Chicago, IL (July 29, 2012) – The Chicago Red Stars were poised and collected entering the WPSL Elite Championship Saturday night against #2 ranked WNY Flash at the Flash’s home field in Rochester, NY, after showing a strong performance against Boston in the semifinals three nights prior. The 4th ranked Red Stars battled in an extremely long and intense match, where they held the lead until the 96th minute of play when WNY scored a dramatic goal with no time remaining in stoppage to tie the match at 1-1. Red Stars goal was scored by Ashleigh Ellenwood, while the Flash’s goal was by Toni Pressly. The teams would play another scoreless 30+ minutes of overtime before the game was decided in PK’s. WNY would eventually come out on top 4-2, earning the inaugural WPSL Elite Championship.
“I thought that as a group we were playing our best soccer at the end of the season,” said Red Stars’ Head Coach Rory Dames. “Between the National Cup semifinal and final and the (WPSL Elite) league semi and final I thought all four performances were outstanding.”
The Red Stars overcame early adversity to take a 1-0 lead in the 41st minute when Michelle Wenino battled the Flash goalkeeper for a loose ball and was able to knock it free and into the path of 18 year-old Ellenwood who blasted it into the corner of the net. Ellenwood was a Red Stars’ sub that hadn’t been expected to enter so early in the match. Around the 30th minute, the Red Stars had a freak incident when captain Lori Chalupny made a pass to Ella Masar up the sideline, but landed awkwardly on her ankle and fell into the WNY bench. She was never able to re-enter the match. On that same play Ella Masar suffered a similar fate with her hamstring as she was running down the pass. She was clearly in exceptional pain as both players were helped off the field. Ellenwood and Cinalli subbed into the match and made an immediate impact sending the Red Stars up 1-0 into halftime.
“Whenever you lose players of their class it affects the group, but I thought the response of the team was great,” Dames went on. “Ellenwood had to come in unexpectedly and scored a goal for us. And our back four (defenders) were fantastic as well and really did not give away any clear-cut chances.”
During the 2nd half, the Flash continued playing an extremely physical game, but the Red Stars responded well and pressed for a second goal while still holding an exceptionally solid back line. Cinalli nearly found herself a goal in the 81st minute when she broke free for a 1v1 with Flash goalkeeper Brittany Cameron. Cinalli tried to take a tricky touch around her, but Cameron came up with a massive save to keep the Flash’s hopes alive late in the match.
The Red Stars were able to hold their 1-0 lead until the end of regulation time, but the referees would add an exceptionally long 6 minutes of stoppage play. As the minutes ticked off, it was tense moments on the field, with WNY sending huge numbers forward looking for an equalizer. Their dreams would come true when, with no time remaining in stoppage, defender Toni Pressley found a look from 25 yards out and sent an absolute rocket over the head of Red Stars goalkeeper Jamie Forbes. The ball hit the lower-inside of the crossbar and bounced down over the goal line, sending the match to two 15-minute overtime periods.
Both sides found solid chances in overtime, but the game would continue 1-1 and be sent to PKs in order to determine a Champion. WNY won the coin toss, earning the right to kick first. In another cruel twist of fate for the Red Stars, the penalties were taken on the end of the field where fans were able to stand directly behind the net, putting Red Stars’ kickers and especially goalkeeper Forbes in extremely hostile territory to finalize the match.
WNY’s Adriana scored first, followed by Chicago’s Lauren Fowlkes, then WNY’s Katherine Reynolds. Red Stars’ midfielder Julianne Sitch played her shot low at the ‘keeper and nearly got away with it, but Cameron caught a break as she was able to clear the shot with her leg.
Forbes would respond brilliantly, first by blocking the shot of Flash captain McCall Zerboni, then by taking a penalty kick herself and calmly slotting it into the corner of the net, keeping it level at 2-2. Forbes nearly came up with a 2nd save immediately after, selecting the right direction, but not able to extend far enough to get a glove on the shot of Emily Van Egmond. Red Stars’ defender Michelle Wenino, who had played fiercely all match, suffered the cruelty of the post as her shot deflected out. With the score 3-2 in favor of WNY, Angela Salem put her shot into the corner of the net and gave WNY the trophy.
“Our players and coaching staff put forth an incredible commitment this year,” remarked Red Stars’ Owner Arnim Whisler. “And each team member made important contributions to each other, to the fans, and to women’s soccer.”
“We owe a sincere thank-you to our coaching staff of Rory, John (DeJulio), and Trae (Manny) who sacrificed so much to help this team achieve their potential and play an attractive, gritty, and exciting style of play.”
Ashleigh Ellenwood (Michelle Wenino) 41’
Toni Pressley (Jodi-Ann Robinson) 96’
Chicago: Jamie Forbes GK, Lauren Alkek, Lauren Fowlkes, Jackie Santacaterina, Michelle Wenino, Julianne Sitch, Alyssa Mautz, Lori Chalupny (Amanda Cinalli 34’, Kara Kabellis 83’), Jen Buczkowski, Ella Masar (Ashleigh Ellenwood 31’, Shayla Mutz 88’), Michele Weissenhofer (Ashlee Elliott 83’)
WNY: Brittany Cameron (GK), Stephanie Ochs (Emily Van Egmond 66’), Tori Huster, Nikki Marshall, Katherine Reynolds, Omolyn Davis (Laura Heyboer 20’,Donna-Kay Henry 121’), McCall Zerboni, Angela Salem, Katy Frierson (Jodi-Ann Robinson 61’), Alex Sahlen, Adriana Martin
The WPSL Elite League was new in 2012. The 8-team league is ASA Chesapeake Charge, Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars, FC Indiana, New England Mutiny, New York Fury, Philadelphia Fever, and WNY Flash.
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