Vancouver Whitecaps FC women suffered their first home defeat since 2008, as they fell to Santa Clarita Blue Heat 2-1 in front of an enthusiastic overflow crowd of 2,050 at Penticton's Kings Park.
With the win, Santa Clarita inch ahead of Vancouver atop the United Soccer Leagues W-League Western Conference standings, even on points but with two games in hand and the better head-to-head record.
The match was hosted by Penticton Pinnacle SC and the South Okanagan Youth Soccer Association on a sunny but blustery and unseasonably cool evening in Penticton, BC.
The 'Caps started brightly. On eight minutes, Sydney Leroux unleashed a good shot which Blue Heat goalkeeper Cynthia Jacobo did well to push against the post, and then gather the rebound which came straight back to her.
Five minutes later, Leroux opened the scoring with her team-leading ninth goal of the season. Midfielder Tina Romagnuolo did most of the work, beating two defenders as she broke into the box on the right, before sending over a perfect cross for Leroux to head in from the doorstep.
The Blue Heat hit back moments later, as star midfielder Edite Fernandes tested 'Caps goalkeeper Jaclyn Dunnett with two shots in two minutes, but Dunnett stopped both with diving saves.
At the other end, Whitecaps FC defender Lexi Marton came close as the ball fell to her in front following a free kick, but her shot clipped a defender and trickled just wide. Moments later, Marton had another chance to turn and shoot on a loose ball after a corner kick, but Jacobo held it well.
Santa Clarita drew level on 36 minutes. Fernandes spotted Dunnett off her goal line, and the Portuguese international fired it over the keeper's head and in from 40 yards. It was the first goal at home that the 'Caps had conceded all season.
In the final minute of the half, Leroux was taken down in the box by defender Madison VanDine and a penalty awarded to Whitecaps FC. Leroux took it herself, but missed the net.
It was 1-1 at the break.
On 50 minutes, Stoltenberg surged up the middle past four defenders, but her shot was blocked. Tiffany Weimer fired the loose ball at goal, but drifted it just wide.
Santa Clarita scored the winner on 54 minutes. Fernandes in the box dropped it for Holly Hein, and she hit a howitzer from 20 yards that went in off the near post.
Vancouver had ample opportunities to find an equalizer, out-shooting the Heat 14 to five in the second half alone. Shots, though, either missed the net or were stopped by Jacobo, who made 10 saves on the night.
On 68 minutes, Richardson skinned her marker on the right, with the ball eventually finding Stoltenberg, but her shot was well saved by Jacobo.
On 76 minutes, the visitors were reduced to 10 players, when Laura Dodd was shown her second yellow card of the match for charging into Dunnett. The Vancouver pressure intensified as time ran down, with Richardson, Amy Vermeulen, and Weimer all blasting powerful shots over the bar, as the crowd gasped.
Vancouver's frustration in the game was matched by Santa Clarita head coach Fabian Sandoval, whose complaints about the officiating finally earned him a red card from referee Korina Busse in the closing seconds.
Busby gave credit to Santa Clarita for winning such a critical match. "They put away their opportunities", he told whitecapsfc.com, "and that was the difference in the game tonight."
Vancouver's record drops to 8W-2L-3D, while Santa Clarita remain undefeated at 8W-0L-3D. The Blue Heat now need only three points from their final three matches, to clinch top spot in the Western Conference and the right to host the conference playoff final.
Whitecaps FC play their final W-League regular season match, as they host Colorado Force next Friday night in Langley, BC, with kickoff set for 7:30 p.m. PT at McLeod Athletic Park. Vancouver would clinch a playoff spot with a win, and will not even need that, should Pali Blues fail to win their game on Saturday at home to Los Angeles Strikers.
Friday's match in Langley is part of the Whitecaps Women's Soccer Series presented by Kia in partnership with the Girls Metro Soccer League - and is hosted by the United Summer Soccer League (USSL). Tickets are available online for just $12 at www.whitecapsfc.com/wtickets.
13' - VAN - Sydney Leroux (Tina Romagnuolo)
36' – SC - Edite Fernandes (Shasta Fisher)
54' – SC - Holly Hein (Edite Fernandes)
Shots: Vancouver 25 - Santa Clarita 10
Saves: Vancouver 2 - Santa Clarita 10
Fouls: Vancouver 21 - Santa Clarita 17
Corners: Vancouver 7 - Santa Clarita 5
Offsides: Vancouver 1 - Santa Clarita 2
18' – SC - Laura Dodd
23' – VAN – Lexi Marton
64' – SC - Katie Russ
76' – SC - Laura Dodd
87' – VAN - Jenna Richardson
76' – SC - Laura Dodd
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
35.Jaclyn Dunnett; 14.Keshia Wallin, 4.Lexi Marton, 3.Shannon Woeller (6.Amy Vermeulen 72'), 15.Krista Kruse; 7.Tina Romagnuolo, 22.Kelsey Hood, 8.Tiffany Weimer; 20.Jen Stoltenberg, 17.Carrie Patterson (21.Jenna Richardson 58'), 9.Sydney Leroux
Subs not used: 29.Kristen Funk, 10.Tseng Shu-O, 11.Alysha Bonnick, 24.Jaclyn Sawicki, 25.Ciara McCormack
Santa Clarita Blue Heat
1.Cynthia Jacobo; 14.Madison VanDine, 5.Katie Russ, 2.Kayla Kret, 12.Brielle Slepicoff; 16.Shasta Fisher (7.Stacey Rodwell 45'), 21.Holly Hein, 18.Edite Fernandes (11.Nadia Pearl 90'+), 31.Laura Dodd; 20.Liz Franco (25.Francesca Williams 69'), 9.Melissa Fernandez (24.Hannah Beard 45')
Subs not used: 32.Haley Hawes, 17.Sydney Vermillion, 23.Tori McDevitt