GRANDVILLE, Mich. – The Long Island Rough Riders came within minutes of reaching the United Women’s Soccer final as they lost to the Grand Rapids FC Women in a shootout in the national semifinals Friday night.
For the second consecutive knockout match, the duo of defender Michaela Kovacs and goalkeeper Reilley Ott came up big for Grand Rapids at Grandville High School.
Kovacs netted the game-tying goal in the 119th minute and Ott made the final save in the shootout to send the GRFC Women (11-1-1) past the Rough Riders (8-3-1) into the championship match.
The game was tied 2-2 after extratime 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 the high school in the final Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. ET.
“First of all, it was probably the most exciting game of our season by far and that’s easy to say,” Rough Riders head coach Adam Whitehead said. “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.”
Long Island drew first blood. 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 equalized when forward Brittany Balcer was fouled from behind in the box and converted her penalty kick.
The hosts had two chances from midfielder Marti Corby and Balcer to end the first half but could not take advantage. 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 1 v 1 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 two stops in the first extratime period while it was all Rough Riders to start the second extratime. 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.
The shootout was tied at 2-2 before the tide turned. 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 final.
“What a night,” GRFC head coach Lewis Robinson said. “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.”