The Charge have allowed just two goals in four matches so far, and defender Jen Gillette is one big reason. (Ken L. Harriford)
The WPSL South Atlantic Division season is very nearly bracketed by matches comprising the home-and-home series between the two teams most likely to win it. Tonight, the ASA Chesapeake Charge defeated ACF Torino USA, 1-0, on a goal by Cheyenne Skidmore in the 61st minute. It was the home opener for the Charge and the first game for Torino. The teams will meet again on July 9, which will be the last game for Torino and the next-to-last for the Charge.
I had assorted questions going into the match: Just who would be playing for Torino, and how many of them would I know from last year? Would the Charge attack suffer without their lightning-quick forwards Alexis Prior-Brown and Erica Suter? How in-form would either team be this early in the season?
Torino captain Elise Bender was asking that last question about her team herself and was pleased with the answer. “I was surprised we were as good as we were. We’d only had one practice [with the full roster].”
Their roster includes just a few familiar names. Bender and Ashley Weisenberg I knew had returned after meeting them at a preseason practice. Add to them Rachel McKee, Rachel Lindenfeld, and Maryland starting goalkeeper Rachelle Beanlands from last year, plus Kristen Schmidbauer, who seems to be sampling all the local teams, going from the DC United Women two years ago to the Charge last year and now with Torino. The remaining names, though, were new to me.
By contrast, the ASA Charge have at least a dozen players returning from last year, even if you exclude the injured ones.
That was an advantage that showed both early and throughout, as Chesapeake generally controlled the game. Torino head coach Fabio Diletti: “It was a better team, much faster. How this team got put together and how long they’ve spent together, they were better.”
One surprise in the Charge starting lineup was having Katie Watson start up top despite not playing in three years and just coming off an injury. Head coach Tim Wittman saw her as a worthy fill-in for Ali Andrzejewski, who wasn’t available for this match. “Because she’s got experience, and because we have a girl that was out tonight who usually plays up top for us [Andrzejewski]. But Katie’s got experience. She’s just coming back from an injury. So I felt that with her intelligence of the game maybe she could help us out at the beginning. I know she’s not fit, but she got time, she got a taste of it. So we’re bring her along because she was a good player at one time. She’ll get back.”
Watson of course didn’t mind a bit. “It was awesome. It was good getting back out there. I was definitely a little surprised to start, but I was glad to get out there, and it was fun. It took us a little while to get going, but I think once we did we looked all right.”
The Charge’s main problem, though, was an inability to finish, something forward Marisa Kresge admitted with an embarrassed grin. “I missed 9 clear chances and 2 assists. I need to train more at it, more repetitions. I think it was good tonight that other people were there to step up and finish when I couldn’t. Great to have teammates who step up and are quality goal-scorers.”
If Kresge’s night could be summed up in one photo, it would look a lot like this one. (Ken L. Harriford)
My notes show Kresge missing in the 28th (saved), 30th (wide right), 42nd (saved), 50th (high), 51st (high from a tough angle), 56th (just wide left), and 70th (saved). But it’s not as if she was the only one: Watson’s shot was saved in the 17th minute, Riley Barger’s attempt likewise in the 20th, Alex Doody just high in the 32nd, Jennifer Gillette’s corner kick header high in the 33rd, Cheyenne Skidmore’s shot saved in the 49th, and so on. And that’s not even counting the crosses and balls over-the-top that just missed their targets.
“It’s always kind of fun as a goalkeeper to get that many shots, but obviously it means that we’re getting a lot of pressure, which is not necessarily good,” said Beanlands. “But for a team that has just come together – we’ve basically had one practice together as a full team – and then coming out and playing the Charge, who are a really good opponent, one of our biggest rivals, it’s tough. I think the girls played their hearts out, and I’m really proud of them. It was a good game.”
As I was beginning to wonder if there would ever be a ball in the net, in the 61st minute Barger in some traffic around the top of the box managed to slip the ball to her right to Skidmore, who with some space and behind the defense fired the ball in over Beanlands and into the top right corner.
Meanwhile, it seemed likely that all the Charge needed was one goal. Torino only had one solid scoring chance all game, and that came in a defensive breakdown in the 19th minute. Weisenberg got a through ball over the top and just barely beat goalkeeper Erin Quinn to it. Quinn was still in the way and managed to block the shot attempt, but the ball rolled out to an open KK Brady, who tried to chip the ball over Quinn but sent it just high.
Team captain and central defender Jess Hnatiuk saw the play as a learning experience. “Our biggest thing is that we need to press where that ball came through. We need to have pressure there so we can keep our head down so the ball’s not able to get behind us.”
Wittman, meanwhile, was philosophical. “In the course of a game, there’s going to be mistakes. I’ve never seen a player in my whole life have a perfect game. You just can’t get down on yourself when you make a mistake. That happened, you correct it, and then you just move on.”
It probably didn’t help the Torino cause that players were getting used to new positions. In particular, Weisenberg was playing forward instead of taking her usual attacking central midfielder role. “It was actually definitely a change. We had a few more people at practice Thursday, coming from like Maryland. He was like, ‘I’m going to try you up top.” It was definitely very different. It takes a lot of getting used to.”
Despite the lopsided number of opportunities, it came across as a well-played, hard-fought match. And everyone seemed to be happy with the outcome given the lack of time the players had had together so far.
Wittman again: “I think they did well. I think both teams did well. We controlled the ball at times. We just couldn’t finish. But the chances were there, and I was happy with the chances. They started coming back, put another player up and started making it interesting. So we did what we had to do.
“We’re finally getting some players back because school just ended. We’re not quite there with our full team yet, but people are still trickling in. From what we have right now with some people playing out-of-position, they did well. They did very well.”
When asked what Chesapeake needed to work on, he rolled his eyes. “We have to work on things all the time. Fitness is one of them. Finishing. Anticipation.”
Hnatiuk had a similar opinion. “I think it went well. I think both teams put on a good showing. They came at us hard. Fortunately enough, we were able to be solid back in the back. I think we’re pretty solid right now. We just need to play together a bit more.”
On the other side, despite losing, Weisenberg was pleased with how the team played. “I feel pretty good. I feel that we didn’t have as much practice together as the Charge did. So I thought we came out pretty strong, gave a good effort. We did very well overall. We’ve just got to get used to each other.”
Diletti was satisfied as well. “I think we played very competitively, especially in the first half. I know it’s our first game, but we have players coming to the team in the last week. So we didn’t have as many practices as I would have like to have had. But I think they did pretty well. We found a team that was faster than us.
“We have a lot of things to work on. It’s just a matter of coming to practice and keep working at it. I know the team can be much more talented. They just need to learn how to play together. I saw especially that my back line [had problems]: I like to play with three defenders, and my back line was not used to that. They were pushing up and working as a flat-back four. They were cut with through balls, and that’s how they scored their goal. They scored a goal by our mistakes.
“But we’re still going to play them the last game of the season. We’ll have a rematch.”
As previously noted, that rematch comes on July 9 and will be hosted by ACF Torino at their primary home field at the Riverdale Sportsplex. In the meantime, though, there’s a lot of other soccer to play.
The ASA Chesapeake Charge next play on Wednesday, June 4, at 7 pm as they take on FC Bucks, again on their home field at Arundel High School.
ACF Torino is off until next Saturday, June 7, at 2:30 pm, when they have their home opener at Thomas Wootton High School in Rockville, facing the formidable New York Athletic Club.
The Washington Spirit Reserves had a successful trip up north over the weekend. On Saturday, they downed the New Jersey Wildcats, 1-0, with a goal scored by Katie Yensen off a feed from Jennifer Skogerboe. Then the next day they demolished the New York Magic, 7-0, powered by a hat trick from Lina Granados. So far this year in five matches (three W-League matches plus the USASA tournament) they’ve given up just one goal. It’s a far cry from last year, when they split the season series with the Magic and went 1-1 on their weekend road trip north. Their next game is a rematch against the Wildcats, set for Saturday, June 7, at 7 pm, at Liberty High School in Bealeton, VA.
I’d say the Braddock Road Stars Elite have been idle, but I’m sure they’ve been practicing hard. Their next game is Sunday, June 8, at 4 pm, also against the Wildcats, in their home opener at Robinson High School in Fairfax.