It seems somehow appropriate that ACF Torino USA’s disappointing season should end in a 0-0 draw with the Lancaster Inferno. Not that that was particularly representative of either team: Torino head coach David Jones focused on a lineup that rewarded the most dedicated players. “I will play players that have shown the commitment and attitude all season.”
Meanwhile, Lancaster came down from Pennsylvania with a skeleton team. They brought no subs, and their netminder was their goalkeeper coach, Joy Shelly. (Longtime DC-area soccer fans might remember her as Joy Shaiebly, who was the only player to make it into the 2009 Washington Freedom training camp from their open tryouts. And given their goalkeeper travails that season, maybe they should have kept her on.)
There’s not really much to be said about the game. Torino clearly had the more talented players and won most of the one-on-one battles. Veteran Ali Andrzejewski was as dangerous as usual and had a couple of attempts go just wide or high. But Lancaster played together better as a team and got a fair share of their own chances that way even though Torino had the better of possession. Remembering the Inferno as a mediocre team (they finished 3rd of 5 last year and 7th of 10 the year before that), I asked Shelly what they’d done to improve. “We’ve gotten some better players in, and they’ve gone out and recruited their friends. And we’ve gotten a much higher level of commitment this year.” I did some research afterwards and found that the Inferno have a record of success, making the playoffs each of their first three season, including winning their division in 2010. So this may be more characteristic of the team than the past couple of years.
On the Torino side, there was a sense of underachievement. “I felt that the squad that we got should have done much better than what we did,” said Jones. Midfielder Elise Bender had a similar opinion. “On paper we had one of the best teams in the WPSL. We just couldn’t quite get it together.”
Both pointed to an early-season upset loss that put them behind in the playoff chase. “We just had that unfortunate loss [against the Tidewater Sharks] on Memorial Day weekend when we couldn’t get people to come out,” said Bender.
“I think the game against Tidewater when we went there with 15 players, had some of the reserve team players, I think that game came back and bit us,” said Jones. “When you’re playing a ten-game season, you can’t afford to lose more than one game before people catch up.”
Tidewater would end up finishing with a 3-6-1 record, ahead of only the 0-10-0 Lions Swarm in the division, and Torino beat them easily, 3-0, in the rematch.
On the other hand, the players unanimously appreciated the experience. “It’s definitely been great playing all these girls of great caliber, these University of Maryland girls and these Liverpool girls,” said Bender. Defender Alex Price, one of the youngest players on the team, agreed. “I think we have a great group of girls, and it was such a pleasure and honor to play with them. I know I learned so much this season, so I’m really happy that I got an opportunity to do this.”
Elise Bender, Rachel Lindenfeld, Ashley Pfaff, Allie Mack, and Alex Price in a preseason practice session
And forward Ashley Pfaff: “I feel lucky to have the opportunity to play with the caliber of players that we had out this season. We’ve certainly had a great core group of players who have put in a lot of time, effort, and energy. It made it a really enjoyable experience. And I hope that we can take this last season as a club and learn from this and move forward.”
I pointed out to Pfaff that it had been a tough division this year, and she agreed. “I was impressed with how strong the conference was. I definitely think that for future years considering how competitive this division is, it will attract more players from around the country and abroad to teams in this area, which should go further to make it more of an impressive conference.”
Andrzejewski – part of a small core of players kept from last year’s inaugural season – took the long view. “So the good thing is I feel like our team has improved from last season. I think we’re going to continue to improve. I’m looking forward to the future.”