WPSL: Torino back on winning track, eyeing the playoffs

Veteran Ali Andrzejewski - here in a vintage photo showing her warming up for the 2007 Washington Freedom (note Lori Lindsey in lower-right-hand corner) - scored the game-winner for ACF Torino USA

With the ASA Chesapeake Charge clinching one of the two playoff spots in WPSL’s South Atlantic Division, that puts the pressure on the teams that remain in contention: ACF Torino USA, the Philadelphia Fever, and the Lancaster Inferno. Going into this weekend, each of the teams controlled their outcome but needed to win out or very nearly in order to do so, particularly since they go head-to-head repeatedly in the last few weeks of the season – in fact, Torino’s final three opponents are Philadelphia, Lancaster, and Lancaster.

This stretch run started off well for the team with the Italian alliance, as Torino managed a hard-won, 2-1 victory over the Fever after picking up only a point in their previous two matches. (It didn’t help that those two were against the division-leading Charge.)

The match was back at Torino’s second home stadium, Heurich Field in Hyattsville, MD. The home team had the better of possession, but Philly had their moments. It was clear early on that Torino goals would likely come from a patient buildup, while Fever scores would come from quick balls through or over-the-top on quick counterattacks.

Both proved to be true. After several dangerous but unsuccessful attempts, late in the first half Torino had an extended possession in the penalty area, moving the ball around looking for a player with a decent look. Finally Brooke Longo both had some space and the ball and fired it in low for the opening score. It was recorded as unassisted since the ball deflected slightly off a defender before coming to her.

But in what proved to be second-half stoppage time (only apparent after the fact as there was no scoreboard clock), Philly forward Ayana Davis got a through ball and came running in open on goal. She took a near-post shot that goalkeeper Zaryn Jennings blocked out for a corner kick. The ball came soaring past the goal, was headed back into the goalmouth, and then into the net by defender Maddie Gregory. The referee blew the whistle for halftime seconds after the restart.

ACF head coach David Jones gave his team a talking-to at the half. “I told them this was a must-win game. A draw wasn’t going to be good enough. A defeat wasn’t going to be good enough. We had to win.”

The second half started out in much the same way but got increasingly sloppy and more physical as the players tired. As time wound down, there was scarcely any midfield play at all, with long balls going in both directions. This improved the Fever’s chances, but good defense and poor ball control kept them from accomplishing anything dangerous despite getting a few good looks.

In around the 85th minute, Shyanne Kimbrough sent a ball in from the left that found Ali Andrzejewski in the box with some space. She got the goalkeeper to commit, dodged around her, and put the ball into the open net.

The result all but eliminates the Philadelphia Fever from playoff contention, as they not only need to win their last two games (against Lancaster and Chesapeake) in order to get in, they need just the right results from Lancaster and Torino. As for Torino, they just need to get more points out of the home-and-home than Lancaster.

Jones was happy with both the outcome and the performance. “I felt that we had more chances in the game. The amount of possession we had was really far superior. It should have been four or five-nil.”

I asked imported Liverpool Ladies defender Sophie Jones the same question, but first I had to ask her how she was dealing with our Maryland summer weather. “I like the heat, but to be fair playing in it is not the same as England, where it’s rain and clouds. But it’s nice.”

She was also happy with how things were going. “I think the whole team’s working well together, and we can take this positive from today into the next two games and hopefully win them and make the playoffs.”

The Philadelphia Fever next go to Lancaster on Saturday, July 6, at 4 pm, while Torino goes to Lancaster the following day, also at 4 pm. They have just one home match remaining, on Tuesday, July 9, at 7 pm on Murtagh Field #1 in Bowie, MD.

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