The Houston Aces won their first UWS championship. (Photo courtesy of UWS)

GRANDVILLE, Mich. – The Houston Aces secured their first United Women’s Soccer title behind Julie Gavorski’s goal in the 118th minute to defeat Inferno Rush, 1-0, at Grandville High School Sunday night.

Gavorski was named final MVP.

“It’s been a long road for us and for me, it’s well deserved,” Aces head coach Gui Ferreira said. “I give all credit to the girls tonight, it was a great job by them.”

The Aces came close to scoring in the third minute as after earning a free kick just to the right of the box. Gisela Arrieta curled her kick past the wall and Inferno goalkeeper Kelly O’Brien but was denied by the crossbar and the post.

The remaining 40 minutes of the half didn’t generate any more chances on goal. However, the Aces forced Inferno to stay on its back heels for the majority of the period. Unlike Semifinal Saturday in which two matches had a combined output of 11 goals, the first 45 minutes of the final finished scoreless.

Immediately from the second half re-start, Arrieta generated a quick chance by slicing through the Inferno defense but her effort was a comfortable save for O’Brien.

O’Brien was called into action again in the 69th minute as she smothered Tatiana Ariza’s driven effort after a well-worked sequence down the right flank. Her save of the match came in the 75th minute as Allison Murphy stepped into one from 35-yards out but the Inferno keeper came up with a spectacular diving grab. O’Brien finished with a personal season-high 12 saves.

The momentum started to turn in the final 10 minutes of the contest as Inferno started to push the tempo. Tesa McKibben and Haley Crawford, both of whom were quiet in the attack up until that point, forced goalkeeper Tara MacDonald to make diving stops.

The first extratime period didn’t deliver any clear cut chances for either team but for the second consecutive day of the national championship, rain cascaded down on the field. The best chance of stoppage time for Inferno came in the 112th minute as Aces substitute goalkeeper Lauren Lovejoy, who came in to begin extra time, tipped over McKibben’s long-range effort.

With only minutes remaining in the second extra time, Tatiana Ariza slid a ball into Gavorski’s path and she put it past O’Brien.

“It was a crazy finish,” Gavorski said, “but we gave it a lot of grit and we had to keep going. [Ariza] played in a great ball up the middle and all I had to do was place it in the back of the net. I kind of closed my eyes but it went in and it was just a magic moment. You just have to finish your chances and that’s what I did.”

Every UWS championship game has featured extra time. Gavorski’s tally was not the latest goal scored in a UWS postseason match. In 2016, Santa Clarita defeated New Jersey Copa FC, 2-1, with a 119th-minute bicycle-kick goal from Julia Hernandez.

“It was a tremendous Championship weekend to cap off our third season,” UWS commissioner Joseph Ferrara, Jr. said. “The level of play and competitiveness continues to rise and that was on full display this weekend.”

2018 ALL-CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM

GK: Tara MacDonald (Houston Aces)
D: Grace Stordy (Calgary Foothills Women’s FC)
D: Meghan Cunnigham (Inferno Rush)
D: Natalia Ariza (Houston Aces)
MF: Paige Hayward (Houston Aces)
MF: Cindy Lay (Grand Rapids FC Women)
MF: Jessica Jones (Calgary Foothills Women’s FC)
MF: Tesa McKibben (Inferno Rush)
F: Morgan Otteson (Grand Rapids FC Women)
F: Haley Crawford (Inferno Rush)
F: Julie Gavorski (Houston Aces)*

* – Championship MVP