Charlie Naimo’s Pali Blues were on a mission: to defeat the one team that had figured them out all season, and they did it to perfection.
The Blues defeated the LA Strikers 2-0 in the Western Conference Championship at Palisades Charter High School’s Stadium by the Sea in Los Angeles, Calif. With the win, Pali will next travel to the W-League Championship, being held at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. where they will take on the Washington Spirit Reserves in the semifinals on Friday, Jul. 26.
Pali opened the scoring in the 28th minute off a solid sequence spearheaded by forward Katie Stengel. After receiving a pass from Caprice Dydasco, Stengel faked a pass to Mele French, who was making a run on the left side of the field. This opened up space for Stengel, who shot a rocket from outside the penalty area into the upper left 90 to make it 1-0.
As they have done in their prior two meeeting, the Strikers made it tough for the Blues to score another and they also had multiple chances to score the equalizer. They responded with a shot in the 31st minute from Laura Coombs who forced Pali goalkeeper Anna Picarelli to dive right and make big save to preserve the Blues’ lead.
Three minutes later, Kristy Moore took advantage of a poor clearance and shot a half volley, but it went straight to Picarelli. In the 42nd minute, Stengel had one more shot on goal, but Samantha Prudhomme did well to prevent it from going in.
The LA Strikers came out strong in the second half and had an opportunity to tie the game just seconds into it. Coombs dribbled up the field at full speed and drilled a shot to the lower right corner of the goal, forcing Picarelli to push the ball out for a corner kick.
Then, in the 50th minute, a bad clearance from the Strikers led to Abby Dahlkemper taking a shot as the ball fell to her feet, but her attempt went over the crossbar. In the 62nd minute, Eliazbeth Eddy found Stengel inside the penalty area. Stengel settled the ball, and turned to shoot, but the ball went just over the crossbar.
As Pali pushed for a second goal to secure the win the Strikers fought hard to find the equalizer, but the Blues defense kept denying them of opportunities. The Blues’ next significant chance came with ten minutes to go when a cross sailed over everyone in the middle of the penalty area. Nick, who was open on the left side, controlled the service on the left side of the penalty area and fired a shot which was saved just in front of the goal line.
In the 89th minute, Sarah Killion almost scored the second goal for the Blues, but Prudhomme came up with a huge save to punch the ball over the crossbar for a corner kick.
The breakthrough came soon after. In stoppage time, Stengel went one-on-one with a Strikers defender, and had Ashley Freyer making a run to her left. Stengel attracted the defender toward her, and then played a square ball to Freyer whose shot went just high. A few seconds later, Pali secured the win when Stengel played a ball to second-half substitute Chioma Ubogagu, who poked the ball past Prudhomme, ending the game at 2-0.
The victory was a sigh of relief for a Blues side who had been burned by the Strikers in the regular season, but finally solved them on the third attempt. So with that, the Blues became the 2013 Western Conference Champions and claimed the last spot in the W-League Championship joining the other conference champions: Laval Comets, Washington Spirit Reserves, and Carolina Elite Cobras.
Kickoff between the Blues and Spirit Reserves is scheduled for Friday, Jul. 26 at 2 p.m. ET. Carolina Elite and Laval will kick off at 5 p.m. ET. Both matches will be broadcast via uslnation.com.