United Women’s Soccer will host its third National Championship in Grandville, Mich. this weekend.
With the four teams and semifinal matchups being confirmed earlier this week, here is a breakdown of the field heading into Semifinal Saturday.
Semifinal No. 1
Calgary Foothills Women’s FC vs. Houston Aces
Saturday, July 21, 4:30 p.m. ET
Calgary Foothills Women’s FC
2018 Record & UWS National Championship Qualification Status: 7-1-2 record (23 points), West Conference Regular Season Champions
UWS League History: Second Season, finished in Second place in West in 2017 (4-3-1 record)
Key Performers: Jessica Jones (three goals, seven assists), Lauren Raimondo (four goals, two assists), Yvonne Northover (Played all 900 minutes for team, two-time UWS Team of the Week Member)
Season in Review: After making their UWS debut in 2017 with a second place finish in the West, Troye Flannery’s team were looking to make the next step in 2018. Calgary got off to a flying start by winning their first three matches all by the same 3-0 scoreline and if things weren’t already off to a great start, they bolstered the squad right after their first match of the season with the signing of Canada’s Women’s National Team number one goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé. After a hitting a small speed bump on June 8 with a 2-2 draw at home to Colorado, they posted their second three-match winning streak of 2018 to put them well ahead in the West Conference standings. But with three matches to go, their Achilles heel came back to bite them in the form of facing the two-time defending West Conference Champs, Santa Clarita, in a home-and-home series that likely would determine this year’s West winners. After getting swept by the Blue Heat in 2017, they lost 2-0 on the road in Week VII and things were looking bleak for CFWFC in the return match as they fell behind 2-1 inside the final five minutes. But a towering header from Tori Martyn in the 90th minute sealed a draw and set up a winner-take-all match on July 6th at LA Galaxy OC Women. Despite triple-digit temperatures during that contest, Calgary turned on the style with a pair of lovely first half goals from Jessica Jones and Alexandria Lamontagne and Labbé held down the fort in the second half to clinch the title with a 2-0 victory.
UWS National Championship Outlook: While Calgary and Houston do have a history of playing against each other, that small sample size can get thrown out the door when it comes to this year’s National Championship. Sure, Calgary did sweep the season series last year, winning 2-1 at Houston and taking a 4-1 decision at home, but only a handful of players from either side played in those games and the paths that the two teams took this year couldn’t be any more different. This year’s Calgary team has shown a nice balance of getting offensive production from early every spot on the field. And in a short tournament setting like this, having multiple players contribute in the goal-scoring column is only an added benefit. They’ve also shown great tenacity this year when they’ve had to dig out a result when the odds seem unlikely or showing that they can go to a second or third plan if the first option isn’t working. All of those traits can only help Calgary this weekend if they want to lift the trophy this Sunday.
2018 Record & UWS National Championship Qualification Status: 8-0-0 record (24 points), Southwest Conference Champions
UWS League History: Third season, spent two previous seasons in the West Conference, finished in Third place in 2016 (4-3-1 record) and Fourth place in 2017 (3-5-0 record)
Key Performers: Gisela Arrieta (13 goals, one assist), Julie Gavorski (eight goals, two assists), Tatiana Ariza (five goals, three assists)
Season in Review: The Houston Aces ran through the competition in the newly formed Southwest Conference, outscoring their opposition 52-3 in eight matches, and only had two of their contests decided by four or less goals. It would be hard to deny a team like Houston the crown as they are littered with quality across the field. It was a breakout season for Gisela Arrieta as after netting three goals in two previous seasons for the club, she scored in every match this year after the teams’ opener, including scoring a hat trick in a 7-1 victory at El Paso on June 23. University of Cincinnati product Julie Gavorski turned herself into a solid secondary scorer to Arrieta as she scored eight goals on the season and Tatiana Ariza, after earning All-West Conference accolades last year with six goals and an assist, she backed it up with another solid season in 2018.
UWS National Championship Outlook: This matchup is a battle of two different mentalities. Calgary has been steady across the board all season long and Houston has been an offensive juggernaut. Averaging six and a half goals per game speaks volumes to the fact that Houston is a high-octane, high-pressure scoring machine. But there are still some questions yet to be answered by Houston this season. How will the team react to a tightly-contested game? And what will be the teams’ resolve if they do go down a goal, which hasn’t happened yet this year? At the end of the day however, if Houston comes into this weekend and continues to do what they do, which is setting the tempo and getting ahead early while forcing their opponents to chase the game, there’s no reason to think that Houston cannot take home the title.
Semifinal No. 2
Grand Rapids FC Women vs. Inferno Rush
Saturday, July 21, 7:30 PM ET
Grand Rapids FC Women
2018 Record & UWS National Championship Qualification Status: 7-1-2 record (23 points), Midwest Conference Playoff winner
UWS League History: Second Season, 2017 Midwest Conference Playoff and UWS National Champions (8-1-1 record)
Key Performers: Cindy Lay (eight goals), Grace Labadie (four goals, five assists), Marti Corby (four goals, two assists, two goals in Midwest Conference Playoff Final)
Season in Review: After a dream inaugural season last year, 2018 began with a semi-sour taste as they drew 2-2 in their season opener against eventual Midwest Conference Regular Season Champs Lansing United. There were a lot of changes from last season’s title-winning team, which started at the top as 2017 UWS Coach of the Year Lewis Robinson took over the reigns of the organizations’ Men’s team in the NPSL. James Gilpin, who spent the previous three years as the Goalkeeping Coach with Men’s team, was named to take over the Women’s team that only saw ten of their 18-player roster from last year’s Championship Weekend return for 2018. But after that opening day draw, GRFC won five of their next six matches to easily qualify for the postseason, only drawing to Michigan during that stretch. But the side received a wake-up call in Week IX as they fell 2-1 to Lansing on the road, confirming that they would have to defend their Conference Playoff title on the road. But after taking out their frustration in their final two regular season matches by outscoring Indy Premier and Fort Wayne 21-1, they came into the Midwest Conference Playoff looking like the same hungry side that entered the postseason last year. They outlasted Detroit in penalties in the semifinals before putting on a second half performance to remember in the Final, getting three unanswered goals to blow past Lansing to reach the National Semifinals for the season straight year.
UWS National Championship Outlook: Gaining experience by playing in, and winning, the National Championship last year will be a big plus for Grand Rapids heading into the weekend. And they will have the added benefit of playing in front of their home crowd again, which will certainly give them an advantage as well. But outside of that, their semifinal contest pits together two pretty evenly matched teams. Both Grand Rapids and Inferno possess the ball well, can keep it on the ground for long stretches of time but also can come up with the killer finish when needed. So their semifinal will come down to who can force the other to alter their gameplan first. Similar to their run to the title last year, Grand Rapids gained some key momentum by winning the Midwest Conference Playoffs, including persevering in the penalty shootout against Detroit in the semifinals. They’ve shown their strong mentality from the spot before in key situations as they advanced to the National Final last year via spot kicks in the semis so if the match goes to penalties, you would have to give the advantage to the defending champs.
2018 Record & UWS National Championship Qualification Status: 7-3-0 record (21 points), East Conference Championship Game winner
UWS League History: Third season, finished in Fourth place in 2016 (4-5-1) and Sixth place in 2017 (4-6-0 record)
Key Performers: Haley Crawford (10 goals), Teresa Rook (Rynier) (three goals, six assists), Tesa McKibben (four goals, four assists)
Season in Review: Inferno Rush is the second of two charter UWS members who will make their first UWS National Championship appearance this weekend after finishing in the middle half of the East Conference standings in each of their first two seasons. The name of the game for Francisco Cleaves’ team this year has been defense as the Rush posted one of the better defensive records in all of UWS this season, tying for second with both Grand Rapids and LA Galaxy OC in fewest goals allowed (ten) along with being amongst the league leaders in clean sheets (four). The season got off to a shaky start as in the first half of their opening match at New York, they found themselves down two goals at halftime. But they charged back in piling three goals in the second half to leave the Bronx with a win. Then after falling to Connecticut 2-0 on the road, they rattled off six wins out of their next seven games, including five in a row and sweeping a pair of two-match weekends in the process. They clinched the East Regular Season title with a week to spare and after falling to Long Island in their regular season finale, they powered past the Fusion in the East Conference Championship Game to book their spot in the tournament.
UWS National Championship Outlook: A loss in the regular season finale to Long Island was motivation that Inferno Rush needed to turn it up a gear heading into the postseason. And they did exactly that this past Tuesday in the East Conference Championship Game by blowing past Connecticut. And the 2-0 scoreline didn’t really define the match as for 90 minutes, Inferno had their way against the Fusion and never let their opponents really get settled from start to finish. Now, after two-straight years of mid-table finishes in the East, they have an opportunity to take the spotlight for themselves this weekend. The Inferno have great balance all across the field along with one of the stingiest defenses in the entire league. While they can possess the ball for long stretches like Grand Rapids, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them absorb the GRFC attack in the early stages. As you would have to think, being the proverbial home team in this match would give Grand Rapids the luxury to attack a bit more freely. But Inferno are one of those teams that can not only absorb pressure well but put it right back on their opponents and make them pay for mistakes. Give the Rush one or two chances in front of goal, especially with the striking prowess of Crawford in front of goal, they will finish them off.
2018 UWS National Championship (Grandville, Mich.)
National semifinals (Saturday, July 21)
4:30 p.m. ET – Calgary Foothills Women’s FC vs. Houston Aces
7:30 p.m. ET – Grand Rapids FC Women vs. Inferno Rush
National final (Sunday, July 22)
6:30 p.m. ET – Semifinal winners