WPSL Central Playoffs: Divisional Round Review

How it works:

At this stage, the divisional winners face each other. Don’t see Heartland or North? That’s because those conferences only have one division, so the regular season champion is the Conference champion and goes through to the next round. Or at least, they do if they don’t withdraw (see below).

Colorado Rapids Women 5-1 Utah Avalanche for the Mountain Conference in Denver, Colorado

Rapids got off to a scorching start, Alyssa Glover sliding in to finish a mazy run by … with only two minutes on the clock. Marianna Annest made it 2-0 with a PK in the eighth minute. The third goal came in the twenty-ninth minute, Sophia Nguyen slotting in at the near post after a long ball forward met her in stride in the penalty area.

It would remain 3-0 until the fifty-sixth minute when a long cross from the right was met by the diving head of Camryn Macmillan, who sent a looping ball back past the keeper at the far post. Callie Blaylock made it 4-1 in the seventy-first minute,  with a long distance snap shot which seemed to catch the Rapids keeper off-guard. Glover scored again in the seventy-ninth minute to make it 5-1, blasting a shot from the top of the area after a perfectly placed pass.

FC Milwaukee Torrent 3-2 Columbus Eagles FC (AET) for the Midwest Conference crown in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin

Columbus made the nine-hour road trip on the day of the game and arrived in Milwaukee around three hours before kick-off, with only two available subs (not including our woman to watch Abby Townsend) – in a league where substitutions are unlimited.

Lola Wojcik provided an early test of Celeste Sloma in the Eagles net but was unable to break through. In the fifteenth minute, Alexa Maletis played through Sophia Balistreri but the shot was sent wide by Sloma. Eagles were playing slow-slow-quick-quick-slow and the quick came through some audacious shot attempts, the first of which was Lacee Bethea trying to chip Mikki Easter in the Torrent goal, but it went wide in the seventeenth minute. Even as the Eagles had the stronger chances it was Torrent who went ahead through a penalty kick in the twenty-fifth minute, after a foul on Elsi Twombly, with the aggrieved party taking the shot herself. Columbus still did not stop attacking and had a chance to level it in the 29th minute but the ball was comfortably caught by Mikki Easter in the Torrent goal.

Instead, it was Torrent increasing their lead – also from the penalty spot – as Lainey Higgins was fouled in the back and stepped up to also score her penalty kick. At that point it seemed that everything Columbus could throw at the challenge was going to founder on the rocks of a Torrent defense that had not conceded a goal at home this season but the Eagles kept trying, with Tori Haggitt and Lacee Bethea both missing chances before half time.

Torrent would come out of half time with an apparent desire to drive in a nail, but a chance in the forty-sixth minute was saved by Sloma. Eagles then had a chance put wide and Maletis slashed a shot wide in the fifty-fifth minute.

Columbus finally made a dent in the deficit only four minutes later, as Victoria Kevdzija on a one-two with Lacee Bethea unleashed a shot from twenty-two yards out into the bottom corner of the net to stun the Torrent players and fans. The Eagles continued to attack and they found their equalizer in the seventy-second minute, as Bethea pounced on a rebound from a save.

The last fifteen minutes of the half saw the Eagles dominate possession, seemingly looking to settle the result without Extra Time, and Sydney Worthy hammered a shot against the crossbar and away from danger but neither side could find a break through and we went on to an extra 30 minutes.

Extra Time opened with the Eagles still applying the pressure and Torrent on the counter-attack, however the best chance in the first half of ET was a shot from Twombly, deflected over.

The Torrent would not have to wait much longer for a breakthrough, however, as they burst out of the blocks from kick off in the second half of ET and Alexa Maletis side-footed the ball into the net within 30 seconds of the restart.

It was at this point that the wind finally left the wings of the Eagles as they took a series of long range shots on goal, perhaps in the hope of duplicating the momentum shift of regulation time.


Coming Up

The winners of these two matches will join Salvo (representing the North Conference) and KC Courage (Heartland champions) in the Central Region semifinals on Saturday July 15th in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.

Northern winners Minnesota Thunder declined their invite because of player availability.

Salvo lost narrowly in the regional semi-finals last year, although this year, they avoid facing the #1 seeded Rapids until a potential Regional Final. Courage were in UWS. Torrent lost (in less than ideal circumstances) to KC Current II.

WPSL Central Region Semifinals: Colorado Rapids Women v KC Courage - July 15 - 4:00 pm CDT FC Milwaukee Torrent v Salvo SC - July 15 - 7:00 pm CDT Regional Finals Central Winner Game 1 v Central Winner Game 2 - July 16 - 3:00pm CDT
The regional finals for the Central region of the Women’s Premier Soccer League
Image: WPSL