The last time Washington Freedom took the pitch in an official league competition, they left as the WUSA Founders Cup III champions in the fall of 2003 against the Atlanta Beat 2-1 in overtime.
Ironically, on Sunday, they will take on another Atlanta side when they meet the Silverbacks for the W-League Championship at 5:30pm ET on Fox Sports World Canada and Fox Soccer Channel in the US from Rochester, New York’s PAETEC Park.
The Freedom, in their first official season in the W-League of United Soccer Leagues, cruised to a 3-0 victory over the W-League Championship tournament host Rochester Raging Rhinos Friday night in the second semifinal, downing a gutsy squad that saw goalkeeper Joy McKenzie put forth a fantastic outing to keep the match close most of the way.
United States international Christie Welsh had the first good look of the night when she got the ball at the upper right corner of the six-yard box and made a nice move to create some space before sending a shot on goal from a narrow angle that McKenzie was able to stop just minutes into the match.
The continual pressure of the Freedom on the offensive end caught up with the Rhinos in the 10th minute when Rebecca Moros turned inside on the left half of the field and centered the ball to an awaiting Welsh, who rifled a shot off the upper corner of the woodwork from 19 yards. The ball would rebound out to the middle of the box and before the Rhinos could clear, it would pop out to Sara Huffman, who buried her shot from 20 yards out for the early lead on her first goal of the year.
The lead nearly doubled at the 14-minute mark when Huffman sent a ball into the box from the right flank to an open Welsh, who stretched out to toe-poke a shot on goal, but only to see McKenzie make a spectacular diving save to knock it wide. ??Moros, crashing into the six-yard box, put away a cross from Huffman in the 29th minute to give the Freedom the 2-0 lead a half hour into the match.
With a goal and an assist, Huffman was an unlikely candidate pre-game to be the difference maker in the match, coming into the contest with just one assist on the regular-season campaign in just five games played, and another as she played in the two conference playoff matches last weekend.
The Rhinos nearly cut the deficit in half on a free kick in the 41st minute when Jacquie Lacek nearly redirected a cross inside the near post, but only to see it go just wide.
All-League midfielder Lori Lindsey put the game well out of reach at 3-0 with a fantastic strike from 19 yards that McKenzie could not reach as she dove to make the stop.
A 69th minute free kick from Lindsey 20 yards out nearly gave the Freedom a fourth, but back-up Rhinos goalkeeper Lauren Robertson made a diving save to prevent the set piece tally.
Atlanta advances to W-League Final
Atlanta Silverbacks overcame a shaky start in the first semifinal of the W-League Championship tournament Friday night to rally past the Seattle Sounders and advance to the Championship match with a resounding 4-1 victory.
The last team to arrive in full in Rochester courtesy of a cross-country trek, the Sounders needed very little time to get on the board, as Lyndsey Patterson scored just six minutes into the semifinal match against the Silverbacks, who had not trailed in a match since their 2-2 draw at home against Cocoa on July 6 - a span of four games including their two conference playoff matches.
Patterson, who was dribbling around the Atlanta defenders throughout the game, created the goal when she beat an Atlanta back just inside the upper right corner of the box and struck a beautiful shot from 17 yards over goalkeeper Courtney Cripps and into the far side netting.
A header from Sarah Steinman in the 38th minute was just out of reach of Melanie Schneider, who was on the doorstep for an easy put-away. Two minutes later, Steinman nearly had the equalizer when she created some space on the right side of the box and let off a low drive that ricocheted off the bottom of the far post and away.
The Silverbacks finally pulled level just before the break when a ball up the right flank left Krista Davey with plenty of space, as she charged toward the box. Just as she reached the penalty area, she sent a low cross into the six where Canadian international Christine Latham dove for low header from five yards, as the goalkeeper charged in and the Seattle defender attempted to clear it, sacrificing herself for the 44th minute equalizer.
Halftime substitute Tara Minnax proved an immediate impact, as she buried a shot from just outside the box less than two minutes into the second stanza. A corner kick from Krista Davey created a scramble inside the box before Monica Buff dropped the ball back to the edge of the box to an onrushing Minnax, who rifled it inside the left post past Sounders star Michelle French and goalkeeper Carly Smolak.
Atlanta nearly doubled the lead in the 56th minute. Minnax sent a ball over the defense from the top of the box to the top of the six-yard box for Schneider, who chested the ball down and ripped a shot off the volley only to have defender Kelli Smith block it. In the 64th minute, as Davey was driving across the top of the box, the ball popped loose on a challenge to Schneider, who sent the ball from 19 yards off the crossbar. ??Buff stunned everyone in the 68th minute when she ripped a 30-yard shot on goal that Smolak mishandled and allowed to fall into the goal for a 3-1 Atlanta lead.
Second half substitute Michelle Baysa had an excellent chance to pull the Sounders back within one in the 72nd minute when Patterson slipped the ball to her. Baysa sent a dipping shot that went just high over the goal from 20 yards.
Minnax found Steinman in the 80th minute to put the match out away with a ball over the top of the defense. Steinman took a touch on the volley before burying the ball from nine yards to make it 4-1.
The Silverbacks continue to dominate in the postseason, outscoring their opposition now 13-3 in their three playoff games.