The Charge took one step closer toward their second trophy of 2013 with a win over Tri-State Division champions New York Athletic Club
This was the match I was the most concerned about on the “road to California.” On one day’s rest, the 9-0-2 ASA Chesapeake Charge had to face the 8-1-2 New York Athletic Club, who had downed the Charge’s division rivals the Lancaster Inferno by a score of 3-1, a better result than Chesapeake had managed in either of their two matches against them. And the home team was without the services of two of its key players, midfielder Riley Barger and forward Alexis Prior-Brown.
It was a miserably warm day, not that hot temperature-wise, but the humidity was appalling. The teams took a few minutes to feel each other out, but it was quickly clear that the Charge were the stronger side, and it took only twelve minutes for them to get on the scoreboard. Forward Cheyenne Skidmore received a ball over the top, collecting it, and was heading in on goal when one of New York’s defenders took her down from behind in the box. The referee pointed at the penalty spot but – much to the consternation of the home crowd – did not issue further discipline even though it appeared to be a classic “Denial of an Obvious Goal-Scoring Opportunity” situation, which would call for a red card. Anyhow, defender Jess Hnatiuk stepped up and fired the shot into the left lower netting past goalkeeper Tatiana Saunders.
To add insult to injury, Chesapeake midfielder Kelly Whittaker was shown a yellow card five minutes later on what looked like a fairly mild tackle.
The home team continued to control the match and be the only one to generate chances, the best being in the 29th minute when substitute defender Sofia Read stole the ball from New York, brought it down the left side, then sent a perfect cross to Skidmore’s feet. But the forward skied the shot from a little over ten yards out.
Midfielder Julianne Boyle would finally pad the score with a tremendous run down the left side in the 34th minute, beating several defenders and getting off a shot that rolled past the goalkeeper and in, with Skidmore there at the right post ready to polish it off if necessary. Boyle modestly gave a lot of credit to forward Marisa Kresge for making the opportunity possible. “That’s the one thing that’s great about our team is that we bring a lot of different aspects. We’re a possession team. And when we bring in Marisa at forward she checks back, and it leaves a lot of space behind so I can make those runs, so I got a great ball in and was able to finish on it.” When I pointed out that she had to get past several defenders on her own, she deflected that praise as well. “Yeah, that’s just working hard. We do a lot of hard work in practice to prepare us for this.”
In the 42nd minute, Kresge herself had a tremendous play of her own, fighting her way through three or four defenders, winning the ball back several times when she looked to have lost it, to get from the top left corner of the box toward the middle, then fired off a high shot with enough power to slip through Saunders’ hands and into the net.
The first half ended with Chesapeake ahead of NYAC by the score of 3-0, having thoroughly dominated the game. The only work Charge goalkeeper Erin Quinn had during the 45 minutes was collecting a couple of back passes as the Charge reset and changed the point of attack.
But the Athletics would come out strong to start the second half and control possession in the first few minutes. It took them some time to get anything out of it, but in the 49th minute they got a through ball to Nicoleta Hardesty. Hardesty took a shot, but second-half goalkeeper Lyndse Hokanson cut down the angle and made the save.
New York would get a corner kick a minute later that went right to Charge captain Laura Kane, who headed it clear. In the 58th minute, Hnatiuk would get called for a push about 28 yards out. The visitors dummied the kick, but the shot still went right to Hokanson.
The Charge would have their first decent chance of the second half in the 68th minute on a ball in from the right that bounced off NYAC’s second-half goalkeeper Cecilia DiCaprio and looked as if Courtney Moore would have a chance at it, but DiCaprio picked it right off of Moore’s head before she could nod it forward. Four minutes later Moore would have another chance at the ball stopped by DiCaprio, who went to the ground to clear it. The rebound went to Amira Walcott of the Charge, who sent the ball in to the unguarded net, but a New York defender got in the way and blocked it out for a corner kick. On the resulting corner kick, DiCaprio punched it out right to Chesapeake defender Jen Gillette, but she couldn’t turn enough to get off a decent shot and sent it wide.
A minute later the Charge were awarded a free kick from the left sideline about twenty yards out. Substitute defender Melissa Lookingland stepped up and took the kick, with the ball just missing a few people including a diving header from a Charge player in the goalmouth and ending up missing just wide right.
In the 78th minute a NYAC attacker was sandwiched between two defenders just outside the box. The resulting free kick was sent softly into a crowd near the left post. The ball bounced around quite a bit in dangerous territory but was eventually cleared.
With six minutes to go, a New York player was taken down in the left corner. Peyton Johnson lofted a well-placed ball to Shannon Fitzpatrick inside the far post, and she nodded it in over Hokanson to get the visitors on the scoreboard. But that would be the only hurrah for the visitors, as they would not threaten again.
Head coach Tim Wittman was very happy with his team. “Sure. This was a good team. They came out in the second half, 3-0 down, you knew they were going to come. They were physical, they knocked the ball around, they were good. So I give a whole, whole lot of credit to the players. Two games in a couple of days. We’re down a couple of players. Everybody stepped up, whoever went in, did a job. I try to stress and stress and stress, it’s a team game. When you start relying on one player, two players, you’re not going to get very far. And as you can see this season, different people are coming through at different times. People are working hard, and people went in at different positions. They busted tail. If you look at two of the goals, it’s effort. Actually, three of the goals. One gets fouled from the effort. Second goal, it’s battling. Third goal, it’s battling, bounced off three or four people. That’s effort. That’s just effort.”
I asked Skidmore after the game how it felt to be one match away from a trip to California. “It feels great. We all really want to go there. That’s our agenda, so we’ve been playing hard throughout the playoffs.” And while she didn’t score herself, her influence was very much felt, much more so than the previous match. “Yesterday we didn’t get the ball on the right side too much, so I really wanted to come out today and make that different.”
One more win, and they’re off to California. “We’ve been playing better and better every game,” said Boyle, “so we’re so excited to get that last one.” When asked how the team would be preparing for the conference championship, she just said, “We’re going to have a good couple of practices and just keep doing what we’re doing.”
They will play the undefeated (7-0-5) New England Mutiny next Saturday night at 7 at Arundel High, a familiar foe since both teams participated in the WPSL-Elite last year, the Mutiny winning 4-2 at home and drawing 3-3 at the Charge. Kresge rolled her eyes a bit at the prospect of facing them again after the lack of success last year, but then confidently stated, “We’re going to win this time. This is our year.”