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W-League soccer: Some unfinished business

Banged-up Blue Heat earn a draw, will play for conference title Sunday

Posted: July 14, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: July 14, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Blue Heat forward Liz Franco, right, shoots past Strikers defender Rachel Flemming and scores the game-tying goal on Wednesday at Canyon High School.

All the Santa Clarita Blue Heat wanted to do was control the tempo, gain the momentum and secure a playoff spot.

Early on in Wednesday’s game against the Los Angeles Strikers, it became clear that wasn’t going to happen.

In fact, it was the Western Conference-leading Blue Heat that had to fight just to earn a 1-1 tie at Canyon High School, delaying a chance to clinch a spot in the United Soccer League’s W-League postseason.

“This was definitely a team we could have clinched against,” said Santa Clarita forward Liz Franco, who scored the game-tying goal in the second half. “But we didn’t finish our opportunities.”

A win would have given the Blue Heat a conference title.

Instead, injury-riddled Santa Clarita (8-1-5) earned a single point for the tie, but is just two points ahead of the Vancouver Whitecaps and three ahead of the Pali Blues.

Only the top two teams in conference move on, making the Blue Heat’s regular season finale matchup against the Blues on Sunday a virtual play-in game.

That game will also take place at Canyon High at 7 p.m.

The Blue Heat wouldn’t have had to worry about Sunday’s game if they capitalized on five corner kicks and plenty of quality shots on Wednesday.

“I felt that in the first 15-20 minutes, we should have been up 2-0,” said Santa Clarita head coach Fabian Sandoval.

In addition, Sandoval said that five starters are now sidelined.

Midfielder Edite Fernandes reaggravated a hamstring injury in the first half, ending her night early and putting into question the rest of her 2011 season.

“When you’re missing that many players of that caliber, you can see the difference,” Sandoval said.

Shortly after Fernandes came out, Santa Clarita found itself trailing 1-0 when Strikers forward Amy Chapman scored in the 29th minute.

Chapman controlled a pass on the right side and lined up a 20-yard kick that bent into the upper-left corner of the goal.

The Strikers (4-9-2) held defensively and managed to stifle most of the Blue Heat’s breakaways.

“I thought we played a really great 45 minutes, and I told them I just wanted to come out and do the same thing,” said L.A. head coach Demian Brown. “There wasn’t anything wrong in the first half.”

In the 61st minute, Franco finally found a way to get beyond the scrappy L.A. goalkeeper Amanda Robles.

Franco found herself in prime position at the top of the 18-yard box when teammate Hannah Beard tackled the ball toward her in traffic.

Franco fired a left-footer beyond the reach of Robles, who was otherwise solid with seven saves.

“I always look for touches outside the 18 and that was a perfect position,” Franco said.

Though it was the end of the day’s scoring, it wasn’t for lack of chances. That included a free kick for Santa Clarita from 12 yards away late in the game.

In the end, the Blue Heat outshot the Strikers 7-2.

Now, it all comes down to Sunday.

“For us, that’s our championship game,” Sandoval said.


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