USL News Release (photos - Tom Minto)
Friday, August 7, 2009
BOYDS, MD -- Just days away from the US-Mexico World Cup qualifier, it was a Mexican international that proved the star of the W-League Championship Friday night at the Maryland SoccerPlex as the 2008 champion Pali Blues repeated. The California club came from behind for a 2-1 win a second straight year, downing the 2007 title winner Washington Freedom on their home field on a goal and assist from Iris Mora.
The hosts took the initial lead in the contest in the 14th minute of play from a restart. Washington’s Katherine Watson turned with the ball 30 yards from goal and was headed straight in on goal before being dragged down by Pali defender Kendal Billingsley, who received a yellow card. France’s Sandra Matute nailed a precise free kick just inside the right post from 24 yards to give the Freedom the early lead.
Billingsley made up for the error in the 37th minute on a second consecutive corner from Iris Mora. As the corner came down to the tall defender in the center of the area, she sent a perfect eight yard header into the back of the net to level the game heading to the break.
Aside from the corner on the equalizer, Mora had been relatively quiet throughout the rest of the match after an early chance as Washington kept the clamp on the Freedom’s key striker, who had tallied in five of their last six contests, including the playoffs. But in the 86th minute, she found some space all alone in the box. The mistake proved costly for Washington as Kirsty Yallap sent a cross in from the right flank, connecting with Mora, who chested the ball down, turned and fired past Eliza Bennett-Hatton from 14 yards for the winner.
The goal and assist on the night earned the Mexican star the W-League Champion Most Valuable Player honor as she helped lead the club to its second straight title, becoming the third club in league history to claim back-to-back championships (Raleigh Wings 1998-99 and Boston Renegades 2001-02) and the fifth to win two league titles (Long Island Lady Riders 1995, 97 and Vancouver Whitecaps 2004, 06). It is the third title for head coach Charlie Naimo, who also led the New Jersey Wildcats to the championship in 2005.
“It feels so good to have two undefeated seasons, and I am so happy for our girls,” Pali head Charlie Naimo commented after taking his third crown as a coach in four championship appearances. “It’s such a fantastic feeling, and you couldn’t ask for anymore effort than what has been given by this team all year.”
The second consecutive unbeaten championship season, however, was a first in league history. Although the Blues are among three clubs to post two consecutive unbeaten campaigns in the regular season (Chicago Cobras 1999-00 and FC Indiana Lionesses 2008-09), they are the only club to win the league crown both times. Chicago lost in penalties in the 1999 championship before winning from the spot the following year. Finalists a year ago, FC Indiana were knocked out in the conference final this year.
A quick-paced, back-and-forth contest in the early going, a goalkeeping error nearly gave the Freedom the lead in the first minute of play when a lofted ball into the area slipped through the outstretched hands of Pali goalkeeper Joslyn Slovek. The ball dropped to the pitch and a half clearance gave the Freedom a chance on an open goal, but the strike from Jen Parsons went off the crossbar, down and deflected away off the head of the defender standing on the line.
Three minutes later at the other end a through ball right up the middle had Mora on a break, but her first touch around the charging keeper 30 yards from goal was a bit too much as she was unable to recover and the defense was able to shut down the attack.
A fifth minute strike from Jesstine Wolfe went just over the bar from 21 yards out for Washington with Mora getting behind the defense on the other end three minutes later on a cross, but her header flew wide of the target.
With Washington leading after Matute’s excellent free kick, Pali was looking for an equalizer. Just before the 30th minute Rebekah Patrick put a shot over the bar from just inside the box.
Seven minutes later, Billingsley put away the equalizer, however, Washington nearly re-claimed the lead as a missed keeper punch at a corner led to 20 yard attempt from Madison Keller that narrowly missed the opposite upper corner of the goal.
Bennett-Hatton made a huge save at the close of the 56th minute when Pali’s Sabrina DeMonte sent a cross into the area. Yallop dove to get her head on the ball eight yards from goal, but the keeper made a fantastic point blank reaction save to keep it out of the Washington net.
But the heroics were not enough as Mora used her experience to calmly knock the cross down and coolly slot it home for the victory four minutes from time.
“We just did what we had to do, which was to score a goal,” said Mora. “I missed a couple of goals at the beginning. I knew for this game it would be really tight. I just needed to settle, first touch I just thought about one-two. And I saw the ball coming to me, I settled myself, and it was just one-two. That is how it has to be.”
Her performance was expected from coach Naimo.
“No shock, she’s been getting it done all season,” the Blues coach said. “Last week a goal and two assists in the semifinal. Always found a way to get a point in every single game and it’s no surprise to me. Iris was the one that I envisioned pulling us through this one and she did.”
Naimo, who also serves as general manager for the Los Angeles Sol of Women’s Professional Soccer, also went on to discuss how he expects numerous players from this year’s squad to also move onto WPS again this year, but finished saying “We are gonna have to reload for a third run.”