Saturday, July 7, 2012

Backs against the wall, Shine head to Portland after beating Eugene

It did not take long. Just a few minutes after the final whistle of their 1-0 victory over Eugene Metro FC at Joe Albi Stadium Friday evening, head coach Jason Quintero gathered his team and immediately turned the side’s attention to the task at hand Sunday. The minor jubilation from that point turned to focus on the Portland Rain.

“It’s gonna be tough. It’s a huge test for us,” said Quintero. “We gotta go up there, play one game and come back. We don’t get any hotel stay or anything like that. It’s another game where our backs are against the wall and we have to win if we wanna stay in the playoff hunt.

“I liked how our girls responded today knowing that they had to win. We played like we had to win from the get-go, and we’ll come out and do the same on Sunday.”

With a shuffled lineup due to injuries and personal conflicts, the Shine fought off a scrappy young team out of Eugene that made the long trip looking to prove themselves, picking up the victory on a strike from Kara Marbury - one of their own young players.

“I thought we did a pretty good job of mitigating their chances and obviously Kara’s goal was fantastic. For the travel and the trip and all that stuff, [Eugene] didn’t put in a bad show at all,” Quintero said of the visitor’s performance.

The lineup changes were plentiful and even saw a shift in philosophy. Quintero moved defender Averi Hallman into the midfield, where she was able to utilize her attacking capabilities from her high school and youth soccer years throughout the match. More importantly; that move was part of a bigger change as he switched to a three-man back line for the first time this season. That trio consisted of anchors Shannon Lindsay and Maggie Schrader, who were joined by newcomer Allison Jordan, a recent Central Valley grad. 

CV's Allison Jordan (L) in her first start
“We had some good chances early. We were dominating, shutting everything they had down. Our back three played fantastic. Any time we gave up the ball – we gave it away easy a couple times, but any time that happened; whenever they tried to attack, I thought our back three responded really well, and were first to the ball and winning 50-50s.

“Shannon Linday put in her best game of the season; Maggie Schrader was a stud like always, and AJ – it’s the first start. I don’t think she’s played more than 20 minutes this season and you wouldn’t even know it. She just graduated high school; she’s only 17 actually. She’s another player that… there’s a hole to fill and she filled it; fantastic – no nerves, no anything.”

Defense has been a critical component to the Shine’s limited success this season as the positive results have all been hard-fought outcomes with the team scoring only three goals in five games since its 5-2 win on the road versus the Oregon Rush in their second match.

The most remarkable point of that defensive effort came in the 54th minute Friday night.

“It was a good long ball to Megan Marchesano, who saw that the keeper was coming out; she flicked it over her and it bounced,” said Eugene Metro head coach Jurgen Ruckaberle, who had a good view of the chance on his end of the field. “But [the Shine] left back was reading the game really well and made a sprint for it and did a bicycle, kind of over-the-head clearance. That was a good play on all ends I think – good play from everyone there.”

Quintero was full of praise for Lindsay, whose work is often overshadowed by the hard-nosed efforts of Schrader, who has an imposing presence at center back.

“Shannon just stuck with it, she’s a smart player,” Quintero said. “She’s very competitive and when you’re that competitive you don’t want to get scored on at any chance. And when that happens in a game, you make that run behind the keeper, 99 times you’re not gonna get that ball and its gonna be a goal. For her to have that resolve to go on and wanna save that with a sprinting, diving block out of bounds - the effort to get there and the technique to not put an own goal in… great save by Shannon; absolutely saved the game.”

Looking ahead, Quintero expects to field a similar squad in Portland as the team attempts to avenge the loss at home two weeks ago.

“Pretty similar to this; we are short a couple bodies,” he said of the travel roster. “Tseng Shu-O wasn’t available to play today and I don’t think she will be able to go Sunday as well. Alyshia Madison got deployed early to the Navy, so she’s out for the rest of the season obviously.

“So we are a bit shorthanded but we have some players that really stepped up and filled those holes. And that’s what the team is all about when you have players ready to do their jobs – and we have that.”

Ruckaberle applauds his team's efforts
Ruckaberle had similar praise his young ladies after the match.

“We had some good chances, pressed in the second half. It’s always tough to lose ‘em 1-0 ten minutes before the end, but I’m proud of the girls,” Ruckaberle said of the result. “They played awesome, played very hard. We have two players over 18 – the rest are all 17, 16, and 18, so I thought they did a great job - pressed, got chances, unfortunately it just didn’t fall.” 

The result, combined with Issaquah’s 8-0 victory over Oregon, eliminated Eugene from playoff contention with two games remaining. On Wednesday, they are at home versus Rush, who also lost early Saturday, 10-0, on the road versus Emerald City. They wrap up with a trip to Portland in the division’s final game next Sunday.

The two matches will give the youthful local squad a chance to gain some more experience with Ruckaberle looking further into the future, beyond this season.

“We’re a new team in the league. We feel very happy how the league went for us. I’m very proud of the girls,” he said. “We are gonna get better every year because all those girls are gonna play college in a year or two and they are gonna be a good bunch.”

“They are all from Eugene,” he said of the squad that made the trip to Spokane. “Every player goes to high school in Eugene except one – she’s from Oklahoma State. We do have 7-8 college players but they were all unavailable for the trip. They come from the University of Oregon, Colorado College, Oklahoma State and San Diego State.”

Looking at Portland Rain

While the club is undergoing a significant transition off the field, going from virtual non-existence weeks before the season to a fully-supported team by local Major League Soccer side Portland Timbers; the Rain remain a consistent, competitive team on the field.

Strong (C) is captain on and off the field
Arguably though, they have had more success on the field of the opposition, coming into Sunday’s home match with only a 1-1-1 record while going 3-1-1 on the road. They opened up with a narrow 2-1 win against the Rush, who have since spiraled into a dismal campaign. After three on the road it looked like they were en route to a big home win against Emerald City the night before traveling to Spokane, only to see the Seattle club rally for a 2-2 draw late in the game. In a battle for first last week, Issaquah came in and posted a 3-1 victory to move back atop the table.

Leading the team in the attack are Elizabeth Boon and Nicole Strong with four goals each. Boon has scored in four different games while the veteran captain Strong has recently found her form, scoring once each against Emerald City and Spokane in the back-to-back matches. She added a pair the following week in a 5-0 win against Oregon.

“She’s been on this team for I don’t even know how many years; her and Darci Gardner and Shawna Krueger are kind of the mainstays of the team,” said coach Janine Szpara of Strong after the match in Spokane. “So they have been the consistency who always bring it, and know what it takes to be professional.

“Even though they all work and have other things they are doing; so they’re the ones who are the team, that hold it together and then bring basically everyone else new in, keep it going and they’re the ones that make us better and as best as we can be.”

And the future of the club is certainly looking better than ever with the Portland Timbers partnering with the Rain. 

“It’s huge. This team over the years we have had support kind of year by year and what we’re hoping is that by the Timbers stepping up and really paying for pretty much everything, we have the support we need,” Szpara said of the partnership.

“We’re playing in good stadiums, we’re travelling well and basically it helps us raise the level to what we are trying to get. It’s still kind of that Division I feel, but we are going toward having this semi-pro to pro team hopefully, lord willing, in a year or two, so it’s huge. The Timbers have been great; they’ve really stepped up and done a great job for us.”

It will be quite a contest Sunday. Both teams need a victory as a draw would mathematically eliminate both from contention, leaving the chase for the division title and playoff berth down to the two Seattle-area sides who will square off Wednesday and Saturday to wrap up their seasons.