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.
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