One point is all Liverpool Ladies need to claim the FAWSL title. The league-leading Reds will have to earn it at home against second-place Bristol on Sunday, the final match day of the season.
Bristol (10-1-2, 31 pts.) kept their title chances alive two weeks ago by erasing a 3-0 deficit at halftime to bottom-dwellers Doncaster to win 4-3 and pull back within two points of Liverpool (11-0-2, 33 pts.).
Liverpool finished dead last — eighth of eight — in the first two editions of the FAWSL, having won just two of 28 games total, but a revamped roster and coaching staff has Liverpool on the verge of a true worst-to-first season.
“People keep talking about it being a pressure game,” Beard told FAWSL.com. “But there is no pressure on us; we’ve been top of the table for the second half of the season.
“The pressure is on Bristol because they have got to win the game.”
Meanwhile, Bristol manager Mark Sampson has deflected that pressure as well.
“We’re in a position we never thought we’d be in,” he said. “To be in with a chance of winning a division that no club other than Arsenal has won for the last ten years and one that our club has never even come close to [winning] in our history [means] we are in a great position.”
Key to Liverpool this season has been a pair of Americans, Amanda DaCosta and U.S. international defender Whitney Engen.
“Whitney’s a good person,” DaCosta told The Equalizer in July. “She’s a good roommate and an amazing teammate and she’s a good one to have here with me. It’s been helpful with the transition, in the beginning especially.”
“It’s been really cool to kind of experience football in a different part of the world, especially where the game was born and it’s just engrained in their culture,” Engen said.
DaCosta is the team’s vice captain and integrated into the team’s off-field happenings as she promotes the team, league and women’s soccer in general. DaCosta has been critical to the team’s on-field success in the role of playmaker, helping set-up league goals leader Natasha Dowie (17 goals in all competitions). Teammate Nicole Rosler is second in the FAWSL with 11 total goals.
Engen, meanwhile, has been steady in the back. U.S. coach Tom Sermanni said Engen started the year a bit “off the pace” at the January national team camp, but has since progressed thanks to regular game time in England.
“I think she’s benefited from (getting playing time at Liverpool), and I think she’s also benefited in the sense that she’s probably got more of a leadership (role),” Sermanni said in a recent camp. “She’s a foreign player there, so the expectations are higher, the leadership roles are higher, and I think she’s brought that into the camps, progressively this year.”
Natalia Pablos Sanchonis the player to watch for Bristol. She has nine goals in her 13 league appearances.
Either way, history will be made, and there will be a new champion of England. Arsenal Ladies have won the league title the past nine seasons, but didn’t even qualify for the 2014-15 UEFA Champions League after being docked three points for an “unregistered player,” ensuring the Gunners couldn’t finish higher than 3rd. Both Bristol and Liverpool are guaranteed a Champions League spot, regardless of who claims the title.
The Liverpool-Bristol match kicks off at 2 p.m. local time/9 a.m. Eastern.
Last time out these two teams played a thriller, with Liverpool winning 4-3:
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