Hood West Final
Nils Lawrence

Whitecaps FC women defeat Santa Clarita Blue Heat 4-3 in thrilling W-League Western Conference Final

Vancouver Whitecaps FC women advanced to the United Soccer Leagues W-League Championship ‘Final Four’ with a thrilling 4-3 win away to Santa Clarita Blue Heat in the Western Conference playoff final on Sunday evening.

With the 'Caps down to ten players, substitute rookie forward Jenna Richardson scored a late goal to give Vancouver the victory in a wildly entertaining match. The 'Caps will now face Atlanta Silverbacks in the W-League semifinals next Friday in Tukwila, Washington.

Recently signed Canadian international Kaylyn Kyle got the start in midfield to make her first appearance of the season for the 'Caps, and ended up scoring one of the goals. Another late addition to the squad, veteran defender Martina Franko, also scored for Vancouver. Up front, head coach Hubert Busby Jr. went with the experienced forward line of Sydney Leroux, Jen Stoltenberg, and Carrie Patterson.

The match featured end-to-end action from start to finish, with both teams pushing for goals, and both goalkeepers having plenty to do. Early on, Whitecaps FC goalkeeper Jaclyn Dunnett had to be quick off her goal line to thwart a potential breakaway from Hannah Beard. Then on 10 minutes, Blue Heat goalkeeper Cynthia Jacobo did well to stop Patterson, who redirected a low blast from Tina Romagnuolo.

The home side then opened the scoring on 18 minutes. Beard made some good moves in the box on the left before squaring it for Liz Franco to fire home from eight yards out.

The 'Caps equalized on 32 minutes on a sensational 25-yard rocket from Leroux. It was her team-leading 12th goal of the season.

Vancouver passed the ball nicely throughout the first half and continued to apply pressure. Kyle fired just wide from good position late in the half before a long shot from Patterson was deflected wide in time added on.

From the ensuing corner kick by Tiffany Weimer, the ball bounced off a couple of players in front before dropping for Franko to fire Vancouver into a 2-1 lead at the break. It was her 36th career goal for the club, to go with 19 assists, moving Franko into a tie for the team's all-time scoring lead on 91 points, level with Amber Allen (40 goals and 11 assists).

The first half ended with Vancouver leading 2-1.

Whitecaps FC came out strong to start the second half. On 47 minutes, Stoltenberg flew down the right flank and sent a great diagonal ball to find Leroux unmarked on the left. She cut inside past Jacobo, then blasted her shot off the underside of the crossbar. Kyle, though, was on hand to fire in the loose ball, giving Whitecaps FC what seemed to be a comfortable 3-1 advantage.

On 51 minutes, however, Franko came off injured and Santa Clarita were able to capitalize on a couple of lapses, while Vancouver's defence adjusted. On 53 minutes, Laura Dodd broke in on the left unmarked, and while her low shot hit the far post, the rebound came out to Beard at the edge of the 18-yard box, and she fired in to make it 3-2.

Three minutes later, a long free kick by Santa Clarita skipped past everyone, including goalkeeper Dunnett, giving Shasta Fisher an open goal to level the score.

The 'Caps soon regained their composure though, and went looking for a winning goal. On 66 minutes, Weimer made a good run then slipped it ahead to Stoltenberg, whose quick hit was saved. Moments later, Jacobo dove to push a Leroux header wide of the post. Then with a quarter-hour remaining, Weimer played it ahead for Kyle 10 yards out, and Jacobo made a big stop at the near post.

On 81 minutes, Vancouver were reduced to ten players when defender Lexi Marton was shown two quick yellow cards and a subsequent red card.

Playing short-handed, and with extra time looming, Vancouver found a dramatic late winner. On 87 minutes, Weimer's corner kick on the left was headed powerfully on goal by captain Kelsey Hood, and while Jacobo made the stop, she could not hold on to the ball. Richardson was right there to get the rebound and blast in her fifth goal in seven matches.

Whitecaps FC ran out the clock to win 4-3, as the 'Caps finished with a 20-11 edge in shots. It was mission accomplished for the 'Caps, as they finally exacted revenge on the Blue Heat, who had twice defeated Vancouver during the regular season.

Whitecaps FC now head to the W-League Championship ‘Final Four’ for the seventh time in the team's 11-year history. The 'Caps go in as the number three seed, and will face second-seeded Atlanta Silverbacks, who won the Central Conference. The other semifinal has top-ranked Ottawa Fury from the Eastern Conference facing tournament hosts Seattle Sounders women. Both matches are set for next Friday at the Starfire Sports Stadium in Tukwila, Washington. The championship final will be played on Sunday.

Scoring Summary:
18' - SC - Liz Franco (Hannah Beard)
32' - VAN - Sydney Leroux
45' - VAN - Martina Franko
47' - VAN - Kaylyn Kyle (Sydney Leroux)
53' - SC - Hannah Beard (Laura Dodd)
56' - SC - Shasta Fisher (Sydney Vermillion)
87' - VAN - Jenna Richardson (Kelsey Hood)

Match Stats:
Shots: Vancouver 20 - Santa Clarita 11
Saves: Vancouver 2 - Santa Clarita 7
Fouls: Vancouver 11 - Santa Clarita 8
Offsides: Vancouver 1 - Santa Clarita 1
Corners: Vancouver 8 - Santa Clarita 2

81' - VAN - Lexi Marton

81' - VAN - Lexi Marton (second yellow)

Vancouver Whitecaps FC
1.Jaclyn Dunnett; 15.Krista Kruse, 4.Lexi Marton, 19.Marina Franko (14.Keshia Wallin 51'), 7.Tina Romagnuolo; 8.Tiffany Weimer (6.Amy Vermeulen 88'), 22.Kelsey Hood, 88.Kaylyn Kyle; 17.Carrie Patterson (21.Jenna Richardson 64'), 9.Sydney Leroux, 20.Jen Stoltenberg

Subs not used:1.Erin McNulty, 10.Tseng Shu-O, 11.Alysha Bonnick

Santa Clarita Blue Heat
1.Cynthia Jacobo; 2.Kayla Kret (17.Sydney Vermillion 45'), 5.Katie Russ, 12.Brielle Slipicoff, 14.Madison VanDine; 7.Stacey Rodwell, 25.Francesca Williams (11.Nadia Perl 50'), 29.Alba Mendez, 31.Laura Dodd; 24.Hannah Beard, 20.Liz Franco (16.Shasta Fisher 37') 

Subs not used: 32.Haley Hawes, 3.Malin Barrulf, 4.Rachel Gillis, 9.Melissa Fernandez