Defense and finishing were major factors in Berkeley’s 17-7 win over San Diego in the Women’s Premier League semifinal. The Surfers had tons of possession throughout the match, but wasn’t able to convert those opportunities into points until the final minutes of the game.
As for the near-shutout, “I really wanted it for our defense,” Berkeley coach Kathy Flores said. “Through the league, we didn’t play as well defensively as I would have liked. We worked on it, and they did a really good job of bringing it around.”
Defense was especially crucial in the first quarter, as San Diego took it Berkeley hard. The Surfers found themselves in scoring position a couple of times, but a penalty here, knock-on there ended those threats. After 30 minutes, neither team had breached the tryline.
“We knew it was going to be really tough against San Diego,” Flores said. “We both have really fast backs, and we have forwards who want to play the ball. We knew we were going to be evenly matched. Our game plan was to take it in the middle, then move the ball out wide, but San Diego did a very good job of slowing our ball down.”
Up against their tryline, Berkeley received a penalty and the ball found inside center Jill Whitfield. As Surfers fell off tackles, Whitfield eventually offloaded to Folayan around midfield. The Eagle wing outpaced her pursuers for the first of her two tries, 5-0. In general, it was difficult to work the ball wide, as the fierce winds manipulated the crispest of passes. But when Folayan got her hands on the ball, she did good things with it.
Into the second half, the All Blues found themselves within striking distance once again, thanks to a linebreak from flyhalf Ashley English. Wing Irene Gardner helped the team inch closer, and after a couple of pick-and-goes, Katie Chou dove over the line for the try, 10-0.
Folayan notched the final Berkeley try after forcing missed tackles and spinning off of defenders. On the whole, Berkeley found more success with its finishers and were able to turn possession into points. Their tough defense forced turnovers and penalties, even though the All Blues were also plagued by a high penalty count.
San Diego Marea Blue prevented the shutout with only minutes remaining, juking her way in from 10 meters out. Kirstin Hartos kicked the conversion for the 17-7 final.
“It was one of those ‘If we make it out alive’ kind of things,” Flores said. “I can’t speak for [San Diego coach] Richie [Walker], but I assume it was the same for him.
Flores wasn’t happy with the penalty count – some of which she admitted the team deserved, and others that arose from questionable management of the tackle area when the All Blues were attempting to poach the ball. But overall, the All Blues coach was pleased with the performance.
“We’re hitting our stride. We’re where we want to be,” Flores said. “Offensively, we could have done a few more things, which we’ll have to change for the Amazons. But our defense is where we want it to be.”
Flores took in the Amazons v Beantown match, and admitted that the players have a few things to work on if they expect to be prepared for Twin Cities’ physical forwards.
But the All Blues are tough, too, as they proved against their toughest competition this year. It should be a great match between the Zons and All Blues this Sunday.