The Pali Blues downed the Quebec City Amiral, 2-0, in the first of Friday’s matches, while the Ottawa Fury got past the DC United Women, 1-0, in the second. The winners will play for the championship on Sunday, while the losers will play for third place.
So you go undefeated all season, drop the fewest points of any team in the league, and crush your two opponents in your conference tournament. What’s your reward? Taking a 12-hour bus trip, then facing the second-best team in the league besides yourself on their home, artificial-turf field, where they’re 32-2. It was a bridge too far for the DC United Women, who fell, 1-0, to the host Ottawa Fury.
Almost all season it’s been a matter of waiting for the DCU offense to click long enough to put something in the net. The previous nailbiter was a 2-0 win over the Northern Virginia Majestics that was scoreless until the 74th minute. This one just went 16 minutes longer. And it wasn’t as if they didn’t have their chances. Mikaela Howell sent a shot wide left in the 11th minute, though it was from a tough angle. In the 22st minute Hayley Siegel fired a shot inside the left post that Fury goalkeeper Jasmine Phillips was able to cover. Five minutes later, Molly Menchel sent a beautiful cross from the right in to Tiffany Brown out from the left post, but she sent the shot high.
Not that Ottawa didn’t have their chances, too. One of the best came in the 17th minute as DC goalkeeper Didi Haracic came out to clear a ball. It fell outside the box in good position for Leni Kaurin to fire a shot into the open net, but Lianne Sanderson did unfamiliar service on the defensive side and headed it away. The lone score came in the 44th minute as Kaurin was given enough room on the right flank to send a well-aimed cross in. Lydia Hastings – familiar to DC locals as both a former Terrapin and a former Washington Freedom W-Leaguer – headed the ball off the crossbar as Haracic leaped for it, then with the goalkeeper on the ground the ball came right back to Hastings’ feet, and she knocked it in easily.
Howell came right back in the next minute with a promising shot but sent it wide right. At the half, it was 1-0, Fury.
United poured on the pressure early in the second half. In the 49th minute Sanderson found Holly King with space near the left post, but King had a heavy first touch and couldn’t get a shot off. Eight minutes late, Menchel from a similar service and position sent a header wide left. Minute 67, and Sanderson fired a long shot in that was so hard that all Phillips could do was punch it clear. Substitute Sam Baker got a ball over the top in the 78th minute but couldn’t quite run onto it ahead of the goalkeeper. There were a couple of scrambles in the box that came to nothing as well.
On the Ottawa side, their devastating scoring threat from last year, Mallory Outerbridge, came on in the 74th minute and almost immediately earned a free kick when she was taken down outside the box. Lisa-Marie Woods’ kick just missed the right post.
With time running out, Outerbridge and the Fury began running the clock out with considerable success, and DC had no time for their usual patient buildup. The outcome was pretty much apparent with some minutes to go.
The Pali Blues were likewise off their form in the opening match for similar reasons, having had to fly in from California the previous day. “I thought we looked a bit tired today,” their head coach, Charlie Naimo, said after the match. “So, I think they worked really hard physically today but mentally they didn’t put the work in for the team and the performance wasn’t as good as it could have been. We didn’t create enough chances and, quite honestly, we gave them too much space to play.”
But by just barely eking out ahead of DC in the regular-season standings, instead of facing the hosts they had the #8 seed Quebec City Amiral as opponents, a much easier challenge.
It ended up a being a fairly close, hard-fought match, but in the 31st minute Cami Levin’s cross for Pali came to Yesim Uzunlar. Goalkeeper Marie-Pier Bilodeau made the initial save, but the rebound fell to two unmarked Blues players. Liz Bogus got to it first and had an easy putaway.
In the 70th minute, Bogus again collected a defensive rebound, this time at the top of the box. She moved across, was able to find some space between defenders, and fired a shot past Bilodeau.
Sunday at 1 pm the DC United Women and the Quebec City Amiral will play for third place, while at 4 pm the Pali Blues and the Ottawa Fury will play for the championship. Both games will be livestreamed on http://www.USLNation.com/ .