By Adam Dunivan
Nikki Marshall and her Colorado Force teammates did their part.
Now, all they can do is cross their fingers.
With a 3-0 home win against the Vancouver Whitecaps and a 2-0 loss by Seattle on Friday night, playoff hopes for the Colorado squad are looking a bit more gleamy.
Finishing the season on a three-match win streak, Colorado just needs the top-seeded Pali Blues to defeat or tie the Sounders tonight, and the second playoff spot out of the W-League Western Conference is theirs.
“If we make the playoffs, the girls will be over the moon, and if we don’t, we know we finished on a high,” said coach Craig Deacon, whose team improved to 4-2-6 overall and 18 points. “We came away with three wins, and it’s been about development, getting better, and for that, we’ve had a great time.”
Marshall, who scored a goal to get the Force going on a crisp summer night at Loveland Sports Park, was worried that those six ties for the season might be the death of the team’s postseason hopes.
But, the team made sure in a big way to make a statement in the regular season finale.
“I think we deserve to go to the playoffs; those ties are probably going to kill us,” said Marshall, who was unaware of Seattle’s loss, one of two they need. “We’ll see though. It’s up to Seattle now.”
A tough stretch that included four games in eight days — the prior three all in California — brought some consistency to the club, and it reflected in the win column.
“We’ve had a weird season of ties and misfortunes of not winning when we should have ... but we went out there and came out with two wins. Came back here and knew what we had to do,” said goalie Maria Del Guercio, who was credited with three saves in the win over the Whitecaps. “We weren’t thinking about playoffs, really. We just wanted to show how much we appreciate everyone in our last home game.”
Coming out with an aggressive tone, the Force took action early and scored a pair of goals within the first 23 minutes of play and remained on the attack for a majority of play.
Marshall hit a crossbar and a post with her first two shots — which led Deacon to proclaim she’s got to have some sort of record — but she didn’t miss with a third attempt when the ball bounced off the far post in the 18th minute.
On the play, Marshall had 40 yards of open space after eluding a single defender.
That marked the first time Colorado had ever led a game against Vancouver, a team that had gone 15-0-2 against the Colorado franchise in its history.
Emmalie Pfankuch added a goal just five minutes later when she made a quick deflection of a Sarah Campbell header in the 23rd minute.
“Two-nil going into the second half was amazing,” said Del Guercio, who had a momentum-changing save on Kirsteen Buchan prior to her team getting on the board. “I was a little nervous — I won’t lie — but I came out and gave it my all, and the girls in front of me were working hard, too.”
Having seen a couple of 2-0 leads disappear this season, Pfankuch added a third goal late (75th minute) to secure the win. Just after Monica Dolinsky had dribbled through a pair of defenders on the right wing, she made the long cross to a wide-open Pfankuch, who headed the ball past goalie Sian Bagshawe.
“We had a target for where we wanted to be, what we wanted to do, and the girls kept it to a T,” Deacon said. “It was a very good tactically played game.”
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