Bellevue 3-1 Lake Washington
As I told our team before kick-off against league rivals LW, this game represented our first unofficial playoff game of the season. We quite simply needed a win in order to keep ourselves in position to challenge for one of the two coveted top spots in the Kingco championship game, the winner of which gets an automatic bid to state. And LW is one of the teams competing for those spots. We knew that if we played with the same intensity and attitude that we displayed against MI last week, our chances would be good that we would earn a result against the Kangs. Our pre-game warm-ups and drills were sharp. Our girls were energized. I could see the competitive fire in their eyes. And by the opening whistle I was eager to see that fire light-up the LW field.
Instead, mostly smoke, no fire. We were ragged, sloppy and indecisive. In the first 20 minutes we worked very hard to win the ball, but then promptly gave it away in dangerous positions. Perhaps we wanted it too much? It is a delicate balance between playing with the intensity required to win the ball, and then immediately playing with calm and poise in possession. I understand. It's difficult. But it is required. And for 20 minutes we only brought one side of that equation. We were out-shot and out-played and couldn't find anything close to an offensive rhythm. At 20 minutes, we made some substitutions and our players off the bench made a huge impact. We suddenly got "on the front foot" in challenges and began to make multi-pass forays into the LW territory. Now this doesn't mean that the girls who were substituted for were playing poorly, absolutely not. All of them were contributing and doing their jobs. However, sometimes substitutes who come into a ragged game can change that game just by coming in from outside the scrum. They have the opportunity to change the tempo and rhythm. And that's what happened. Mia, Isabelle, AnnaB and Izzy changed the game. And suddenly everything clicked into place and we began to create chances.
In the 27th minute we got our reward. We worked the ball up our left side, Jo turned inside and passed square to Kiley who side-stepped her defender and hit a low, hard shot into the right side for 1-0 lead. So simple. So beautiful. The kind of goal that makes scoring seem easy. And we continued to press for another. We were in the ascendancy and in total control. But in the final seconds before halftime, LW cleared a lobbed ball behind our backline from midfield and we had a mis-communication between defender and goalkeeper (I could almost see the thought-bubbles: "you get it"..."no, you get it"..."no, you get it") and the LW striker took the opportunity to run in-between and poke home the equalizer.
The tough part of playing in a defensive role: both our keeper and defender had played almost flawlessly until that moment of indecision. So we take it as a lesson, and move forward. Both players we trust totally if they find themselves in a similar situation later in our season. And it was 1-1 at halftime.
At the break I wasn't happy. No coach is after conceding a late tying goal when we had finally got ourselves back into control. A challenge was made. And the challenge was accepted.
The team that took the field after halftime was the team I had anticipated at the opening whistle: enthusiasm, courage, strength. All fire and no smoke. We took the game to LW and almost immediately got results. Courtney flew up the left wing in an overlap, lost the ball, but didn't give up, pursuing and pressuring the LW defenders into a turn-over, re-gaining possession in the box and then earning a penalty as she was trundled over. I loved loved loved the effort and attitude required to earn that PK. Well done Courtney. (And as an aside, I also loved that behind her, Jo did the tactically correct thing to drop behind the play and cover for Court as she pressed. It didn't matter to this particular play, but it matters. The little positional things matter a lot). Carly stepped to the spot and confidently gave us the lead. 2-1 Bellevue. But we weren't done, two minutes later, CarlieG hit a perfect cut-back cross from the right wing to Joelle who buried a first-time shot past the helpless LW keeper. 3-1 and the final margin of victory.
It was a solid 3-1 win. And much needed. Now we must continue the momentum we have from LW and bring a winning attitude to Interlake on Thursday. It's our second unofficial playoff game and only three points will do.
Mistakes are going to happen in soccer. And earlier in this write-up I called out our keeper for making a mistake because we need to learn from them. And because I'm so confident that Annika can handle the criticism and use it to get better. We are blessed with a tough keeper, both physically and mentally. So now some praise: her two consecutive saves in the 2nd half were simply awesome. She pushed a hard-hit knuckling shot onto the crossbar and a few seconds later did the same with an in-swinging corner that seemed destined to be a goal. It's a perfect example of how all players, especially keepers, need to have short-memories and be mentally tough. Everybody makes mistakes, but very few people have the fortitude to get even better after making a mistake. Well done Annika; Claire was magnificent in defense and midfield versus LW. Her toughness and ability to come charging out of the back in possession or making accurate passes upfield was excellent on Tuesday; And Sky put in another polished, confident, and solid performance at right back alongside her fellow defenders Caylee, Claire, Mia, Isabelle and Courney; Finally, more collective kudos to Izzy, AnnaB, Mia, Isabelle, Ellie & Britt for coming off the bench and giving us a spark when we needed it.