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TSS Exits Semi-Final on Penalty Kicks at Crossfire Challenge

ImageThe TSS U18 girls measured up against some of the top teams in Washington state as they competed in the Nike Crossfire Challenge over the July 17-19 weekend. Placed in the U18-U19 bracket, many of the TSS players found themselves playing up by as much as 3 years. This challenge was further compounded by being placed in the same group as the Washington Premier 92 team, currently ranked #2 in the state of Washington. In order to qualify for the semi-finals, teams are required to win their group outright.

The first match on Friday night saw the TSS team up against the Mustang SC Freedom, a 91-born premier team from Northern California. After even play throughout much of the first half, TSS eventually started wearing down the Mustang defence with their quick ball movement. The opening TSS goal from Alanna Haines resulted from 4 one-touch passes in a row, which sent Haines alone in on goal. TSS eventually added two more goals to the tally, closing the game out at 3-0.

"Our players were a little nervous as first given the age difference," said TSS head coach Brendan Quarry. "But after we started moving the ball around, the self-belief grew and, in the end, we were able put on a great performance."

The second match of the tournament on Saturday morning was against Washington Premier 92, one of the top ranked teams in the state. Washington Premier came out flying at the opening whistle as they put enormous pressure on the TSS back line. TSS held firm with excellent defending from Kym Van Duynhoven and Julie Devriendt. After the barrage failed to produce anything meaningful, the game settled down and TSS enjoyed more possession. Just before the end of the half, Elexis Schlossarek nearly put TSS ahead with a terrific free kick just over the bar. As the game winded down, Washington Premier played much more direct but were unable to break through and the game ended 0-0.

"This was a real battle for us," said Quarry. "TSS played some attractive soccer at times but it was very difficult to overcome a team that simply had more strength and athleticism. In the end, it was our ball movement that allowed us to compete with this team."

With both TSS and Washington Premier level at 4 points, it came down to the final match. TSS was up against Eastside FC 92 and Washington Premier 92 was up against Mustang FC Freedom. TSS was confident that Washington Premier would defeat Mustang FC so it would come down to goal difference. Washington Premier was at +4 whereas TSS was at +3.

With both games taking place on adjacent fields, the teams were well aware of what was required to go through. TSS started off rather haphazardly against Eastside FC but soon turned things around and were quickly up 2-0. TSS knew that 2 goals would not be enough since Washington Premier was already up 2-0 as well. In the final 15 minutes, TSS managed to add a third goal on an impressive header from Jade Palm. TSS then threw everything at Eastside FC in order to go ahead on goal difference. However, three point-blank missed opportunities proved that it just wasn't to be and the game ended 3-0. As it turned out, Washington Premier ended their match 2-0 so both teams were tied exactly on points and goal difference. The tournament therefore called for a penalty shoot-out between TSS and Washington Premier to determine the winner.

In a dramatic shootout that required 6 rounds, Shannon Madill potted the goal that would see TSS through to the next round and send the Washington Premier team on their way home.

"To be honest, when the tournament began I thought our chances of progressing to the semi-finals were slim, " said Quarry. "Our TSS 92 team came up against this Washington Premier team a couple of times last year in various tournaments and weren't able to get a result. I was thrilled for these young players to have pulled off this achievement."

However, things would not get any easier as TSS would now face the Washington Crossfire Premier 91 team in the semi-final at 8:00am on Sunday. The Crossfire team had just won the Washington State Premier League for the 2009-2010 season. TSS was also down to 14 players. Undaunted, however, these younger players rose to the challenge and took on the Crossfire without reservation. The game was evenly matched for much of the first half with both teams enjoying good spells of possession.

"It was actually a bit of a relief to see that the Crossfire played a similar style to us," said Quarry. "They moved the ball around patiently and didn't simply rely on brute force to get the ball forward."

Midway into the second half, tenacious play from Shayla Chorney won the ball deep into the Crossfire end and Katie Bishop found herself in front of goal with the ball at her feet. Bishop smashed the ball passed the Crossfire keeper and TSS were up 1-0 with 20 minutes to go. With the TSS squad now running on fumes, they worked hard to stop the Crossfire who were now playing with more urgency. With 10 minutes left in the game, the Crossfire struck an impressive ball well outside the 18 yard box into the top of the TSS goal and the game was level. The game then went into extra time but neither team could find the go-ahead goal so it came down to penalty kicks.

In a see-saw penalty shoot-out of saves and misses, TSS eventually succumbed to the Crossfire 3-2 on penalties.

"It was a mixed blessing really," said Quarry. "I was thrilled with what these players had achieved and though we were disappointed to have lost on penalty kicks, I'm not sure we had a 5th game left in us.

The TSS U18 girls are now resting up for the PCSL Challenge Cup July 24-25 at Coquitlam Town Centre.