GRANDVILLE, MI - For the second consecutive knockout match, the duo of defender Michaela Kovacs and goalkeeper Reilley Ott came up big for the Grand Rapids FC Women, prolonging the team’s postseason run. Kovacs netted the game-tying goal in the 119th minute of play and Ott made the final save in the penalty-kick shootout to send the GRFC Women (11-1-1) past the Long Island Rough Riders (8-3-1) and into the United Women’s Soccer (UWS) National Championship match. The game was tied 2-2 after overtime and the hosts emerged victorious by a 3-2 margin in the PK shootout. Grand Rapids will take on the Santa Clarita Blue Heat (9-0) on Saturday night at Grandville High School (7:30 PM EDT kickoff) in the 2017 UWS Final.
“What a night,” said GRFC Head Coach Lewis Robinson. “What a game. What a finish. What an event to play like this. Its a game we’re never going to forget and we’ve enjoyed it from start to finish. Everyone involved in it, the fans. It was an amazing night.”
The drama started early in Friday’s second National Semifinal when Long Island forward Morgan Santoro sent in forward Erica Modina in on goal and she chipped her shot over Ott for the 1-0 lead in the ninth minute. Seven minutes later, Grand Rapids tied the score when forward Brittany Balcer was fouled from behind in the penalty area and converted her penalty kick. The hosts had a pair of chances from midfielder Marti Corby and Balcer to end the first half but could not take advantage. As the second half progressed, it looked like it could be a long night as both the Rough Riders and GRFC missed a pair of glittering opportunities in the 54th and 59th minutes - by midfielder Kimberly Marra and forward Maddie Pogarch - respectively.
Long Island keeper Melissa Guglielmo stood strong in net for her side as well, stopping Balcer on a 1v1 opportunity in the 63rd minute. In the 79th minute, Corby and Balcer had a double-chance but Guglielmo made a save on the former and than forced the latter to shoot wide. In the 80th minute, Santoro’s goal was ruled offside and a last-second chance in regulation from forward Madison Vasquez flew just wide for the East Conference champions. Guglielmo made a pair of stops in the first overtime period while it was all Rough Riders to start the second overtime. Substitute Francesca Venezia put Long Island up by 2-1 in the 97th minute, finishing off a rebound after an Ott save.
As time ticked off the clock, defender Clare Carlson broke deep down the right flank and sent in a cross that Kovacs met with a diving header at the far post to tie the score at 2-2. The team captain scored the game-winning goal in last Sunday’s 1-0 Midwest Conference Final win over Detroit. After overtime, the match would go on to a penalty kick shootout to determine the winner. Both sides started out 2-2 before the Rough Riders started to falter. Venezia put her shot just wide to her left on Long Island’s third attempt, Taylor Groth struck her shot off the crossbar and after GRFC midfielder Anna Stinson converted to make it 3-2, Ott made a save on Christina Dutcher’s spot kick to send the hosts to the 2017 UWS National Final.
“First of all, it was probably the most exciting game of our season by far and that’s easy to say,” said Long Island Head Coach Adam Whitehead. “When I first came on board, I didn’t think I saw us coming this far but we flicked a switch and everything started to fall into place. Its been an amazing experience, a great journey and the team shouldn’t be disappointed in what they achieved.”
About United Women’s Soccer (UWS): UWS is a national women’s soccer league sanctioned by U.S. Soccer through the United States Adult Soccer Association (USASA). UWS is a professionally operated league created for teams that meet high minimum standards. The season runs from May until the end of July, culminating in a National Championship match. The UWS player pool is comprised of college players, aspiring & former professionals and international stars. You can follow UWS on social media on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Media can contact UWS Director of Communications Jorma Kansanen by e-mail at UWSPress@gmail.com. You can visit the league’s official website at UWSSoccer.com. Interested team applicants can contact League Commissioner Joe Ferrara, Jr. by e-mail at Joe@UWSSoccer.com.