Spirit Reserves, Colorado Pride to Play for W-League Championship

To few people’s surprise, the favored Washington Spirit Reserves and Colorado Pride won their semifinal matches tonight and will face each other on Sunday for the trophy. What was a surprise were the scores. Top seed Washington struggled to get past fourth-seeded Quebec Dynamo ARSQ, 1-0, despite the Dynamo being down to 10 players with a field player as goalkeeper the final 14 minutes. On the other hand #2 Colorado thrashed the #3 seed and hosts Laval Comets, 4-0, and it could easily have been more.

Early on the Reserves attacking effort mostly consisted of long balls over the top rather than any sort of patient buildup. They did not have much success with that approach.

The Dynamo had the best early chance. In the 19th minute Marie-Mychele Metivier got to the right end line and sent a ball to Joelle Gosselin in the goalmouth. Gosselin fired it in from point-blank range, but goalkeeper Caroline Casey was right there to block the shot.

Three minutes later the Reserves had their chance as Amber Stobbs sent a nice through ball to Imani Dorsey, but goalkeeper Gabrielle Lambert was able to make the save. Three minutes after that, Washington earned a free kick barely outside the box. Aedo took it and sent it high, but Lambert in reacting to it ran hard into the right post and went down. She eventually had to be helped off the field, and backup goalkeeper Joelle-Marie Vandal took over. On paper it didn’t seem much of a loss: Vandal had played 450 minutes during the season to Lambert’s 585, though Lambert had much the better GAA – 0.769 to 1.400.

Quebec had another chance on a through ball in the 35th minute, but the ball was just a step ahead of the onrushing forward, and Casey was just able to get there first.

The lone goal was scored in the 38th minute off a battle for the ball between Spirit forwards and Dynamo defenders. Dorsey fought with a defender for a long ball sent forward by Andi Sullivan. She lost the battle for the ball, but the defender went to the ground. Another one sent the ball across but without much pace to it. Stobbs and two defenders went for the ball with Stobbs getting there first just enough to poke the ball forward in front of an onrushing Aedo. She ran in from about 30 yards out, dodged to her right around Vandal at the top of the box, and easily rolled the ball into the open net. Dynamo players and coaches seemed to think that Dorsey should have been called for a foul on the defender who went down, and Vandal got a yellow card for her complaints.

In the 44th minute, the Reserves had another free kick about 10 yards out from the left corner of the box, but it was Sullivan’s turn to shoot high.

Another Stobbs to Dorsey through ball came in first half stoppage time, but Dorsey couldn’t do anything with it before Vandal and a defender corralled her.

It was the Washington defense’s turn to play poorly in the second half, as they turned the ball over deep in the 53rd and 56th minutes. The former led to a free kick that resulted in a shot right to Casey. And central defender Sullivan was able to recover enough on the latter to distract the forward so she shot off-target.

Things got crazy in the 76th minute as Ashley Herndon sent a beautiful through ball in to Midge Purce – both players second-half substitutes. As Purce came forward, goalkeeper Vandal came out of the penalty area and took the ball from her but used her arms to do it. The referee held up a red card, and Quebec lost their second goalkeeper of the day. (Initial reports said this was a second yellow, but the referee only holds up the one card, so it had to be either handling or fouling to deny a goal-scoring opportunity.)

The Dynamo were out of goalkeepers at that point, so midfielder Arielle Roy-Petitclerc took over in net. But of course Herndon missed just wide right with the free kick.

And despite being down a player, Quebec still put up a battle, getting some dangerous play from a corner kick in the 85th minute. Meanwhile, the Reserves couldn’t pad the score even with an adventurous goalkeeper in the net. In the 88th minute Roy-Petitclerc chased the ball to the edge of the box. The Spirit held possession and managed to get the ball to the top of the box but couldn’t get it in even with an open net. A few minutes later she took the ball from Purce in her own end, then kept running forward with it well into Washington’s end of the field.

The whistle would blow with the score still 1-0. It was a win, but not the sort of statement the Spirit Reserves would have liked to have made. Head coach K. J. Spisak was quoted after the game as saying, “This was not our best performance. We were nonchalant, but we got the win, and that’s all that matters in the end.” (That’s translated back into English from a French match report, so it’s not word-for-word.)

In the second semifinal, the Colorado Pride were on the front foot from the outset, but Laval Comets goalkeeper Rachelle Beanlands (familiar to DC-area fans as the starting goalkeeper for the Maryland Terrapins the last three years as well as for ACF Torino in 2013 and 2014) was up for the challenge early on and kept her team in it.

Laval temporarily lost a key player in the 22nd minute when central defender Kelsey Wilson got a cut on her face and had to come off to be treated. The Comets played with 10 for close to 9 minutes before she returned with a large white bandage wrapped around her head.

The hosts kept the Pride off the scoreboard in that interval, but in the 32nd minute – about a minute after Wilson returned – the Pride’s Darcy Jerman was given too much space to maneuver in the box and put the ball into the lower left corner from about 12 yards out despite having 4 defenders in front of her.

They’d score again in the 42nd minute when a through ball got past Wilson and to Allie Watt behind the line, who would get into the box and send it in past Beanlands.

Right as regulation time in the first half ended, Wilson was whistled for taking down Pride (and league) leading goalscorer Tara Andrews. In a summation of how Laval’s day had gone, Beanlands made the initial save on the penalty kick but couldn’t corral the ball. It rolled right back to Andrews, who had an easy putaway.

The final goal came in the 58th minute as Beanlands tried to kick a backpass clear. She whiffed on it completely, and it rolled into the net behind her.

The Colorado Pride would go into the final with a convincing 4-0 win and will face the Washington Spirit Reserves at 2:30 (EDT). The Laval Comets and Quebec Dynamo ARSQ will play in the consolation match starting at noon.

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