ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Toni Pressley rescued the Flash with a stunning equalizer in the last minute of stoppage time and Angela Salem converted the deciding penalty kick to give Western New York the WPSL Elite championship, defeating the Chicago Red Stars 4-2 on penalty kicks after the teams finished tied 1-1 at the end of 120 minutes.
The title marks the third in a row for the Flash, covering three different leagues. They previously won the W-League in 2010 and WPS in 2011.
“When they come in, first thing when I’m talking to players, I ask do you want to win a championship,” said head coach Aaran Lines, who has been at the helm since 2009. “Most of them reply yes. That’s the easy part. Then it’s about making them believe that they’re good enough to win.”
This championship was heavily in doubt after Ashleigh Ellenwood gave the Red Stars a 1-0 lead in the 40th minute and the Flash were unable to create many chances close to the Chicago goal. Pressley, subbed in early in the second half, took down a ball better than 20 yards from goal, made a clean touch, and blasted a shot that hit the underside of the cross bar and bounced in to make it 1-1.
“The girl can hit it from anywhere,” exulted Brittany Cameron. The Flash goalkeeper, Cameron spilled a ball in the area that allowed Ellenwood to score the first goal of the day. “I should have come out. I take responsibility. Every time I get scored on I always take responsibility.”
Following an even extra time, penalties ensued, bringing back memories of the WPS final 11 months ago when the Flash got the better of the Philadelphia Independence. Through three rounds of penalties both keepers had made a save – Cameron on Julianne Stich and Jaime Forbes on McCall Zerboni. After Emily Van Egmond buried the Flash’s fourth shot, Michelle Wenino hit the post for the Red Stars.
“I had a good jump on it,” Cameron said. “If she hadn’t have hit the post I think I might have saved it. I think I was there. I guess I just got a good read on it and she got a little bit nervous that I kind of jumped on it the right way.”
That left Angela Salem at the spot with a chance to secure the title. The defensive midfielder calmly stepped forward and beat Forbes, touching off a celebration that may have been smaller than last year, but was no less exuberant.
“I just tried not to think actually,” Salem said. “I was just going up and trying to be confident.”
Lines was particularly impressed with 19-year old Van Egmond, who quickly raised her hand to fill the final spot on the Flash roll of penalty kick takers.
“I had four takers and I asked for the fifth, I didn’t allocate,” Lines said. “I asked who wants to be that fifth player and Emily Van Egmond at 19 she just put her hand up straight away, very confident. So go ahead kid, take it. She did well.”
Prior to Pressley’s dramatic equalizer the match was set to be remembered for its injuries. The Red Stars lost Lori Chalupny (rolled ankle) and Ella Masar (hamstring, “she said she heard a pop,” coach Rory Dames said) on the same sequence midway through the first half. The Flash lost Omolyn Davis early and then Stephanie Ochs in the second half when she was bloodied by a horrifying collision with Wenino.
“I’m a little out of it right now but it feels like a dream after winning,” Ochs said. “There’s no words to describe it. We were rushing to get all the blood cleaned up so I could come out (and watch).”
Wenino stayed in the match.
For their part, the Red Stars maintained a high level after losing Chalupny and Masar. The goal began with a Michele Wiessenhofer flip throw that Cameron was unable to hold on to. Amanda Cinalli was in the right place to tap it over to Ellenwood for as easy a goal as one gets in a final.
Ellenwood had not played a league match until last Sunday when she scored against the Fury in New York. Next week she heads off to start her sophomore year at Arkansas.
“She’s somebody that needs to get onto the national team radar,” Dames said.
Ellenwood was Masar’s replacement, and Cinalli came in for Chalupny.
“It was inspiring to watch the effort,” Chalupny said. “I have nothing negative to say other than they scored a goal in the 96th plus minute. That’s the way it goes. I’m proud of the team.”
The Red Stars sat confidently on their 1-0 lead deep into the second half and after two exciting sequences still had the same advantage. In the 77th it looked like the Flash might have won a penalty kick but the foul instead went against Laura Heyboer. Three minutes later the Flash got caught up field allowing Ellenwood to play Cinalli through on a breakaway. That was when Cameron atoned for her earlier gaffe.
“Scottie (goalkeeper coach Scott Vallow) told me at halftime, ‘You’re going to have to make one play. And if you make one play we’ll stay in the game.’”
The play was rushing out to greet Cinalli and snuff out the attack before a shot could be had.
“I tried to get a good read on it. She looked a little bit tired. I got a good stiff arm.”
Moments later, Cinalli was subbed out as was Wiesenhoffer. Both, Dames said, “couldn’t run anymore.”
The match was played before a small but lively crowd of 1,221 at Sahlen’s Stadium.
Western New York’s McCall Zerboni talks to Equalizer Soccer about Saturday’s win: