The Connecticut Fusion celebrates its victory over the FC Buffalo Women Sunday. (Photo courtesy of the Connecticut Fusion)
ROUND ROCK, Texas – For the first time in organization history, the Connecticut Fusion will take to the national stage as the team travels down to the Lone Star State this weekend to compete in the 2021 United Women’s Soccer National Championship Tournament.
The Fusion earned its spot in this four-team tournament by winning last weekend’s East Conference Playoff Tournament in Buffalo, N.Y. Connecticut knocked off Syracuse DA and the East’s top seed, FC Buffalo Women, by the same 2-0 scoreline.
Now, the group will turn its attention to Friday night’s semifinal as the Fusion will take on the winner of the Midwest/Central Conference winner, Midwest United FC. That match will kick off at 7 p.m. ETw ith the winner facing the victor of Friday’s second semifinal between the West Conference champion Santa Clarita Blue Heat and the Southwest Conference champion, the San Antonio Athenians. The final is scheduled for Sunday at noon ET. All three matches played at the Round Rock Multipurpose Complex, hosted by FC Austin Elite.
Connecticut enters the semifinal on the strength of winning its last four matches by a combined score of 17-1. It hasn’t conceded a goal over the last 347 minutes. Combine that with the fact that the Fusion entered its final two matches of the regular season sitting outside of the playoff picture, Steve Stokoe’s group has had to adopt the mentality of playing every game like being a playoff match.
Powering the front line for the Fusion will be the organizations’ leader in career goals, assists and matches played, Tori Sousa. The former Central Connecticut State University standout scored in each of the Fusion’s conference tournament matches and assisted on a goal. She enters the semifinals with six goals and four assists in 10 appearances this year and has bagged 22 goals and assisted on 11 more in 32 total appearances over three seasons. Right behind her on the scoring charts is midfielder Cara Jordan, as the rising University of Connecticut junior has hit her best form of the season over the past two weeks. She has tallied four goals and one assist during the winning streak.
Add to the mix that Connecticut’s center-back duo of two-time All-UWS defender Kylee McIntosh and rising UConn sophomore Sofia Weber have jelled nicely throughout the season, along with the outstanding play of Georgetown’s Allie Augur in net, the Fusion have shown that it be a tough team to break down on both sides of the ball.
Connecticut’s opponent on Friday will be a formidable one as Midwest United FC ran through the Midwest North Conference with a 9-0-1 regular season record and scored a UWS regular season-best 42 goals. But the squad needed a few heroics just to reach the final of its conference tournament. Ihe second half of extratime of their semifinal against Corktown AFC last Thursday, Midwest United used a stoppage time equalizer from Avery Lockwood to send the match to penalty kicks before advancing to the final by winning the shootout, 6-5. But a tight match in the semifinals was all that Midwest United needed to fire the team up as it dispatched St. Louis Scott Gallagher in the final, 3-1, with Lockwood scoring her third goal of that weekend’s competition and Anna Bennett adding a goal and an assist.
If the Fusion is to get past Midwest United FC, its pponent, which will be the winner of Friday’s second semifinal, will also be going through a difficult test to get to the final. The first-ever UWS champion Santa Clarita Blue Heat went unbeaten in the West Conference and boast the likes of former Canadian international Lauren Sesselmann, Florida State standouts Jenna Nighswonger and Yujie Zhao, along with a number of college standouts from the greater Los Angeles area, including USC’s Savannah DeMelo.
On the opposite side of that match-up, the San Antonio Athenians pulled off a major upset by beating Southwest Conference favorites Lone Star Republic 1-0 on Sunday evening in that division’s tournament final, getting the winner in the 87th minute from Jamie Erickson. That result ended up being a revenge job for the Athenians as they lost to Lone Star Republic, 6-0, during the regular season, which ended up being the club’s lone blemish in a 9-1-0 regular season. But in the Athenians other nine regular season matches and two postseason contests, they outscored their opposition, 34-6. With Round Rock only being a couple hours from their home base, they will have a heavy contingent of their supporters making the drive up to support their club.
For more information on the 2021 UWS National Championship Weekend and how to watch, head over to uwssoccer.com.