-2. Every DC player made their kicks, while Ottawa sent one off the post, and Gay saved the final one to clinch the win. That put Washington through to the final, which proved to be a rout, the formidable LA Blues trouncing the Reserves, 6-1, due in part to uncharacteristically poor defending early by Washington.
“They were just better,” assistant coach JP Sousa told me afterwards. “But I told you we’d make it to the final this year, and we did.”
Virginia Tech’s Katie Yensen had a career year for the Spirit Reserves. (photo by Larry J. Clark)
Most Valuable Player: Another tough call here, but I’ll give it to Katie Yensen, who had a career year, tying for the team lead in scoring with Ashley Herndon despite having fewer minutes and many fewer shots on goal.
Honorable Mentions: Defenders Murray and Lofton, midfielder Pardue, and forward Herndon.
AWK-DC’s Player Honors All-DC Team
Goalkeeper: Rachelle Beanlands (ACF Torino USA). While you could make a case for the Charge’s Erin Quinn and Lyndse Hokanson and particularly for the Spirit Reserve’s Adelade Gay, they weren’t challenged as much as the up-and-coming Canadian goalkeeper who’ll return to her starting position with the Maryland Terrapins this month.
Satara Murray made a tough Reserves defense even tougher. (photo by Larry J. Clark)
Central defenders: Jennifer Gillette (ASA Chesapeake Charge), Satara Murray (Washington Spirit Reserves). As previously noted, Gillette had a career year with the Charge, while Murray was a force of nature with Washington, completely shutting down any opponents within range while looking dangerous as she brought the ball forward on the attack. Their teammates, Jess Hnatiuk and Meghan Cox, respectively, were also worthy of consideration.
Flank defenders: Sam Lofton (Washington Spirit Reserves), Nikki Boretti (ASA Chesapeake Charge). Lofton was part of a near-impenetrable Spirit defense and contributed on the attack as well, scoring three goals, including an Olimpico. Boretti made an already formidable Charge back line even stronger. A case could be made for DC’s Jennifer Skogerboe and Braddock Road’s Natalie Larkin as well.
Midfielders: Marisa Park (Braddock Road Stars Elite), Kelsey Pardue (Washington Spirit Reserves), Kristen Meier (Braddock Road Stars Elite). Park’s a shoe-in for this spot. The other choices were tougher, but I went with Pardue, who had a good year, and the former pro Meier, who provided significant experience and leadership for Braddock. I also considered the Charge’s Riley Barger and the Spirit’s Morgan Reuther and Kara Wilson.
Forwards: Katie Yensen, Ashley Herndon (Washington Spirit Reserves), Allie Wisner (Braddock Road Stars Elite). Yensen and Herndon tied for the Spirit scoring lead with 6 goals and 3 assists each. Wisner was third for the Stars Elite but had some key goals. I was considering listing “Maryenli Skidgewski” as a way of honoring the ASA Chesapeake Charge’s triumvirate of goalscorers Ali Andrzejewski, Marisa Kresge, and Cheyenne Skidmore, but instead I’ll just give them individual honorable mentions.
MVP Marisa Park fends off runner-up Katie Yensen. (photo by Larry J. Clark)
There were a lot of great players to watch this year, but it’s an easy choice for the player who meant the most to her team, and that’s Marisa Park. In the clockwork of the Braddock Road attack, “Parkie” is the big gear in the middle that makes all the other gears mesh together.
The Stars Elite scored 21 goals on the year, and Park contributed to most of them, scoring 6 times herself and contributing 7 assists. And if they still gave out second assists, her total would probably be a lot higher. Ten games into a twelve-game season, the Spirit Reserves had only give up two goals, and Park was responsible for both of them.
Though listed as a midfielder, at one point or another she played just about every position on the field except goalkeeper. She served as team captain for most of the matches and was the only player on the team to play every minute of every game. Braddock Road was a very young team in need of leadership, and she provided it in spades. She was deservedly named to the All-W-League Team for 2014.
Larry Best taught Jill Ellis everything she knows.
All four head coaches did a great job given the resources they had, but I wanted to single out Larry Best, who despite having far and away the youngest team of the four had them playing some of the prettiest soccer of all of them. Having coached some of these players for years – and before that players like Jill Ellis and Amanda Cromwell who are now world-class coaches – he definitely seems to have it down. As I said above, I’m really looking forward to seeing what his charges can contribute at the NCAA level.
Highlights Goal of the Year
No contest here – Kelsey Pardue’s spectacular Memorial Day weekend shot that iced the US Women’s Amateur Championship for the Spirit Reserves wins hands-down. Not only was it a shot from distance, but she stole the ball from one opposing player and nimbly dodged several more to get off the shot in the first place. I’m not sure if it’s the most impressive goal I’ve ever been there in person for, but it’s on a very short list along with goals scored by the likes of Sonia Bompastor and Mia Hamm, so it’s in good company.
Honorable mentions: Maddie Huster’s rocket of a shot against the Long Island Rough Riders on Friday, June 27, going from outside the top left corner of the box into the upper right corner of the goal; Ali Andrzejewski’s late goal against the LVU Sonic on July 2, stealing the ball, bringing it to about 25 yards out on the right, and lofting it in as if it were something she did every day.
Match of the Year
No contest here, either – it has to be the July 5 match between the Braddock Road Stars Elite and the New Jersey Wildcats. Braddock Road needed a win to stay in the playoff hunt with New Jersey as their primary rivals for the second and final playoff spot in the Northeastern Conference. The Stars Elite went up in the 4th minute, but then the Wildcats came back to take the lead with goals in the 43rd and 69th minutes. With Braddock down 2-1 in the 75th minute, I tweeted that they had 15 minutes to save their playoff hopes. Almost as soon as I did that, they scored two quick goals in the 78th and 79th minutes. Even that wouldn’t end the drama, New Jersey tying it back up again on a free kick in the 82nd minute. Matters wouldn’t be settled until the 88th minute when Marisa Park – who else? – found Kristin Meier open on the right, and she rolled the ball in to make the final score 4-3.
Moment of the Year (Official)
I’d have to go with the aforementioned 88th minute goal for Braddock Road against New Jersey that keep them in the playoff hunt.
Erica Suter, Marisa Kresge, and me – wearing Marisa’s favorite t-shirt design.
Heading out to the last WPSL regular-season match, I dithered over whose livery to wear: the host ACF Torino or the visiting ASA Charge. Given that it was the last match for Torino – potentially ever – I went with their wine-colored t-shirt over Chesapeake’s blue one. Moments after I get into the stands, I hear shouting from the far side of the field and turn to see the Charge’s Marisa Kresge interrupting her warmups clear on the other side of the field – at least 50 yards away – to yell at me for my perfidy. Alas, I hadn’t realized it was her last match of the season for the Charge.