USL News Release
Saturday, August 2, 2008 ** Photos by John Radd / Click for larger, full version **
VIRGINIA BEACH, VA -- It’s not always the case that a game can live up to the hype, but the Pali Blues 2-1 victory over FC Indiana in the W-League Championship game will be remembered for ages.
The Pali Blues came out loose and relaxed and it showed early in the contest. Pali was in control of the game early, dominating possession and getting everyone involved. On the other hand, FC Indiana looked nervous and the big game jitters definitely contributed to early FC Indiana miscues.
Although FC Indiana could not keep possession for any period of time, their defense was solid and Pali could not create any true scoring chances. Jessica O’Rourke was key in FC Indiana’s early defensive play as Head Coach Shek Borkowski unleashed a defensive strategy which clogged up the space that the athletic Blues desperately needed.
“Shek did an excellent coaching job tonight,” said Pali Head Coach Charlie Naimo. “He was able to take away our athleticism and we were really in trouble.”
The first big moment of the match came in the 30th minute when FC Indiana thought they took the early lead. Laura Del Rio played a beautiful curling ball in the front of the Pali goalmouth, where the awaiting Lauren Sesselmann headed into the goal. However, Sesselmann was whistled for being a step offside.
Pali responded quickly to FC Indiana’s scoring chance with one of their own. US youth international Danesha Adams sent a through ball to India Trotter, who looked to have a good shot on goal. However, Trotter tried one too many moves and the retreating FC Indiana defense deflected Trotter’s shot wide.
Right before the end of the first half it looked again like FC Indiana would take a 1-0 lead when midfielder Lena Mosebo blew past a defender on the wing and found an open Spain international Laura Del Rio at the top of the box. Del Rio’s shot was pushed aside by Pali goalie Val Henderson and the deflection went towards the direction of the back post and also towards the direction of a sliding Lauren Sesselmann. However, the sliding Sesselmann was unable to connect as the ball went safely out of play. The two teams headed to the half level, but with the momentum clearly in FC Indiana’s favor.
FC Indiana used that momentum to come out strong in the second half. They dominated the early play and used that advantage to score the first goal of the match. Midfielder and Mexican international Fatima Leyva sent a dangerous curling corner in the 47th minute that found the head of Jessica O’Rourke to make it 1-0 FC Indiana.
This was the first time all season that Pali trailed in a match and it took awhile for the Blues to regain their focus and command of the game.
FC Indiana continued on the offensive following the goal and in the 57th minute almost made the score 2-0 when Lauren Sesselmann went down the sidelines and sent in a cross the Del Rio just headed wide of the goal. Del Rio was at it again in the 70th minute, when she sent another beautiful cross that FC Indiana forward Mexican international Monica Ocampo got too, but was unable to put on goal.
“We were really struggling to make anything happen in the first part of the second half,” said Naimo. “We switched our formation from a 4-4-2 to a 3-4-3 to try and get some energy up top.”
The switch worked magically for Naimo and in the 83rd minute Pali leveled the match. Pali defender Amy LePeilbet beat all FC Indiana players in the air to the ball from a corner sent in by Rosie Tantillo and smoothly deflected the ball past FC Indiana goalie Kristen Luckenbill.
The equalizing goal sent waves of confidence through the Blues players and sent FC Indiana into a state of shock they could not recover from. Pali used the bounce in their step just five minutes later to score the game-winning goal. Defender Kandace Wilson, who was moved up top by Naimo in the second half, beat her defender on the wing and sent in a cross that went over the outstretched hands of Luckenbill. Italian international Ilaria Pasqui jumped at the opportunity and sent a diving header into the back of the net for only her second goal of the year.
FC Indiana frantically tried to gather themselves to find the equalizer, but none came, and Pali rode the strength of two goals in the final 10 minutes to win the 2008 W-League Championship.
“Our depth was a huge reason why we won this game,” said Naimo. “Our bench gave us the energy we needed and helped put us on top.”
FC Indiana’s loss was especially devastating to midfielder Kelly Parker, who is now 0-3 in W-League Championship games.
“To have the game in our hands, to be able to see the trophy right in front of us, this just hurts a lot,” said an obviously dejected Parker. “With the 1-0 goal lead we played a little bit safer but the momentum swing at the end of the game was too much to overcome.”
Kelly Parker was arguably the best player on the field tonight. She made tireless runs up and down the field and was a constant thorn in the side of the Pali Blues.
“I have never seen Kelly play this well,” said Naimo. “I can’t say enough good things about her.”
With the win the Pali Blues finished their season with a perfect 14-0-0 record, trailing only for a period of 36 minutes – as about a perfect a season as any team could produce. Star defender Amy LePeilbet was named the Most Valuable Player of the W-League Championship as she scored the goal that breathed life back to Pali.
This year’s W-League Championship tournament may have a larger impact off the field over the months to come as players are selected for the debut season of Women’s Professional Soccer. In 2000, the W-League final four would see 23 players go on to be drafted by the Women’s United Soccer Association as it embarked on its first year, including star players like Charmaine Hooper, Marci Miller, Lisa Krzykowski, Thori Bryan and Nel Fettig. Five players with WUSA experience were in the Virginia Beach this weekend with Seattle’s Michelle French and Washington foursome of Kele Golebiowski, Emily Janss, Lori Lindsey and Christie Welsh.