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Pali repeats as W-League Champion

The Pali Blues won their second straight W-League Championship on Friday, defeating the Washington Freedom 2-1 in front of over 400 fans at the Maryland SoccerPlex.

Pali earned the win despite missing ten players due to college preseason camps, seven of whom started in last week’s 4-0 semifinal win over the Hudson Valley. Among those missing were Olympic gold medalists Lauren Cheney and Tobin Heath, but the Blues were still able to improve their overall W-League record to 26-0-3 in the franchise’s two years of existence.

Overall, Pali was missing seven starters from its starting lineup in the semifinals, while Washington was missing five.Several players had to step into larger roles with the absences of many of Pali’s top players, which affected the team’s chemistry.

“It was really hard to connect,” Blues forward and finals MVP Iris Mora said. “I was kind of frustrated at the beginning and I just said we have to make it up and just score.”

Washington started off strong and was unlucky not to be ahead in the 1st minute. A floating cross that should have been easily gobbled up by Pali goalkeeper Joslyn Slovek – filling in for the absent Ashyln Harris – went through her hands and dropped in the box. The ball popped out to Freedom forward Brittany Tegeler, but her shot was denied by Pali defender Jenny Anderson-Hammond who had recovered into Pali’s goal. She headed the ball off the line and it finally popped off the crossbar and out of danger. For the second week in a row, Pali had escaped a 1st minute scare thanks to some help from the crossbar.

Minutes later though, the Freedom finished off a goal in world-class fashion.

In the 13th minute, Washington forward Jennifer Parsons played a through ball into Katherine Watson, who was dragged down by Pali defender Kendal Billingsley.Sandra Matute stepped up to take the free kick, and proceeded to delight the entire home crowd. Her free kick bent around the Pali wall and into the far corner of the goal to give Washington a 1-0 lead in the 14th minute.

The Freedom dictated much of the possession in the first half, but it was Pali who had several chances off of corner kicks. They capitalized on a significant team height advantage in the 37th minute when a Mora corner kick found Billingsley, who redirected the ball with her head and tied the game up at 1-1.The second half brought back and forth play that had the feeling of a championship match.

Several of Pali’s shots clanked off of the woodwork, and Kristy Yallop’s header in the 57th minute was barely tip-saved by Washington goalkeeper Eliza Bennett Hattan, filling in for W-League U-19 Player of the Year Chante Sandiford, who is at preseason camp with UCLA.

Things got chippy in the 73rd minute when Leah Tapscott brought down Parsons in the box and no foul was called. A corner kick resulted and Tapscott seemed to push Tegeler as well, but no call was made on either and Pali escaped the situation after Jessie Wolfe’s shot went just over the bar.

Finally, in the 86th minute, the fate of the game was sealed.Yallop played in a well-timed cross to Mora, who redirected the ball into the back of the net for Pali. Minutes later, the final whistle blew and celebrations ensued.Washington was forced to watch the elated Blues team celebrate on the Freedom’s turf.

“Disappointed, but at the same time, happy with the effort the girls put in,” Washington Head Coach Win Puffer said. “Obviously we were missing a lot of our regulars that we had through the season and the girls that hadn’t seen as much time through the year and were here definitely stepped up, so I feel really good about the effort that some of our girls put in.”

Pali Head Coach Charlie Naimo felt that although the game was evenly matched, justice was served in the outcome.

“I feel it was a deserving result,” he said. “I mean, it was a closely played match, an evenly played match, but territorially and chance wise – I want to see the score sheet – but I think we deserved it.”The win ends Pali’s season at 12-0-3, and the franchise has not suffered a loss in two years of play. The only returning player from the 2008 championship team is Tapscott, who said that the two are not really comparable.

“Very different – dynamincs of the team, very different season, different players in and out,” Tapscott said. “Obviously last year was a consistent base of players. But, both are a title, both were hard fought for.”

Basically, a title is a title.ALSO: Check back Saturday for some video content (if it doesn’t act up on us) and more related content.

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