The Washington Spirit Reserves with the Michelle Akers Trophy.
In the conclusion to an exciting weekend of soccer, the USL W-League Washington Spirit Reserves downed the WPSL Houston Aces, 2-0, to claim the first Michelle Akers trophy as the top women’s amateur team in the country. In the third place game, the host ASA Chesapeake Charge defeated the Real Salt Lake Women, 3-0. Both teams are part of the WPSL.
In the semifinals on Friday night, Houston defeated Chesapeake in a 1-1 nailbiter that went to penalty kicks, with the Aces prevailing there, 3-1. Following that, the Reserves held off RSL, 2-0.
One can raise a number of issues with the significance of the tournament. First off, two of these teams were replacements for other teams: the Reserves stepped in when the W-League champion Pali Blues declined to attend, and the Real Salt Lake Women came in the place of the WPSL champion San Diego SeaLions. Second, these teams aren’t the same teams as the ones that won last year: players have left, new players have arrived, etc. Third, at this level this year’s teams are still coming together. As Charge head coach Tim Wittman noted, “This time of the season, I don’t think it’s the smartest time to have a tournament, because kids are in college and just getting out of college. It’s hard to field a team.”
But that being said, it was a great weekend of soccer with four quality teams that fought hard for the trophy, and quite notably, a rare occasion when both W-League and WPSL teams participated in a competitive event. It’s the first year of the tournament, and one has to expect that as time goes by its prestige will increase and the US Adult Soccer Association, who organized the tournament, will work out the kinks. Now on to the matches themselves.
The first striking item about the Charge-Aces match was that the visitors had more players than the hosting team. With players away, yet to arrive, or injured, the Charge had just three subs. It didn’t help that they’d lost two players in their opening match Wednesday evening.
Houston had the better of play over all, but thanks to the performance of the Chesapeake central defenders and goalkeeper Erin Quinn, they were kept out of the net. Chesapeake ended up striking first in the 41st minute. Forward Marisa Kresge got behind the back line on the right. Houston goalkeeper Che Brown came out to defend against her. Kresge sent a cross to her left, and Brown lunged to try to get to it but missed. The ball went to Cheyenne Skidmore in the goalmouth, who had an easy putaway into the open net.
The lead held until the 86th minute, when the Charge were rather dubiously called for a foul about thirty yards out. Carlie Banks stepped up and fired a shot that curved around the wall and too high and strong for Quinn’s fingertips to stop it.
Houston almost put the match away in stoppage time, an Ashley Correa corner kick slipping past Quinn, but defender Nikki Boretti was able to clear it before it went in.
Thirty minutes of overtime went by with the best chance coming in the final minute, as the Charge’s Kresge fought her way down the right sideline to get off a beautiful cross to the far post. Skidmore came in for it, but she slid down and went under it, the ball trickling harmlessly over the end line.
So it went to penalty kicks. The first four were all saved, the first three being fairly feeble attempts that were easy stops by the goalkeepers. However, Kresge’s shot was headed just inside the right post, and Brown had to guess right and do a full extension to tip it to the side post and out. Correa ended up being the first to find netting, giving Houston a 1-0 lead. Ali Andrzejewski of the Charge had hers saved. Katelyn Rhodes just barely got hers past a leaping Quinn. Marissa Green stepped up needing to finish to keep the Charge in it and did, but then Katie Russ put the ball into the lower left corner to give Houston an insurmountable 3-1 lead and the win.
The Charge weren’t too disappointed by the outcome. Team captain Jess Hnatiuk: “I feel great. Coming out shorthanded and playing the way we did against one of the better teams in the WPSL.” Added Andrzejewski, “This is only our second game. We had our first game Wednesday night. We only had one day off, and became right back out and played this game. This team that we played against is seven games into their season right now. So we feel that we’re coming on strong, and we’re only going to get better. We’d love to see them again.”
In the nightcap, Washington scored in the 33rd minute when defender Sam Lofton lobbed a ball from the left flank to an open Ashley Herndon in the goalmouth. Herndon did some sort of strange sliding attack on the ball, but the result was that it was fired into the back netting. They’d double the lead just two minutes into the second half as Morgan Reuther came in on the left, then crossed for Kara Wilson in the outer part of the box. She dodged a little to the left, then put the ball past goalkeeper Becca Ritchie into the lower right corner.
Spirit Reserves goalkeeper Adelaide Gay got a clean sheet on the night, but I’m not sure she even had to make a save – RSL players occasionally got into position to take good shots, but they all went wide or high.
Come Sunday morning and the consolation match, and the Charge are so short-handed that their goalkeepers bring field kits in case they need them. Lyndse Hokanson starts in goal for them, with Erin Quinn – Friday night’s keeper – the only substitute, already in her field kit should she be needed.
It takes only 11 minutes for the home team to get on the board as Andrzejewski runs onto a Hnatiuk through ball down the left, then sends a cross to the right post where Skidmore puts it away.
Early in the second half, the goalkeepers – Amelia Tucker and Hokanson – take turns bobbling corner kicks, but in both cases one of their defenders comes to the rescue and clears the ball.
The RSL Women start pressing in the last third of the match, leaving space in the back for Charge attacks. In the 68th minute, Kresge and Skidmore are both through. Skidmore nimbly dodges Tucker but with an open net sends the ball off the right post. She atones ten minutes later as the Charge take a short corner. Nia Walcott sends it to Kresge who slides it across the Skidmore. In a crowd, she sends a seeing-eye ball just into the lower left corner of goal. Marissa Green puts the game away in the 85th minute with a long shot that slips into the upper left corner.
Head coach Wittman was pleased with the result. “We had no subs. And for them to stay in the whole game after playing Friday. They just came through. They lasted the whole game. 3-0 is a great outcome. I’m proud of them because it wasn’t easy. Again, we haven’t had a whole lot of training and some girls were just thrown in there today. Everybody came through.”
The runner-up Houston Aces pose after the final match.
The championship match was a battle between the cohesiveness of the Houston Aces and the talent of the Washington Spirit Reserves. Said Reserves goalkeeper Gay after the match, “The Houston team clearly has played together. They were very organized, moved the ball well.”
It could have gone either way, but the Aces’ experience proved not to be enough. Houston came out strong early, then Washington had the better of play for the middle part of the first half. Toward the end, the Aces had the Reserves pinned back but couldn’t break through their back line, anchored as it was by U-20 national teamer Andi Sullivan.
After a scoreless 70 minutes, though, Washington broke the game open with two goals in the next six minutes – both of which I regrettably missed due to being in the middle of tweeting about previous events. In the 71st minute from a crowd, Aaran Parry slipped the ball into the net to open the scoring. Then five minutes later (I’m told) Kelsey Pardue nimbly dodged to make some space, then fired a shot in from distance that had the crowd gasping even before the ball got there – I looked up just in time to see the ball whistling into the back netting. Tweeted my soccer journalist colleague Sarah Gehrke, “That goal from Pardue was perhaps one of the best I have seen in person in any league this year.” (The match was live-streamed, so I’m hoping it will be put on YouTube or somesuch.)
The Houston assistant coach who traveled with the team was philosophical afterwards. “I think we had our chances. The soccer gods were not in our favor. It’s part of this game. They had two good chances, and they made them count. We didn’t.”
Meanwhile, the Spirit side was, of course, delighted. Goalkeeper Gay – formerly of the 2012 NCAA champion Tar Heels – when asked what it was like to win another championship, replied, “Awesome. Great to win. I love it. Really enjoying getting to know my team. And they’re fantastic: good people, hard working. I was impressed.”
She got two clean sheets but freely admitted she couldn’t take much of the credit. “My defense did an amazing job. They worked really hard and made my job really easy.”
She thought the Aces were better organized but also thought her team was getting there. “I think in the short amount of time we’ve had together, the few games we’ve played, German has done a great job of organizing us. There’s just a good chemistry, good vibe with the team. We’re talking, communicating. We’re sorting it out.”
Head coach German Peri: “We’re extremely pleased with the performance. We expected them to be good, but not this good so early. So it’s been tremendous that technically we had a week-and-a-half of training. For three days of having a full squad, for training they showed for this weekend the quality of players that we have.”
Asked what the team needed to work on, he said, “Probably on the attacking third. I thought Friday we did extremely well. Today we struggled a little bit. Also the fitness level. Some of these kids have been playing, some of them haven’t. Some are current. So I think the association, the chemistry of the team is going to come along.”
Assistant coach JP Sousa saw the win as a building block for the season. “It’s nice to build off, to have something like this early, and certainly we can use it as a great motivator to get into the W-League season.”
All three WPSL teams will be participating in the USASA’s Women’s Open Cup, set to take place the weekend of June 26-29. Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, no W-League teams are participating in either the Open or the Amateur Cup tournaments, so we won’t see another WPSL vs. W-League matchup until the next time this tournament rolls around. Still the ice has been broken, and there’s no telling what the future might bring. Perhaps someday there’ll be a Women’s Open Cup with the scope and prestige of the Men’s. If so, we can say that it all started this weekend.