WPSL Playoffs: Charge lose grueling East Championship in heartbreaking fashion

Cheyenne Skidmore (foreground) would score one goal for the Charge and cause another, but it wouldn't be enough

It was a game that – thanks to a lightning delay and overtime – ended three hours and forty-five minutes after it started. Three seconds were left in second-half stoppage time when the visiting New England Mutiny scored a game-tying goal. Ever wonder how Brazil and its fans felt after the US’s comeback victory in the Women’s World Cup? Well, the Chesapeake Charge and their fans – and I count myself among them – know.

The Charge went up only twelve minutes in as Alexis Prior-Brown came in from the left and got a shot past goalkeeper Nikki Deiter. It was blocked by defender Allie Fitzsimmons but came back toward Prior-Brown, who collected it and sent it along the end line to the far post, where Cheyenne Skidmore leaped and used every bit of her 5’6″ to nod the ball in. At that point it seemed as if the home team were solidly in control with most of the possession and chances.

That would last about ten minutes as largely against the run of play Mutiny forward Jenna Fisher found some room on the right and sent a cross about ten yards out from the left post, where three New England players waited. Shauna Edwards ended up with the shot, banging the ball off the right post and in.

The Charge would have a few chances in the remainder of the half that briefly looked good, generally through balls that fell to either offside calls or to being picked up Deiter, but none would make it into the net. The half ended with the score 1-1.

Chesapeake took the lead again in the 52nd minute as captain Laura Kane sent a nice through ball to Skidmore on the right. She would go to the end line and send in a cross that a New England defender tried to clear but sent in precisely the wrong direction.

Five minutes later, the Mutiny’s star player, Morgan Andrews, made a long run down the right and fired off a shot from about twenty yards out that Charge second-half goalkeeper Lyndse Hokanson had to dive to her right to save.

In the 62nd minute, Prior-Brown singlehandedly dueled with two defenders on the left, keeping the ball despite multiple challenges, but they managed to get the ball away from her finally before she could get off a shot. Charge forward Marisa Kresge had two challenging opportunities to extend the lead in the 71st and 73rd minute, getting through on the right but sending to Deiter from a tough angle, then dueling for a high ball but not quite managing to head it past her.

Come the 78th minute, and the thunderstorm that had been looming on the horizon started emitting visible lightning. The game was halted at 8:44 pm. The players went back to the locker rooms, fans cleared the stands, and the officials retreated to the parking lot. The all-clear was given around 9:45 pm, and after brief warmups the game resumed at 9:58 pm. The referee indicated that there was 12:30 left on the clock, plus 3 minutes stoppage time.

New England threw players forward trying for the equalizer. Chesapeake attempted to take advantage but were not successful. Still, they didn’t need to be. Then with seconds left in stoppage time the Charge were called for a foul deep on the right-hand side. Andrews stepped up to take the kick, sent it off of the left post, then midfielder Lauren Reilly’s face, and into the net. It was a huge boost for the visitors and a dagger to the heart of the home team.

WPSL has the usual rules for tiebreakers: two fifteen-minute overtimes, no golden goal, penalty kicks after that. The Charge kicked off, and shortly after that the skies opened. Five minutes in, Fisher in a collision with Hokanson got the ball past her, but it dribbled just wide. The rain stopped shortly thereafter.

Five minutes later, a terrible Chesapeake clearance went right to Andrews about 30 yards out from goal. She brought it forward and fired it past Hokanson to give New England a 3-2 lead. For the remaining five minutes of the first overtime and all of the second, it was the Charge’s turn to throw players forward, but they were neither able to equalize nor produce any truly dangerous chances. They’ve had a history of difficulty scoring in key moments, and this seemed to be all that over again. The whistle would blow, rendering joy to New England and despair to Chesapeake with the 3-2 result in favor of the visitors.

A happier Jess Hnatiuk during the Charge's most successful season in their history

My go-to Charge player for post-game interviews is Jess Hnatiuk, the anchor of the defense and one of the few players to be part of the team for each of their four seasons. It’s usually a joy to talk with her – she’s thoughtful, articulate, and generally very upbeat, though considering this has been the team’s best season ever she’s had good reason to be. After this game, though, she was clearly upset, reluctant to make eye contact and with pain in her voice. But she still managed to be gracious. “It’s a tough loss, but they came out hard. You’ve got to give credit to them, they played hard coming off of the break for the lightning.” I asked her if the cup were half-full or half-empty at this point. “The cup is still half-full because regardless of this it was still a great season and coming in next year we’ll be just as strong. It’s just one step and unfortunately they played well. You can’t say much more than that.”

On the New England side, well, they raised some eyebrows when on the morning of their playoff opener they signed a ringer in the form of Morgan Andrews – just a few days ago named Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year – even though she’d played the regular season for division rival Boston Aztec. (Andrews even had to leave the first playoff game for a while as the opposition filed a protest questioning her eligibility.) And while it took more than Andrews to keep the Charge to one goal from their own efforts, it’s not hard to conclude that with a goal and an assist Andrews put them over the top. I sent out a tweet before the game noting this and asking if the win would go to teamwork or the star. All the responses voted for teamwork, but it seems that the star made the difference.

Added 5/21, 8:30 pm EDT: Not surprisingly, I’ve had some pushback from the New England end, who would like it pointed out that they had only 14 players on the game roster – which I did know – and were lacking “5 starters last night including starting central defenders, a defensive midfielder, and a player who scored/assisted on both wins last weekend” – which I did not know. (For comparison, imagine the Charge without Hnatiuk, Gillette, Kane, and Kresge.) That does make me feel a little bit better about the loss.

Photos courtesy of Ken L. Harriford

16 thoughts on “WPSL Playoffs: Charge lose grueling East Championship in heartbreaking fashion

    1. Kevin Parker Post author

      My search of the WPSL laws ( http://www.wpsl.info/docs/WPSL_Docs.pdf ) came up with this:

      B3: “Rosters will be frozen Twenty (20) days before the start of the WPSL Championship Tournament, unless the team has no chance of making the playoffs. All roster moves after the registration deadline, must be approved by the League Registrar.”

      C5.2: “A player’s registration must be submitted to the League Registrar at least 72 hours before the team’s next game in order to be eligible to play. Expedite fee of $100 will be applied if player card is needed within the 72 hours. The roster on the team’s webpage will be updated after each approved player registration.”

      C7: “During the official playing season, a player shall not sign for another team within the League until the team’s current managing director of record properly releases her from her former team. No team shall approach a player who is registered with another team within the Division without the consent of her team. A player desiring her release shall apply to her team and according to USASA rules must be released if she has met all the conditions set forth here. In the event that she is refused, she may bring the matter to the attention of the League with reasons stated. Any player withholding property of the team of which she was last a member of shall not be eligible for release or transfer.”

      1. Random

        funny rosters are frozen unless the league registrar approved after freeze date, with a loop hole like that can you really call then frozen.

      2. Kevin Parker Post author

        Jorma has informed me that despite the wording above the League Registrar set the registration deadline at July 12, so the Andrews signing did not require any sort of special exemption. So the main beef should be with the League for setting the registration deadline after the regular season was over for most teams, not so much with the Mutiny for taking advantage of it by re-signing one of their former players.

  1. Random2

    Law C6 illegal player: An illegal player is a player not properly registered with the League and/or the USSF/USASA and does not appear on the Team Roster. A team using an illegal player shall forfeit 3-0 all games illegal player(s) plays in and will lose 3 points per illegal player per game.

    1. Kevin Parker Post author

      Last year the Maryland Capitols (now ACF Torino) got a match result overturned based on that rule, so it can be enforced.

      And I’m not saying that what they did was a violation of the league rules – the fact that Syracuse’s protest against it failed indicates that – just that it’s unsporting to sign a player just for the playoffs. You should play the postseason with the roster that got you there. How would they have liked it if the Charge could somehow have borrowed Christine Nairn back for the weekend?

      1. Jorma Kansanen

        If it was within the rules and deemed so by the league, we would’ve zipped our yaps and played the game. Best “team” almost always prevails at this level. The LI Fury did that in their first year in the WPSL: a played-in lot of players who beat a bunch of teams with former pro players on them.

  2. Jorma Kansanen

    Whoever “Random” or “Random2” is needs to step out from behind the curtain. This is Jorma Kansanen, Media Relations Director of the Mutiny & Springfield Sirens for the past 13 years (and who also served in the same capacity for the WPSL for 7 years). The player in question was cleared to play by the WPSL. Period. Anything else is insinuation and misinformation. Kudos to Kevin for posting the fact the Mutiny were missing 5 key starters in last night’s match: 2 central defenders who started in 21 games combined, our starting defensive MF & center forward plus the MF who scored and assisted on both GWG’s vs. Syracuse and Empire Revs WNY last weekend. Did Morgan Andrews play five positions at once last night? I know the webcast was choppy… but no. She played as a team member with 13 other “ringers” – as we’ve know called them.

    1. Random

      I asked about the rule and critiqued the rule/wpsl not the mutiny. in fact I was a mutiny season tix holder last year and they are my local team, schedule didn’t work for me to do so again this year. I realize you guys are getting a lot of flak, but I asked about the rule to understand the situation better please don’t assume negative intent. I felt like the rule should be part of the discussion, not just a team who benefited from it. the mutiny played within the rules, but it doesn’t mean that the rules make sense. I would guess the team switch was initiated by Andrews and I don’t blame her, she is a soccer-holic who I assume wants to get more high level Games in before starting college. good for her for taking the initiative to. do so.

  3. necron99

    I don’t know about random/random2, but most people are not calling Morgan Andrews an illegal player. We are calling her a ringer. And she clearly meets the definition of that. You would not have added her to the roster for the playoffs if you didn’t think she would help you win. Hell any team in the league would have added her to their playoff roster if they had the connections to do so.

    The question isn’t whether she was illegal, it is whether she should have been illegal.

    What you did wasn’t sporting. A player should not be brought in from a competitor after their original team is out of the playoffs. Otherwise you shouldn’t have playoffs, you should have a 4 game all-star team championship. That way every team can fairly and evenly pull in all of the best players from the whole WPSL after each of their teams are eliminated.

    1. Jorma Kansanen

      I don’t usually respond to commentators who won’t specifically identify themselves… but here we go…

      This whole “ringer” notion and how its unethical/unsportsmanlike is naive, petty and generally comes from the fans of the teams who lost. On the same day Morgan rejoined our team (7/12), the Pali Blues announced two US U23’s and a U20 to their team for the playoff run. That same week LA Strikers FC announced 3 pretty highly touted signings & “alums” (just like Morgan is to our team) for the playoff run. After competing in the USASA National Championship, KC Shock signed a few players for their playoff run, including arguably the “ringer” from the KC Dynamo team they played there. In all three instances, those players would play only one regular season game… however, all those games had playoff/postseason implications (meaning, they were the “playoffs”).

      This team-building tactic has been done for years, still happens and teams have every right to add these “ringers” as long as its within the league rules. At this level, the combo of injuries, other various commitments (our stud central defender who started 12 games is on a long-ago pre-planned family vacation in AUS right now) and the influence of college coaches (ie. callbacks) makes it almost a must for teams with post-season ambitions… or those teams who would like to have a couple of subs on their bench.

      This whole “ringer” notion also opens up an entire new debate on who can play & what teams will play at this level; esp. when it comes to NWSL/pro affiliates. In 2009, Ajax America had 5 LA Sol players join the team for the postseason. In 2011, the same number did so for the Aztec Breakers Reserves (WPS Boston’s “farm” team). Let me also bring up the fact that Ajax and Aztec didn’t win a Nat’l Championship those seasons. They lost to played-in, well-organized teams whose players were “on paper” of lesser quality. Those are just two examples. I can’t talk specifically to the W-League sides with pro affiliates. 2011 was my last year as WPSL Media Director. Also, all WPSL/WLeague teams who have training/playing relationships with pro teams are at a clear competitive advantage (ie. “ringer” central) vs. the rest of us.

      1. Concerned for the Integrity of the League

        Considering the league allows an unlimited number of rostered players, you should be deep long before you even get into playoff contention. The W-League’s rules don’t come into play here, so the mere reference of Pali Blues is absurd. This has nothing to do with who won or lost, it has to do with ethics. The by-laws state 20 days… the rules can’t just be “changed” mid-season by one person. The by-laws are voted on by the league. And since you just admitted that Andrews was signed on the 12th… the 20 days was long gone at that point. It’s a shame that the other teams affected by this (Syracuse, Empire Revs) don’t have the fight in them for what is right and ethical. Seems to me that someone is bending the rules to fit their needs. What does that say to the other players who have been there, working hard, all season, when you need to bring in a “ringer” to win?

        1. Jorma Kansanen

          Again… the anonymous commentators… I’m not going to address any flailing attempt to insult or denigrate our organization (which has been in operation for 13 years) but I’ll do my best to continue to address this debate.

          As Kevin posted in an earlier comment, the deadline was set by the League Registrar for 7/12. We had to look a few times at that to make sure ourselves since the rulebook is so clear. You’re right, the rule/date shouldn’t have been changed. It needs to be revisited and clarified in the off-season. With this level, rules need to be revised & updated every year. I’m not going to say the WPSL is a well-oiled machine. Far from it. Not even close.

          To pontificate about how easy, etc. it is to maintain a roster in such a league is once again, naive. For example, Syracuse has an official roster listed on the WPSL site of around 40 players, yet they were laminating new player registrations immediately prior to the kickoff of our East quarterfinal. Just to have 3-4 subs on their bench. We had an updated roster and cleared those players. Again, there were protests made to the league and the Mutiny were cleared of them. Period. The End.

        2. Random

          did you read all the comments the rules weren’t changed the league set the deadline as the 12th and that was the date she was signed. the mutiny don’t make the rules, they acted within them. your user name hits the nail on the head, the LEAGUE needs to read its bylaws and set the cutoff date appropriately. I wonder if playoffs starting at different times for some divisions caused them to set the date later.

          Jorma makes a good point in regards to teams with affiliations with the pro league def provides an advantage, but to others points continuity isn’t there.

          1. Concerned for the Integrity of the League

            @ Random – the rules WERE changed. That IS my point. Everyone’s copy of the by-laws says rosters freeze 20 days before the Championship finals… and now, out of nowhere, it is 12 days. There was no vote. By-laws are supposed to be voted on by the teams at the AGM, not changed mid-season. How convenient. And apparently only a few of the 70+ teams were notified that there was this change. Or maybe other teams would have looked to fluff their rosters. It certainly does need looking into, in the off-season, but that doesn’t help the teams that were affected by this change, now. The “releasing of players” rule also needs looking into… just because you quit one team, does not mean that you are automatically released. The Mutiny may have done what the league said was allowed, but that doesn’t make it right. Rules are there for a reason… but apparently, NO ONE follows them.

  4. WPSL Fan

    This whole argument comes down to “team” and “commitment”. As mentioned the rosters are plenty big to make it through the season….no need to bring in ringers. If you can’t fill your roster before the season then don’t get in the league. For players that have pre-planned vacations…..oh, well, you signed up to play, either you make the commitment or you don’t. Teams should not compensate by bringing in ringers.
    That’s totally absurd. A rule change is in order and the league needs to take action.

    PS my daughter’s team was missing 4 starters for the playoffs and her team didn’t pick up ringers….they played with players rostered from the start of the season.


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