Perfect Pali win W-League championship
The Pali Blues triumphed 2-1 over FC Indiana in the W-League Championship game Saturday.
The Pali Blues came out loose and relax and it showed early in the contest. Pali was in control of the game early and dominated possession. However, FC Indiana scored the first goal of the match. Midfielder and Mexican international Fatima Leyva sent a dangerous curling corner in the 47th minute that found the head of Jessica O'Rourke to make it 1-0 FC Indiana.
This was the first time all season that Pali trailed in a match and it took awhile for the Blues to regain their focus and command of the game.
FC Indiana continued on the offensive following the goal and in the 57th minute almost made the score 2-0 when Lauren Sesselmann went down the sidelines and sent in a cross the Del Rio just headed wide of the goal. Del Rio was at it again in the 70th minute, when she sent another beautiful cross that FC Indiana forward Mexican international Monica Ocampo got too, but was unable to put on goal.
"We were really struggling to make anything happen in the first part of the second half," said Pali coach Naimo. "We switched our formation from a 4-4-2 to a 3-4-3 to try and get some energy up top."
The switch worked magically for Naimo and in the 83rd minute Pali leveled the match. Pali defender Amy LePeilbet beat all FC Indiana players in the air to the ball from a corner sent in by Rosie Tantillo and smoothly deflected the ball past FC Indiana goalie Kristen Luckenbill.
The equalizing goal sent waves of confidence through the Blues players and sent FC Indiana into a state of shock they could not recover from. Pali used the bounce in their step just five minutes later to score the game-winning goal. Defender Kandace Wilson, who was moved up top by Naimo in the second half, beat her defender on the wing and sent in a cross that went over the outstretched hands of Luckenbill. Italian international Ilaria Pasqui jumped at the opportunity and sent a diving header into the back of the net for only her second goal of the year.
FC Indiana frantically tried to gather themselves to find the equalizer, but none came, and Pali rode the strength of two goals in the final 10 minutes to win the 2008 W-League Championship.
"Our depth was a huge reason why we won this game," said Naimo. "Our bench gave us the energy we needed and helped put us on top."
FC Indiana's loss was especially devastating to midfielder Kelly Parker, who is now 0-3 in W-League Championship games.
"To have the game in our hands, to be able to see the trophy right in front of us, this just hurts a lot," said an obviously dejected Parker. "With the 1-0 goal lead we played a little bit safer but the momentum swing at the end of the game was too much to overcome."
With the win the Pali Blues finished their season with a perfect 14-0-0 record, trailing only for a period of 36 minutes -- as about a perfect a season as any team could produce. Star defender Amy LePeilbet was named the Most Valuable Player of the W-League Championship as she scored the goal that breathed life back to Pali.
This year's W-League Championship tournament may have a larger impact off the field over the months to come as players are selected for the debut season of Women's Professional Soccer. In 2000, the W-League final four would see 23 players go on to be drafted by the Women's United Soccer Association as it embarked on its first year, including star players like Charmaine Hooper, Marci Miller, Lisa Krzykowski, Thori Bryan and Nel Fettig. Five players with WUSA experience were in the Virginia Beach this weekend with Seattle's Michelle French and Washington foursome of Kele Golebiowski, Emily Janss, Lori Lindsey and Christie Welsh.