It was a fitting end to an exciting season of women’s soccer as the Chicago Red Stars and the Western New York Flash took the field in the inaugural Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL) Elite League Championship match. Over a span of eleven weeks the two teams had battled opponents, weather and injuries to reach their ultimate goal – the chance to become the first WPSL Elite League Champion. Both the Red Stars and Flash spent some time leading the league, as did the Boston Breakers, and were eager to claim the title as their own. In the end everything would come down to one thrilling final match in front of an excited Rochester, N.Y., crowd.
Flash had earned their way into the finals with a come-from-behind 2-1 win over the New York Fury in the first of two semi-final playoff games on Wednesday, July 25. After trailing Paul Riley’s Fury for over 70 minutes, WNY put together two quick goals, thanks in large part to substitutes Jodi-Ann Robinson and Laura Heyboer, and then held on as New York put tremendous pressure over the final minutes.
The Red Stars had their own challenge to face – as the number four team in the league they were matched against regular season champion Breakers. The two had split home game wins over the season and this rubber game would determine who moved on. In what some considered a shocking turn of events, Chicago completely dominated play, getting goals from Lauren Fowlkes, Ella Masar and captain Lori Chalupny to take a 3-1 victory.
In addition to the league title, each team was playing for a secondary goal. For the Red Stars it was the chance at a rare women’s soccer double, after having won the USASA Women’s Amateur Cup on July 25. The Flash were playing for their third title in a row in their third women’s league. In 2010 Western New York won the W-League crown and in 2011 they were the WPS Champions, defeating Riley’s Philadelphia Independence on penalty kicks.
Chicago opened the game strong, earning two early corner kicks for Chalupny that were both cleared without damage. Flash then went on the attack, with Spanish international Adriana sending a cross to Jamaican international Omolyn Davis, but her shot on goal went wide.
In the 20th minute Davis went down with an ankle injury and had to be replaced by Heyboer, the hero of the semi-final match. It would be one of several injury-related substitutions required in the game by both sides, including Masar in the 31st and Chalupny in the 34th for Chicago.
In spite of losing two key players, Chicago would score first in the 41st minute when Amanda Cinalli, who had entered for Chalupny, managed to get the ball away from Flash goalkeeper Brittany Cameron. Eighteen-year-old Ashleigh Ellenwood pounced on it and fired it in for a 1-0 lead. WNY continued to press through the end of the period, but the half ended with the Red Stars leading.
The second half began with Chicago again on the offensive as Ellenwood nearly picked up here second of the match on a header just wide. Then Julianne Sitch nearly chipped the ball past Cameron but the shot went just wide left.
In the 55th minute WNY’s Toni Pressley came in for Tori Huster, and immediately Flash went back on the attack. Stephanie Ochs beat two defenders and fired a rocket, but the shot went just over the crossbar. Minutes later Ochs and Chicago’s Michelle Wenino collided going for a header, with Ochs having to leave the game for Australian Emily Van Egmond.
As time ran down play became even more physical as both sides battled for advantage on the field. Both Cameron and Chicago goalkeeper Jamie Forbes were called on to make spectacular saves to keep the score unchanged. It appeared that the Red Stars would, indeed, collect their first championship trophy, but appearances can deceive.
With the number of injuries during the second half, six minutes of stoppage time were added to the clock – it would end up being critical to the outcome of the game. With stoppage time almost at an end, Robinson sent a pass in to Pressley, who came through with a rocket shot that bounced off the crossbar and over the line to tie the match at 1-1.
“I focused on getting the shot off,” Pressley said later. “I didn’t think it went in at first.
The game then went into overtime with no golden goal, but neither team could find the back of the net. That sent the match into penalty kicks to determine the champion.
For Western New York this was a familiar scenario, having won the 2011 WPS Championship in just the same manner. Unfortunately for Chicago, lightning would strike a second time in Rochester.
In the penalty kick phase, the Flash's first shooter was Adriana, the leading scorer in the WPSL Elite. The dangerous forward easily scored, sending Forbes in the wrong direction on her shot. Fowlkes then equalized for Chicago, scoring against Cameron. Defender Katherine Reynolds went up next for the WNY Flash and slotted the ball past Forbes. Sitch lined up next to shoot for Chicago and Cameron was able to make the save.
“All I was thinking was, ‘Save one,’” Cameron said.
Flash Captain McCall Zerboni’s shot was saved by Forbes, leaving WNY up by one. Then Forbes herself took the next shot, beating Cameron to tie it up at two each. Van Egmond, the Flash’s fourth shooter, netter her shot for a 3-2 lead, and Chicago’s Wenino hit the post on her shot.
That set up midfielder Angela Salem with the chance for the early end to penalty kicks and the game. Salem’s shot beat Forbes, setting off a mass celebration by the entire Flash team as they mobbed their hero.
“Nothing’s easy,” Cameron said of the victory, “We didn’t stop trying until that final whistle.”
Afterwards both Red Stars Head Coach Rory Dames and Flash Head Coach Aaran Lines complimented the players on the hard-fought match and on the end to an amazing first WPSL Elite League season.
Asked about the Flash’s season, Lines said that one of the more difficult tasks with his young players was to “make them believe that they are good enough to win.” He also declared that the team this season was “tremendous.”
WNY Flash: Cameron (GK), Zerboni, Sahlen, Huster, Reynolds, Marshall, Salem, Frierson, Davis, Adriana, Ochs
Chicago Red Stars: Forbes (GK), Chalupny, Santacaterina, Fowlkes, Wenino, Alkek, Buczkowski, Sitch, Mautz, Masar, Weissenhofer
Photo courtesy of Western New York Flash.
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congrats to WNYF, they surprised me, i took my eye off of them andf they lifted a trophy. CONGRATS WNYF!!!! will do better following next season
In Sweden the season has been suspended during the Olympics. It starts again in mid-August. Maybe neither of these teams had players in London?