First place in the Big Sky Conference was up for grabs Friday night in the Women’s Premier Soccer League. The visiting Oklahoma City FC were sitting just behind the RSL Women with 21 points, and RSL at 22 points, with 2 games remaining on the season after this contest. This was an important result because only the top team in the conference advances to the regional tournament. RSL grinded out the victory by a 2-1 margin with goals from Colette Smith in the 8th minute and Maddy Grainger in the 80th minute. The go ahead goal was assisted by Jeni Viernes. This gave RSL Women some breathing room before their next home match on Thursday July 9th against the Houston Aces, and their final match of the season July 11 against the Austin Aces. They control their own fate if they are to make the regional tournament like they did in 2012, and advance to the National Final 4.
RSL jumped ahead in the early stages of the game when co-captain Colette Smith took off on her dribbling tyrades in the 8th minute. Smith picked the ball up about 40 yards from goal and dribbled 4 Oklahoma players before slotting the finishing touch past goalkeeper Miranda Larkin to the far side netting.
Just 6 minutes later Oklahoma FC was able to equal the match off of a penalty from #11 Rachel Thun. This was after Roxy Tebbs was whistled for a handball in the box. There was some confusion as #16 Allison Worsham was lining up to take the penalty when head coach Stephen Phillips yelled for Thun to step up and take it.
Oklahoma FC was an extremely talented team. They pressed the RSL midfield with a tireless energy. This after an exhausting day of traveling. They left Oklahoma at 5:30 am. They showed no signs of that fatigue in the first half. They compressed the midfield throughout the match. The one area that they really struggled with was balls in the air. You could hear Coach Phillips obviously upset with this fact as well. He was telling the players that they were not winning enough of the 50/50 tackles and that they did not come here to lose this game.
Coach Jeff Ginn said this about the Oklahoma FC: “ Oklahoma is a very dominant team and they come well prepared and they have quality players that give our players a hard time. Both times that we have played Oklahoma, they have physically outplayed us. We have had to respond to that physicality and play a little bit more finesse and also with a little bit more of a bite”
Shiloh Price was their standout player for me. She lived up to the number on the back of her jersey, being number 10. She was creative and crafty going forward beating players on the dribble. She created the better of their chances. She probably should have gotten the go ahead goal in the 68th minute when she slipped in behind the defense in the 18 yard box for a one on one with Rebecca Ritchie. Ritchie made 3 huge saves to keep the ball out. For her reward I name Rebecca Ritchie the Player of the Game.
Coach Ginn said about Ritchie: “ Rebecca Ritchie was unbelievable. It was clear that they were trying to knock her off of her game. They were physical, they were playing her, not the ball. She came up big on a number of one on one’s. She won a lot of flighted balls in traffic. Always keeps you hopeful, when you have a goalkeeper like that. It inspires you to play better soccer when you have moments that Ritchie provided for us.”
There were some late fireworks as Oklahoma’s goal scorer, number 11, Rachel Thun was shown a red card for elbowing Annie Hawkins in the chest and the back of the head, after Annie chopped at her heels and ankles committing the foul in the 90th minute.
Coach Jeff Ginn: What are your initial feelings from the result?
“Happy, not satisfied. Happy that we grinded out a result, not satisfied with the lack of movement off of the ball in the second half. We kind of shut down. We (coaches) might of confused them (players) a little bit with the change of formation and they kind of closed up and got cold in regards to how they were going to respond when we won the ball back. There wasn’t an idea for an outlet and that was basically was a lack of movement. Lots to work on in regards to how we react when we win the ball.”
Do you feel like you were able to win the outlet later in the game?
“Yeah after about 15 minutes into the second half, about the 60th minute we changed to a formation that provided a little bit more width, and we had a couple of conversations with girls on the bench, and they kind of changed the formation or the shape, if you will, on the field.”
“We need to talk about the resilience of Maddy Grainger playing 90 minutes and getting a goal. Running about 80 yards to put her body on the ball in the final minutes against the run of play. There is a lot to be side about character and work rate. She is someone that nobody really knew about at the beginning of the season. She has grown into a player that you can rely on defensively, and she creates in the attack. She surprises you on set pieces, on crosses like you saw in the goal.”
Walk me through the go ahead assist.
“I just got the ball on the line and took one touch and looked up, and saw someone coming in back post. I was just trying to float it over there for them and they got on the end of it, thankfully.”
When you received the ball from Annie Hawkins you already knew what you wanted to do with it?
“I thought about taking her down the line and cutting inside, but I looked up and they were open so I put the ball there.”
What are your feelings on the result?
“We are happy to pull off that win. We needed that three points, as far as the standings go. It is also nice to get a little revenge against the team that beat us.”
Tell me what you saw when Jeni Viernes got the ball out wide when you got the go ahead goal.
“I saw an opportunity far post and a clear line from my place in the defensive line. I realized we needed a transition forward and that starts from the back line, so I took the initiative to be that back post run. When she crossed it, it was a perfect ball and I knew I just had to get anything on it.”
It looked like you barely got a touch. How did you fully extend to get the touch?
“I dove a little bit and got the inside of my left foot hardly as it came across.”
Remember to come and support Real Salt Lake Women in their final regular season home game on July 9th at Ute Field at 6:30 PM.