By Alan Douglas/whitecapsfc.com
Vancouver Whitecaps Prospects Women defeated Victoria Stars 4-0 in the semifinals of the Dave Fryatt Challenge Cup in Kelowna, BC, on Saturday afternoon.
The result in the Okanagan means the Prospects now advance to Sunday's championship match in the Pacific Coast Soccer League playoffs at Kelowna's Apple Bowl.
Striker Alicia Tesan scored two second-half goals, while Jenna Richardson had the winner and Nikki Ambrose added the icing on the cake with a fourth goal. Unfortunately for the Prospects, goalscoring star Richardson suffered a badly sprained ankle late in the match and will likely be sidelined for several weeks.
Wild weather was a feature in Kelowna on this day, just as it was in Vancouver. A fierce thunderstorm and torrential downpour struck 45 minutes before the match started, delaying the kickoff for a time.
Prospects coach Alan Churchard made five changes from the team that had closed out the regular season with a 4-0 win over the same Victoria side. Jennifer Castillo came in at centre back, while Nicole Setterlund lined up in midfield in the familiar 4-3-3 formation. Up front was the dangerous strike force of Richardson, Jaclyn Sawicki, and Jenna Di Nunzio.
Adding extra interest to the afternoon contest was the presence of Canadian women's national team head coach Carolina Morace and her assistant Andrea Neil, as they took in the match from a scouting perspective.
The Whitecaps got off to a strong start, taking the game to the 2008 league and cup champions from the outset. However, it was not until the 27th minute that the Prospects opened the scoring. Di Nunzio played the ball through for Richardson and she slotted it past Victoria goalkeeper Steph Parker for a 1-0 lead.
Although the 'Caps were maintaining control of the game, the Stars could not be counted out. Victoria were getting strong efforts from midfielder Sarah Rhodes and striker Kate Hamilton. However, their hard work went unrewarded against Vancouver's well-marshaled backline, reported Churchard. "Carolyn Bell was the real organizer of our defence, and was well supported by Mel Bowen, Jen Castillo, and Nikki Ambrose," said Churchard. He also credited the talented back four for their ability to pass the ball around quickly, to become the first line of attack.
The Whitecaps led 1-0 at the break.
Striker Tesan came into the game at halftime, but despite Vancouver pressure, the Whitecaps could not find a way past Parker in the Stars goal. The opposing keeper played well and could not be faulted on any of the goals she conceded.
On the hour mark, Churchard changed things around, as he switched to a 4-4-2 formation after introducing midfielder Kendra Williams to the game. The revised tactics paid dividends, as the Prospects scored on a beautifully worked goal on 72 minutes. Midfielder Tessa Meyer was the central figure in some quick and crisp passing, with the ball ending up on the feet of Tesan, who fired it home to make it 2-0.
Four minutes later, Tesan struck again after more fabulous approach play. Meyer and Natalie Boyd worked the ball around midfield before springing Richardson down the right flank. She outpaced her marker and fired a hard low ball across the six-yard box for Tesan to direct into the back of the net for 3-0.
"Nat Boyd was her usual generalissimo in midfield, with strong supporting play and superb passing," said Churchard, "while Tessa Meyer worked tirelessly, and was especially creative in her play today."
Vancouver's final goal came on 81 minutes and was the result of Richardson's blinding pace down the flank. She outran the Victoria fullback and cut into the edge of the penalty area before firing another low cross in front. This effort found its way to the far side, where left fullback Ambrose had made one of her charging runs up the field to fire her shot home.
Two minutes later, however, Richardson went down under a strong tackle and was in terrible pain. A double sprain to the ankle is the preliminary diagnosis, which means her role in the tournament, unfortunately, is at an end.
It finished 4-0 to the Whitecaps.
While goalkeeper Gurveen Clair did not face many difficult shots in recording the shutout, Churchard said she exuded tremendous confidence, and played extremely well. Clair has clearly benefited from her recent time with the first team, where she worked closely with first-team goalkeeper Sian Bagshawe.
The Whitecaps will now face undefeated regular season champions Fraser Valley Action in Sunday morning's cup final. In their semifinal match on Saturday, the Action came from behind to defeat CMFSC Xtreme 3-2. The Dave Fryatt Challenge Cup championship game from Kelowna's Apple Bowl kicks off at 10:00 a.m. PDT.
27' - VAN - Jenna Richardson
72' - VAN - Alicia Tesan
76' - VAN - Alicia Tesan
81' - VAN - Nikki Ambrose
Whitecaps Prospects Women
1.Gurveen Clair; 7.Melissa Bowen (14.Sarah Pennington 83'), 16.Carolyn Bell, 25.Jennifer Castillo, 15.Nikki Ambrose; 12.Nicole Setterlund (3.Maryse Reichgeld 85'), 4.Natalie Boyd, 19.Tessa Meyer; 22.Jenna Richardson (18.Katie Turney 83'), 6.Jaclyn Sawicki (2.Jessica Hadden 45'), 10.Jenna Di Nunzio (5.Alicia Tesan 45'; 11.Kendra Williams 60')