Atlanta Silverbacks / USL Reports
Friday, July 25, 2008
ATLANTA, GA -- The first game of the Eastern Conference Championship was full of excitement as fans witnessed 11 goals, the second most in league playoff history, in a match between the Washington Freedom and the Charlotte Lady Eagles that was extended to extra time. The night began with strong play from the Washington Freedom as they looked to defend their 2007 W-League title.
Washington put on the pressure from the beginning and got on the board in the second minute. Christy Welsh received the ball from Emily Janss with her back to the goal and standing just outside the box. She turned to the inside, blew through the defense, and placed the ball to the left of Charlotte goalkeeper Laura Armstrong.
Charlotte began to string together a bit of passing and was able to score the equalizer in the 11th minute. Nikki Lyons got the ball to Christy Rife who just got a foot on the ball and was able to deflect it into the side netting.
Washington quickly regained possession and continued their assault on the Charlotte defense. Washington’s Ella Masar fed the ball to Welsh in the center of the box and Welsh sent it to Armstrong’s left for her second goal on the night, putting Washington up 2-1 in the 16th minute.
Washington continued to dominate possession as several players got a look at the goal. In the 22nd minute, Washington scored their third goal of the match as Madison Keller lifted the ball past Armstrong off a feed from Sarah Huffman.
Charlotte got down the field in the 28th minute and was able to get on the board again to come within a goal of the Freedom. Charlotte’s Kelly Schmedes received the ball from Nikki Lyons, nimbly moved past her defender and finished with a fine shot to the far side netting past an outstretched Chante Sandiford.
Masar was forced to make an early exit in the 31st minute after sustaining an injury. Rebecca Moros came on for Masar and play continued with both teams getting some looks on goal. Charlotte had a good chance in the 44th minute, but the shot by Schmedes was saved by Sandiford and the follow up by Lyons was sent into the side netting.
Late in stoppage time, Charlotte’s Tina Murphy uncorked a long-range shot that Sandiford just tipped over the bar as the ball dipped toward the goal.
Washington had some good chances to start off the second half, but Charlotte got on the board first to draw the game even at 3-3. Murphy scored straight off a corner for the Eagles.
During the 66th minute, Charlotte took the lead for the first time in the match. Charlotte took a free kick that got cleared out to Schmedes, who placed the ball perfectly to Lyons at the center of the box. Lyons’ one-timer beat Sandiford and Charlotte took the lead 4-3.
Four minutes later Welsh drew a foul inside the area and Moros evened up the match when she placed her spot kick on the ground to the right of Armstrong.
As the match wore on, the Freedom carried the momentum. Washington’s Ali Andrzejewski had a great shot on goal, but Armstrong continued her solid play and was able to push it away off the far post. Armstrong was tested a few more times, but she stood up well to the Washington onslaught. As stoppage time wound down, Charlotte made one last attempt to get the ball down field, but they were stopped by Washington just past midfield and regulation ended in a 4-4 tie.
Washington began the scoring early in extra time as Emily Janss tallied her first goal on the night. Janss received the ball from Huffman on the right flank, pushed through the defense, and tucked the ball into the right side of the goal.
Washington got on the board again in the 103rd minute and cushioned their lead – and they’d need it. Lori Lindsay took a corner for the Freedom and Huffman tipped it to Christie Welsh, who finished it to complete her hat-trick.
Charlotte continued to fight and was able to draw within a goal in the 107th minute. Murphy took a free kick just outside the area and placed the ball over the wall and to the keeper’s left.
As extra time wound down, Charlotte pushed forward in attempt to find the equalizer. They had several good looks on goal, but they were never able to get it into the back of the net and the match ended in a 6-5 win for the Freedom.
The Freedom will next play tomorrow at 8 pm when they look to claim the Eastern Conference title and earn a trip to the final four in Virginia Beach, VA. They will face the winner of the match between the Atlanta Silverbacks and the Long Island Rough Riders in the second match of the semifinal doubleheader.
The 11 goals scored tied for second most in the W-League’s 14-year history, equaling the Eastern Conference Final showdown in 2004 that saw the New Jersey Wildcats advance 6-5 in regulation against the Montreal Xtreme, who played a 5-4 overtime thriller the night before against the defunct Long Island Lady Riders. French star Marinette Pichon scored the opening three goals for New Jersey in the game before Montreal mounted a rally to tie the game 3-3 and again at 4-4 before two more goals from Pichon in the final five minutes of regulation provided a two-goal margin that proved just enough as Montreal only netted once more before the final whistle. The league record is 13, set in the W-2 Western Conference Championship in 2001 in which the Kansas City Mystics and Oklahoma Outrage, both now defunct, played an back-and-forth thriller. Kansas City led by two after 19 minutes with Oklahoma drawing level in the 36th only to see the hosts reclaim a two goal lead before halftime. Oklahoma scored four straight goals to open the second half to erase the deficit and make a two-goal margin of their own as they went on to score six in the half.
Only three other teams have scored more than six goals in a W-League playoff game. In addition to aforementioned Oklahoma Outrage of 2001, the Maryland Pride tallied seven in a 7-0 drubbing of the Hampton Roads Piranhas in the 1997 Mid Atlantic Division Final and the Chicago Cobras hold the mark with nine in a 9-1 thrashing of Northern Kentucky in the 2003 Midwest Division Final. There have been six other occurrences of a six-goal performance in the playoffs, including one each by the two participants in tonight’s thriller. Washington posted theirs in a 6-1 win over Toronto last year in the conference semifinal and Charlotte recorded theirs in a 2005 conference semifinal win, 6-2, over Cleveland.