Torino, Chesapeake look strong in opening WPSL matches

On paper, it seemed that ACF Torino USA and the ASA Chesapeake Charge were the teams to look out for in the South Atlantic Division of WPSL’s Eastern Conference. But that doesn’t mean much if you can’t make it happen on the field. This past weekend, both teams made it clear that they could do just that.

Lauren Badalamente (left, two goals), Sophie Jones (center, two goals), and Amanda Olson (right, goal and assist) were among the key figures in Torino's opening win

Torino started off with a 9-0 drubbing of the Lions Swarm Maryland Saturday evening. Forward Shyanne Kimbrough got the initial goal in the 13th minute off a beautifully placed cross from defender Amanda Olson sent in from the left. The two English players who came over to play for the team proved their worth on the second goal four minutes later, as midfielder Amie Fleming sent a through ball to defender Sophie Jones, who put it away.

Midfielder Lauren Badalamente picked up the third goal in the 28th minute with some help from Kelly Whittaker. Then in the last few minutes of the first half, veteran midfielder Emily Janss was tripped in the box. The referee pointed to the penalty spot, and Olson put it away easily. Two minutes after that, Ali Andrzejewski got a through ball on the flank and sent in another well-placed cross that forward Diana Barrera sent in.

Badalamente scored again six minutes into the second half, with a powerful header off yet another cross from Andrzejewski. The goal of the match, though, has to go to Jones, who from the top of the box with her back to goal and a defender right on her twisted sharply to the right and managed to fire a shot just over the goalkeeper and under the crossbar.

Nine minutes later Andrzejewski would get a goal herself as the ball came to her off a corner kick clearance at the top right corner of the box. She sent the ball back in without a drastic amount of pace on it, but what looked as if it should have been a routine play for the goalkeeper took a deflection on the way in and slipped just inside the right post.

With a 7-0 lead, Torino seemed to relax a bit at that point, and the Lions Swarm managed some significant though unproductive possession in their attacking end. But even so, in the last few minutes Kimbrough scored the final goal off another cross, this one from midfielder Rachel Lindenfeld.

“We’ve been doing cross after cross in practice,” Olson said after the match. “He’s got me leading all the free kicks. I’m in charge of most of the free kicks on dead balls, PKs, and corners.”

Despite the margin, one shouldn’t make too much of the result, as the Lions Swarm is a very, very young and inexperienced team. I looked up who I thought was one of their better players, Asia Fort, and found that she was all of 15. Plus it was clear that Torino was just physically superior. At one point Kimbrough was coming forward with the ball and even without the ball the defender chasing her couldn’t catch up. By contrast, when the Swarm seemed to have someone coming in open on the right, Andrzejewski raced back from the midfield, almost instantly erasing a ten-yard gap.

The players seemed to accept that. Said Jones: “It was a good team performance all-around, first game for everyone. I think we could have picked the tempo up a bit more. It was a bit slow in parts. Just went through the motions after we scored more goals.” And Kimbrough: “We’re pleased with the outcome but know we’ll be having much better competition in future.”

And head coach David Jones made a point of putting it all into perspective: “This result and performance won’t mean anything at all if we don’t build on it.”

Defender Jess Hnatiuk shadows forward and team captain Laura Kane in a practice a few days before their successful opener (Photo courtesy of Ken Harriford)

The next night, the ASA Chesapeake Charge took on their former WPSL-Elite rivals the Philadelphia Fever and dispatched them easily, 5-0.

It took only 12 minutes for the Charge to get on the board, as – appropriately enough – forward and team captain Laura Kane redirected a free kick into the net. Two minutes later Alexis Prior-Brown, who mostly played right flank midfielder, rocketed a shot in from outside the right corner of the box to double the lead.

Four minutes later Kane fired a shot in from about 12 yards out that went off the crossbar and down but then out. The third goal would not come until the 44th minute, when forward Cheyenne Skidmore broke through the back line and drew the defense to the left side of the box. She fired a shot that Fever goalkeeper Kendra Griffith blocked but couldn’t save. A second shot was blocked by a defender, but then Madison Clemens – who played for the Fever last year – collected that rebound and sent it in.

The Charge had most of the attack in the early part of the second half but couldn’t quite sync up in the final third. It took until the 72nd minute for the fourth score, and that came off of a corner kick from the right. The Chesapeake corner kicks had been going fruitlessly long all evening, but this time Sofia Read collected the ball about 25 yards out on the left and fired it back in and into the netting.

Three minutes later, the Fever were called for a handball in the box. Defender Caylin Dudley stepped up and knocked it past the Philadelphia goalkeeper for the fifth and final score.

Head coach Tim Wittman was happy with the result but emphasized that it was early days yet. “I don’t look at the score as much as they way we play. A lot of these girls are coming from all different types of colleges, playing different styles. For them to get used to the way I want to play is a little different. That’s going to be the thing that we’re going to work on – it’s the most important thing. I’m glad we won, but that’s only part of it. It’s the way we win.”

The players, however, were enthusiastic, not surprising considering this was a team that had never scored more than three goals in a match in its entire history.

“I think we came out with a bang,” said Jess Hnatiuk, “which is awesome because it’s the way we wanted to start the season. Our offense was on fire today. The fact that we came out and had five different players score – just to have that many people get into the attack. Different people had different assists and goals, that says a lot about what’s to come.”

Kane was also very positive. “We played really well today. We moved the ball well, that’s what led to all the goals. I think we could communicate a bit more, especially in terms of winning balls in the midfield. A lot of times the ball was dropping in-between players. But overall I thought we did really well.”

The scary thing is that with a little bit more composure in the final third both teams could have scored numerous additional goals – Torino repeatedly skied open opportunities, while Chesapeake had a few of those as well along with some passes that were way too strong, not to mention the aforementioned corner kicks that consistently sailed well beyond the far post.

The bottom line is that if you’re in Maryland and want to see a serious women’s soccer rivalry, mark June 18 and June 22 on your calendar, which are the dates these two teams have their home-and-home series.

ACF Torino next plays on Saturday, May 25, when they go on the road to play the Tidewater Sharks. The Charge have ten days off, then go down to southern Maryland on May 29 to face the Lions Swarm.

In other local amateur team news, the W-League Washington Spirit Reserves bounced back from their opening loss to down the Virginia Beach Piranhas, 2-0, on second-half goals from Ashley Herndon and Ashley Spivey.

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