May 10, 2009

Athletica Hangs On For First Victory

It seemed a long time coming, but Saint Louis Athletica finally notched their first victory in team history as they defeated FC Gold Pride 1-0 before a crowd of over 3800 at Korte Stadium on the campus of SIU-Edwardsville.

The winning goal was scored early in the contest at approximately the 16 minute mark on a corner kick by Lori Chalupny. Chalupny's left-footed in-swinging corner to the far post eluded Nicole Barnhart and went cleanly into the net giving Athletica a 1-0 lead they would never relinquish. The goal seemed to catch both players and fans off guard as there was almost a delayed reaction to it.

The victory did not come without a few anxious moments for Saint Louis, most notably on a play just before stoppage in the 2nd half. Hope Solo came out to intercept a ball in heavy traffic, but she was unable to grab it cleanly. In the ensuing scramble, Christine Sinclair was able to get a shot off that Solo, who was trying to make her way back to the net, was able to snare out of the air to preserve the win.

The game was fairly evenly played in the 1st half, with Athletica having slightly more possession and a healthy edge in shots on goal and corners. Early on, Barnhart went down after a collision in front of her net for what we later found out was a fractured nose. In spite of that, Nicole was able to continue and played very well the rest of the match.

Saint Louis did have a few dangerous chances later in the half, but as has been too often the case this season, their shots were not well placed and Barnhart handled them without incident. Bay Area's best chance of the half came in the 34th minute as Sinclair got clear for a shot at the top of the box that went just wide to Solo's left. A minute later, it was Athletica's Eniola Aluko chipping a cross from the side of the box that went just high and wide of the Gold Pride net.

At half time, Coach Albertin Montoya subbed Tiffeny Milbrett in for Tiffany Weimer, who had an uncharacteristically quiet first half. The 2nd half started much as the first with Chalupny's shot in the 48th minute being easily saved by Barnhart.

It was at that point that Gold Pride started to assert themselves, as their skill players took charge. Over the next 25 minutes, they dominated play with Saint Louis rarely able to get it out of their own half of the field. In the 54th minute, Solo raced out and just beat a charging Sinclair to the ball in front of the Athletica net. A few minutes later, Leslie Osborne launched a shot from long range that was saved by Solo. At about the 75 minute mark, Gold Pride had three consecutive corner kicks that they weren't able to do anything with. This was followed by a hard shot from Eriko Arakawa that Solo made a nice stop on. A minute later, another Gold Pride effort, this one by DiMartino, sailed just over the net. Arakawa, Milbrett, and Formiga played exceptionally well over this stretch. However, Saint Louis was able to weather the storm and hang on for the victory.

Melissa Tancredi suffered a leg injury early in the 2nd half. The stretcher was brought out, but she got up and tried to walk it off, only to go to the ground again a few minutes later. At that point, Coach Jorge Barcellos replaced Tancredi with Niki Cross. The injury to Tancredi did not appear to be serious, but she did have a fairly pronounced limp after the game.

For his other two substitutions, Barcellos used his new acquisitions from LA, Kendall Fletcher and Christie Welsh. Welsh played very well in the closing minutes of the game, showing some nifty ball handling at times and was arguably Athletica's best offensive threat in the 2nd half. Fletcher subbed for Sara Larsson, who was playing her first game at defensive midfielder instead of her normal central defender role. This was Larsson's first game back after sitting out two games with an injury. Saint Louis' defense was solid throughout the match.

Coach Montoya's 2nd half substitution of Milbrett was instrumental in changing the momentum of the game in Gold Pride's favor, as they outshot Saint Louis 8-1 in the final 45 minutes. His other 2nd half substitutions were Erika and Leigh Ann Robinson, who had scored the game winner against Sky Blue a week ago. The Gold Pride defense also played well and they were able to keep Athletica's scoring chances to a minimum. Rachel Buehler was a standout in that capacity. Christina DiMartino was very active and played well for long stretches during both halves. Kandace Wilson made some nice runs from the back, but was unable to get any serious scoring chances. Montoya had to be happy with how well his team played in the 2nd half, even if there was disappointment in not being able to find the net.

Coach Barcellos was obviously both joyous and relieved as he came over to greet fans with hugs and handshakes following the victory. It has certainly been a tough year for Barcellos, who has had to juggle his lineup due to numerous injuries and whose team started the season playing well, but had little to show for it. Athletica's victory moves them into a tie for 5th place with Washington, just two points behind 4th place FC Gold Pride, who maintains their hold on the last playoff spot.


WPS Fan said...

Nice write up.