WPSL: Charge down Torino, 1-0, to win the battle for Maryland

The second round of “WPSL’s Clash of the Titans” did not live up to the billing. Though the ASA Chesapeake Charge only won, 1-0, they controlled possession throughout, and according to my notes ACF Torino USA only got a single shot on goal while needing a strong performance from their goalkeeper Rachelle Beanlands just to hold the score at one. Given that they had the better of the run of play in the previous match as well, it’s now pretty clear which is the best WPSL team in the Free State – would that league politics allowed for a match between the Charge and the Spirit Reserves for the overall amateur title.

To say that Torino head coach David Jones was disappointed in his team would be an understatement. “That’s the worst match we’ve ever played,” he said afterwards.

Team captain Anabel Hering (whom local soccer fans will know as Anabel Jimenez – she just got married last month) was more specific and more diplomatic. “We have to work a little more on our fitness and our shape and on working together, so I think that’s what got the best of us. Fitness, for sure, and making sure we’re working together on the attack and defense.

“We kind of got killed in the first half so far as formation was concerned. We were 4-3-3, and so were they. But they were taking their outside backs forward, and we didn’t have anyone to pick them up. So we changed formations in the second half to a 4-4-2, which helped a little bit. But they were just picking us apart at that point. And as soon as we win the ball back, we have to keep it, so a lot of times we possess it and then lose it again, so our possession needs to be a little bit better, keeping the ball and not getting exhausted running around playing defense. We were just tired.”

Another Torino player said she’d really like to have a rematch on grass instead of the artificial turf that both of these games were played on. (Both were fairly new fields of the dreadful sort that kicks up little granules of black stuff whenever it’s hit by a foot or a ball.)

And on top of everything else, the referee was terrible. An attendee who trains referees said, “That’s the kind of game that you’re warned about having when you go through ref training. Everything that guy did was hands-down awful. The way he presented the cards, the fact that he didn’t even keep track of the person who committed the foul, how he was arguing with players instead of actually watching the game. You hope not to have a game like that because you never want to compromise player safety. Two injuries that ended at least the game for the players – safety was definitely compromised.”

He overreacted to minor offenses and let major ones go. The game got increasingly physical as it wore on, and a player from each side – Caroline Charlton of Torino and Marisa Kresge of the Charge – each had to be helped off the field after hard challenges. Torino’s Diana Barrera came in well into the second half, promptly got two yellow cards, and was ejected. Jones was ejected at the same time for the language he directed the referee’s way. And to top it all off the president of the Arundel Soccer Association was asked to leave the field for not delivering water to his players in a manner that the referee deemed appropriate.

But onto the game. Despite Hering’s description, Torino’s opening formation looked more like a 4-4-2, with Shyanne Kimbrough and Lauren Badalamente up top and Ali Andrzejewski behind them as an attacking midfielder. The Charge’s formation is so fluid it’s hard to tell what they’re playing. The main thing was that the Charge’s Cheyenne Skidmore was back on form, repeatedly tearing down the right flank and creating chances for herself or her teammates. In the fifth minute, her cross was cleared before reaching Alexa Quaranta. A minute later, the cross made it to Alexis Prior-Brown, but she couldn’t put it away.

Ten minutes in, Beanlands had the ball at her feet in the box after collecting a Chesapeake ball in. Everyone retreated waiting for the restart, but she just stood there with the ball at her feet. Prior-Brown stood some yards away, seeing no reason to waste energy in rushing the goalkeeper. This went on for a while until Prior-Brown finally jogged far enough forward to nudge Beanlands into continuing with the match. It was a surreal moment in a strange match and even happened again in the second half despite Beanlands’ team being down by a goal at the time.

There were numerous failed opportunities for the visitors, but let’s fast-forward to the 40th minute, when midfielder Riley Barger fired in a shot that bounced off the right post and to the feet of substitute forward Nia Walcott, who took some time to aim and then fired the ball into the open upper right corner to give the Charge a 1-0 lead.

Torino reverted in the second half to the formation they’d used in the first half of the previous match, with Ali Andrzejewski as the lone forward up top (yes, I know this contradicts Hering’s description, but I’m reporting what I saw). Paradoxically, this seemed to help, as Torino had their only serious chances in the middle part of the second half.

First, though, the Charge had a great chance as in the first minute Julianne Boyle led a rush in with Beanlands well off her line. Boyle tried to chip the ball over, and Beanlands managed to get enough of a touch on it to send it wide.

Play is stopped for a few minutes as the replacement balls provided for the second half prove to be inadequately inflated and have to be themselves replaced – another offense to be laid at the referee’s feet.

In the 65th minute came Torino’s first real chance as Andrzejewski ran in toward goal with some space but sent the ball high and wide from about 20 yards out. A minute later a goalkick from Charge second-half keeper Gina Mairana would come rebounding back toward her and fall to the feet of Torino forward Diana Barrera, who despite having a ton of space just hit the ball weakly to Mairana for the only Torino shot on goal of the match. A minute after that, a Torino corner kick (they didn’t have many of those, either) was headed clear by Laura Kane, and the second-chance shot went through the uprights.

The referee called for a water break shortly thereafter (there was one in the first half as well). After that, it went back to being all Charge. Soon after the restart, Prior-Brown rounded her defender on the left and took aim at the lower left corner but Beanlands managed to dive and get in the way.

Barrera got her first yellow in the 71st minute, then a second in the 76th, with Jones being ejected at the same time.

Boyle took a beautifully aimed corner kick in the 78th minute, but Beanlands leaped above Jennifer Gillette to prevent her from heading it in. A minute later Gillette would steal the ball from Andrzejewski in the box to help preserve the shutout.

With two minutes to go, the scoreboard clock was halted. At that point the Charge were already doing their best to kill the clock by holding the ball in the far attacking corner. It seemed a little early for that, but the referee blew the final whistle not long after the two minutes seemed to be up.

Goalscorer Walcott attributed the superior performance on the day to the time the players have had together. “We’re just working better together. We’ve been playing with each other for a while now. I think we’ve just started to understand each other better as players, starting to come together.” Unlike Torino, the Charge have a solid nucleus of players who have returned from the previous season and even earlier, and that seemed to show today.

The ASA Chesapeake Charge face two tough away games, against the Lancaster Inferno on Sunday, June 23, and against the Tidewater Sharks on Wednesday. They then fly to Overland Park, Kansas, to participate in the USASA’s National Women’s Championships in the amateur division before returning to play their final regular-season home game on Friday, July 5, at 7 pm at Arundel High, then finish their season on July 9 on the road against the Philadelphia Fever.

ACF Torino USA play again exactly one week later in the same location, next Saturday in Heurich Park at 3 pm against the Philadelphia Fever. They finish their season with a home-and-home with the Lancaster Inferno (July 7, July 9) that will likely decide the second and final playoff spot in the South Atlantic Division.

The playoff setup was explained to me as follows: The first round is Saturday, July 13, when the #1 team in the South Atlantic Division will host the #2 team in the Tri-State Division, and vice-versa. The winners of those matches will play on July 14. The New England and Mid-Atlantic Divisions will have a similar competition, and the winners of each will play on July 20 for the right to represent the Eastern Conference in the WPSL Final Four tournament, which will be held in San Diego, CA, the weekend of July 27.

The Charge currently have the best record in the conference and, if they maintain that, would host any Eastern Conference matches in which they participate.

W-League update: The reign of the Washington Spirit Reserves atop the W-League lasted less than 48 hours, as on Saturday afternoon they played to a scoreless tie at the North Jersey Valkyries. They now are tied for second place with five other teams, all of whom have one loss and one tie. The Seattle Sounders Women are currently on top with two ties, though that reign may be brief as well as they play the Pali Blues on Sunday the 23rd.

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