Friday, July 19, 2013

AC Seattle heads to Western Regionals for shot at WPSL Final Four

Celebrating NW championship | Wilson Tsoi / goalWA
It was quite a good year for AC Seattle, the newcomers among the Washington contingent in the WPSL northwest. Whether planned or by stroke of luck, the team’s slowly-scheduled start to the season allowed the side heavily comprised of Italian imports to feel out the competition before battling through a difficult final two-week span in which they played five of their 10 games, three of them in a four day stretch in the final week.

The end result was a 7-2-1 record good for third overall in the conference while going 4-1-1 against their in-state counterparts to capture the Evergreen Cup derby title.

Guagni flies through THUSC | Wilson Tsoi / goalWA
Finishing second in the overall table to SRR Issaquah left the newcomers facing regular season Northwest winners Tualatin Hills United in the semifinals in a showdown of the two highest scoring teams as both finished with 31 goals on the campaign. Instead of seeing a high-scoring affair like THUSC’s 4-2 win the week prior in Oregon, AC Seattle silenced the Diamonds and found a late 88th minute game-winner from Alia Guagni, who tallied her fifth of the year to advance the team to the final 1-0.

Issaquah SC, meanwhile, dispatched of Eugene Metro Azul with relatively easy fashion, getting a second minute goal from Erin Vaughan, her fifth of the year also, and pulled away with strikes from Emma Follis and Jessica Oliver for a 3-0 result. It set up a third meeting with AC Seattle, which had gotten the better of the Reign Reserves in the first two contests with a 2-2 draw and a 3-1 victory.

Pinna celebrates | Wilson Tsoi / goalWA
Romina Pinna, the second leading scorer in the Northwest with nine goals, struck 13 minutes into the contest courtesy of a ball from Alessandra Barreca. It was Pinna’s third goal against Issaquah having scored in each of the two previous games. Three minutes before the break local product Jillian Nicks found Elisa Colle for her first goal of the year for AC Seattle to push the lead to two. Defender Viviana Schiavi, who set up the winner against THUSC the night before then found Pinna for her second of the night 10 minutes into the second half, giving her 11 combined goals for the season to match Jen Stoltenberg of the Diamonds. Joana Houplin, who set up the opening tally in the semifinals, spoiled the shutout for Ilaria Leoni, finding the back of the net three minutes into stoppage time on a free kick.

SEMIFINALS - Saturday, July 13

(OR-1) THUSC Diamonds 0 :: 1 AC Seattle (WA-2)
SEA: Alia Guagni (Viviana Schiavi) 88

(OR-2) Eugene Metro Azul 0 :: 3 SRR Issaquah SC (WA-1)
ISS: Erin Vaughan (Joana Houplin) 2
ISS: Emma Follis (KaUa Wall) 43
ISS: Jessica Oliver (Bree Rowe) 72

FINAL - Sunday, July 14

(WA-2) AC Seattle 3 :: 1 SRR Issaquah SC (WA-1)
SEA: Romina Pinna (Alessandra Barreca) 13
SEA: Elisa Colle (Jillian Nicks) 42
SEA: Romina Pinna (Viviana Schiavi) 55
ISS: Joana Houplin 93+

The 3-1 victory against SRR Issaquah in the Northwest Final advanced AC Seattle to the WPSL Western Regional playoff tournament where they will face veteran side Elk Grove Storm in the semifinals Saturday and either the San Diego SeaLions or Tucson Soccer Academy the following night if they advance.

This is the point where the Northwest had issues a year ago. The regular season champion Spokane Shine (no playoffs) withdrew due to player availability and financial issues, resulting in second-place Issaquah taking their place. Though they had not lost nearly as many players to collegiate call-backs, ISC was still short a few players and was quite banged up when it made the trip to California a year ago said head coach Erin Redwine, who did expect to have a full squad this time around had they come out on top in the Northwest Final against AC Seattle, which she expects will do well.

And with their squad virtually devoid of current collegiate players they may be one of the best-positioned clubs in the league to make a run to the WPSL Championship over the next two weeks.

Arica Slawson fights through THUSC duo | Wilson Tsoi / goalWA
One of the players headed to California with the team is Arica Slawson, who played for Issaquah a year ago. She joined AC Seattle this season and has been a regular contributor, doubling her goal total of a year ago to four this season, along with an assist, and was selected by INWsoccernews as a member of its Best XI team for the WPSL Northwest.

“I'm obviously excited to have the opportunity to go to the regional playoffs in back-to-back years,” Slawson said. “The fact that it has been with different teams is just as exciting. I look forward to being competitive in each game we play.”

“Expectations for this year would be like any! I think with a different team and dynamic this year we have a good chance of doing well. I think we have proven that we have the ability to play with most teams since our division was one of the most talented - in my opinion - and we were able to play at a level that resulted in the championship.

Slawson faced a tough decision going into the spring as Issaquah were the likely front-runners for the Northwest while the AC Seattle squad, to be comprised of nearly all foreign players, would be complete newcomers with no experience in the league or American soccer.

“It was a decision I don't regret, playing with AC Seattle, and will cherish as I look back on these years later on. It has had its challenges of course - language barrier, different culture, different style of play, etc. - but I think I have found a groove and fit in very well with what we have going here,” she said of the switch. “I have learned a lot just from being a part of AC Seattle and I look forward to sustaining the relationships I have built for years to come. It's been an awesome experience to say the least and I'm very fortunate to have had this opportunity.”

WPSL Western Regional Playoffs

Saturday, July 20 - Elk Grove HS
Tucson Soccer Academy vs San Diego SeaLions - 6:00
AC Seattle @ Storm Elk Grove - 8:00

Sunday, July 21 - Elk Grove HS
Regional Final - 7:30

A Look at the Opposition (enter as regular season champions, no playoffs)

Elk Grove Storm (Pacific - North) - Run and coached by Jerry Zanelli, one of the league founders way back in 1997, the team went 8-1-1 this season with 29 goals for and only four allowed. They suffered their lone loss just a week ago falling 2-1 at West Coast Wildkatz, The week prior they played the San Diego SeaLions in a friendly July 6, falling 3-1 on the road. They scored 19 of their 29 goals in the first four games with no more than three in a game since, and have recorded only two shutouts in last five games after starting with five consecutive clean sheets.

Key Players: Angelina Martinez (6gp 7g 3a) spent the previous three years with North Bay FC Wave; Samantha Brand (6gp 7g 1a) is a Haitian international from San Francisco; Elizabeth Cudjoe (8gp 5g 3a) is a Ghanaian international and Northeastern State striker that previously played for FC Indiana and scored three goals in three games at the 2010 FIFA U20 World Cup, including one against US. Goalkeepers - Meghan Maiwald is the keeper for the US Women’s Deaf National Team and Maddy Schiffel is a starting goalkeeper at University of San Francisco and a recent US U18 WNT camp call-up.

San Diego SeaLions (Pacific - South) – The SeaLions played a short schedule on record at 5-0-1 with 26 goals for and eight against, but had several friendlies in addition to that tally. They scored at least four goals in each game against their division foes and defeated Elk Grove Storm 3-1 in a friendly July 6.

Key Players: Elise Britt (4gp 2g 2a) is a 2010-11 graduate from UCLA that didn’t score her first goal until the playoffs of her senior year, but is now a regular contributor for the SeaLions; Maddie Tantillo (4gp 2g 0a) finished her career at Point Loma Nazarene University in 2004 with 14 goals and 18 assists for her career, which currently ranks fifth best in program history; Rosie Tantillo (4gp 2g 1a) finished her USC career as one of the program’s all-time best scorers and was signed by and won WPS championship with FC Gold Pride. The former US youth international has a lengthy amateur women’s career, playing previously with Pali Blues, where she won a W-League title in 2008, and the W-League Buffalo Flash; Jacquelyn Witz (4gp 4g) finished her California Baptist University career in 2010 as the program’s seventh-most point total and ranks fourth all-time in assists; Nikki Petracca (4gp 1g 3a) is a local product that spent time at San Diego Miramar College. Goalkeepers - Rachel Locked started 14 of 17 appearances as a sophomore last fall at Davidson, posting a 1.00 GAA and Kaycee Gunion finished her career in 2011 at Cal State San Marcos with a 0.32 GAA in her final campaign.

Tucson Soccer Academy (Big Sky - North) – The club finished 6-0-1 with 27 goals for and seven against, but dropped their first points recently on July 6 at home against Phoenix Del Sol in a 1-1 draw. They have not recorded a shutout since opening season with a home-and-home series against St George United in which they scored 12 of their 27 goals in a pair of clean sheets.

Key Players: Karina Camacho (5gp 2g 3a) finished her college career at Long Beach State after two years at Arizona, where she was voted 2008 offensive MVP as a sophomore; Jordan Davidson (6gp 4g 2a) joined Vanguard University in 2012 after two years as a top scorer at Paradise Valley CC; Justene Kesterson (5gp 3g 1a) is a recent Mountain View High School grad that has signed to play at the University of Arizona in 2013; Kaitlyn Lopez (6gp 6g 2a) was a redshirt freshman at Arizona last fall. Goalkeepers - Shantel Wittke started nine of her 16 appearances in goal as a freshman at Arkansas-Little Rock last fall with a 3.66 GAA and Laura DeMers begins her college career at New Mexico this fall.

Outside the Western Regionals - The Final Four Picture

Three other regions also wrap things up this weekend to set the field for the WPSL Final Four July 27-28. The southern bracket is down to its final with Southeast regular season and playoff winner Gulf Coast Texans facing Sunshine regular season and playoff winners Florida Sol FC Sunday. In the central United States the Midwest playoffs saw second-seed Fire & Ice SC advance to the Regional Final Saturday against Houston Aces, who represent the Big Sky South as regular season champions.

The busiest region in the postseason also concludes matters Saturday out east as New England's top seed New England Mutiny advanced from the playoffs with the Mid Atlantic and the South Atlantic's top club ASA Chesapeake Charge won out in a showdown with Tri-State contenders.

Here is the bracket (as constructed by - note that Final Four match-ups have not been determined)…