A season that began with hopes of the WPSL Final Four ended with disappointment as ACF Torino USA lost on the road to division rivals the Lancaster Inferno, 2-1, and were eliminated from playoff contention as a result.
The two teams were vying for the second and final playoff spot in the WPSL’s South Atlantic Division with the Lancaster Inferno holding a small but crucial one-point lead in the standings. And the vagaries of the schedule – thanks in part to a flood-out earlier in the season – had them holding a home-and-home series to end their season. Lancaster hosted Sunday afternoon, to be followed by Torino hosting – on their third home field of the season, in Bowie – Tuesday evening.
On Sunday, it was a hard-fought match with several hair-pulling-out near-misses on both sides and enough controversy over referee decisions for both sides to be unhappy. And it was another hot afternoon on football-lined artificial turf.
The Inferno seemed to be at a disadvantage in their black kits, but they would end up striking first. After a couple of half-chances on either side, eight minutes in they had a through ball so well timed that three players broke through Torino’s back line. Goalkeeper Rachelle Beanlands sprinted out, but forward Tesa McKibben got there first, got around Beanlands with the ball, and had an easy putaway into the open net.
The Maryland team had three consecutive corner kicks around the 14th minute, but all were cleared, one off the goal line at the last moment by the defender guarding the left post. The final clearance ended in a counter with a 2-on-1 break for Lancaster, but the Torino defense managed to catch up and prevent a dangerous shot.
In the 29th minute, the Inferno had a player in the goalmouth and got a cross to her, but her shot was weak and wide left. Four minutes later, Torino’s ever-dangerous Ali Andrzejewski was through on the right and got off a good cross, but it was cleared for a corner kick. A Torino player headed the corner kick toward goal, but it bounced off the crossbar.
Come the 37th minute, and Torino was the beneficiary of a foul call on the right about 40 yards out that the home crowd objected to strenuously. They quickly became even unhappier. Amanda Olson sent the ball sailing at head height toward the far post. Lancaster goalkeeper Sarah Leiby had to stay central in to be ready for a possible redirection. Instead, it was lightly headed by Shyanne Kimbrough just inside the left post.
Andrzejewski had a chance to add to the score three minutes later, but the through ball to her was late and off-target. The half would end with the score tied at 1.
Lancaster had a succession of chances in the second half that had their fans calling for an exorcism of the east goal. In the 47th minute, a poor Torino turnover led to an Inferno breakthrough on the right. The cross came right to the foot of a forward in the goalmouth not more than five yards out, but she skied it through the uprights. A minute later, an Inferno player was through on the right but couldn’t quite catch up to the ball. Two minutes after that, Lancaster got the ball right into the goalmouth and was bouncing it around. Twice it was sent back literally from the goal line. Three minutes after that, Lancaster had another jailbreak behind the Torino back line with three players, but none of them managed to get a shot off.
Torino had its first good chance of the second half in the 61st minute as Andrzejewski sent a cross in from the right to Sophie Jones at the far post, but her shot went wide right.
In the 65th minute a soaring throwin by Lancaster from their own end deep into Torino territory sprung an attack on the right that led to two successive corner kicks, neither successful. (Inferno forward Jade Flory does flip throwins, though I’m not positive it was her in this case.)
The final score in the 79th minute would come off another controversial foul call, this one in favor of the home team about 35 yards out on the left. On the ensuing free kick, Elizabeth Dwornik dummied the ball, then Alecia McNiff fired it in toward goal. Somehow it bounced off the outer edge of the Torino wall and into the left side of the netting.
Storm clouds were starting to roll in as the Torino season was threatened. With seven minutes to go in regulation Andrzejewski took a shot from distance that went off the soccer crossbar and then the football crossbar. Two minutes later, a flash of lightning appeared, and the game was halted a few minutes before 6 pm.
The match finally resumed at around 6:40 pm, but reportedly (I had to leave) the referee blew the whistle after only three minutes even though there had been almost five minutes on the scoreboard clock when play was stopped – not to mention the water break, the goal, and numerous substitutions.
As a result, ACF Torino USA will end their season with one final home game, on Tuesday, July 9, at 7 pm, on Murtagh Turf Field #1 in Bowie, MD. It will be a rematch with Lancaster, though since the Inferno have a four-point lead in the standings, they’ll be playing only for pride.
Following that, the Lancaster Inferno will go on the road to face the New York Athletic Club in the first round of the WPSL playoffs next weekend.
By contrast, the ASA Chesapeake Charge continued their string of successes, defeating the Philadelphia Fever on the road in New Jersey (yes, the Philly team plays in New Jersey), a 3-0 win with two goals from the run of play by Alexis Prior-Brown and a penalty kick goal from captain Laura Kane after Prior-Brown was taken down in the box.
The win gives the undefeated, 8-0-2 Charge home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs, which begin on Saturday, July 13, at 4 pm. In that game Chesapeake will face the second-place team in the Tri-State Division, the Long Island Fury, coached by 2010 and 2011 WPS Coach of the Year Paul Riley. A win would give them another home playoff game on Sunday, and a second win the hosting of the conference championship the following weekend. And a win there sends them into the WPSL Final Four in Sacramento, CA.