By Scott French
PENSACOLA, Fla. -- Dushawne (Doc) Simpson was musing to his assistant coach about how they'd had teams that had gone through games in which, no matter what they tried, the ball just wouldn't go in -- and here he was watching it happen to mighty Oklahoma FC.
“I said, 'Maybe we're going to get one now and steal it.' ”
Sure enough, a fine defensive effort by OFC deep into overtime went wrong, with the ball falling to Aztec MA striker Greta Samuelsdottir's favored left foot, and the Icelandic forward finished with aplomb.
Samuelsdottir's 117th-minute strike, just three or four minutes before penalty kicks would have settled the first semifinal in Saturday's Women's Premier Soccer League doubleheader, sent Aztec to its second WPSL title game in three years with an unexpected 1-0 victory.
Aztec (10-1-1) advances to a showdown Sunday (at 1 p.m. CT) with host Gulf Coast Texans (10-0-0), who relied on their fantastic Jamaicans to pull away to a 3-0 triumph over Salt Lake United in the nightcap at Ashton Brosnaham Stadium.
Both games were tight and lively, with the better side falling in the opener and triumphing in the second game, but Aztec -- a suburban Boston team from the same club that won the title two years ago with Boston Aztec Breakers Reserves -- likely will require another special something to put up their best fight in the final.
Gulf Coast, unlike Aztec, has a full roster, is playing before a passionate home crowd and didn't need 120 minutes to prevail in the semifinals.
“I said to my coaches after the game: Hopefully, this [Texans-Salt Lake United] game plays out the way our game played out, because our girls are exhausted.”
No such luck. The Texans, a second-year WPSL team, picked up second-half goals from Jamaicans Tina Murray and Shakira Dawson and another, deep in stoppage, from Danish striker Ida Gregersen to hand Salt Lake United (8-1-2) its first defeat.
Murray made the big imprint, finishing off a superb 54th-minute sequence to give Gulf Coast the advantage, then feeding the oft-spectacular Duncan to close another fine series of passes to secure the victory in the 84th.
The goal was her ninth of the season, and so was the assist.
“It's a nice feeling. I can't wait for tomorrow,” said Murray, who, like Duncan, starred at NCAA Division II power West Florida in Pensacola. “I'm so excited. This is my first nationals. I always wanted to play in [a championship] in college, but this is opportunity right here, and I'm just grabbing and holding onto it.”
The Texans weathered Salt Lake's patient buildup in the first half, then took charge after halftime, isolating their stars against United's superb backline and feasting off the proceeds.
“At halftime we spoke about [the need to] raise the tempo in the first 10 minutes of the second half,” Gulf Coast coach David Kemp said. “We came out at a different level ... in a different gear than we've been in all season.”
Murray and Duncan, whose goal was her 10th this year, were the catalysts, and contributions from Swedish midfielder Mia Persson and right back Tori Fish also were key. They might have caused more damage if not for Salt Lake center backs Brinna Bennion and Alex Kirk -- “impossible to get by, it seems like at times,” Kemp praised -- and goalkeeper Becca Ritchie.
“We left them open, and that's what happens when you let a crafty player have an open goal,” Salt Lake coach Dennis Burrows said. “We were pushing hard at the end, that's why the second and third goals were scored. We fought hard, and the girls came out and gave it everything. We had plenty of opportunities to score.
“That's the tough thing: If you can't put the ball in the net, you're not going to win the game.”
Oklahoma FC (11-2-2) lived that out in the first game. Jimmy Hampton's team was dominant for long stretches -- especially in overtime, when it took five corner kicks and created seven scoring chances that ranged from good to how-do-you-miss that?
“Hat's off to Oklahoma. They were the better team. They deserved to win that game,” said Simpson, who had just 14 players and was missing five starters who departed for their college preseasons. “We got really lucky today. They put a lot of pressure on us. They had numerous chances. We just battled and battled. ...
“I feel bad for them because they played a great game. They worked hard and probably deserved it, but give us credit. We hung in there.”
Oklahoma hit a crossbar (Dria Hampton, from a 19th-minute free kick) and the base of the left post (high-schooler Rachel Thun, 22 minutes into overtime), and Jackie Acevedo -- the WPSL's top goalscorer, with 15, fired wide on an open net in the 79th after a heavy touch rounding Aztec goalkeeper Erin Quinlan left her a difficult angle.
“The soccer gods weren't smiling on us,” said Jimmy Hampton. “I think it bounced every way it shouldn't have for us to be successful. [Aztec] fought hard and played hard and give them credit, but it would have been a fair result if we would have gotten the win, but we didn't, and the ball bounced their way at the right time.”
Acevedo, Dria Hampton and Maddie Mercado combined to create myriad chances but didn't do enough with them. Aztec, too, wasn't getting anything from the few opportunities it managed: Samuelsdottir fired just wide in the 17th and 18th minutes, Dana Bergstrom's free kick was palmed onto the crossbar by Ashley Bechtold in the 59th, and Quinlan made a point-blank stop on Jill Kinter's volley from Bergstrom's cross in the 72nd.
Aztec was fortunate not to give up a goal in overtime, then was really fortunate to find the net. It followed a ball up the right flank from Hillary Savoy to Kinter, who faced off with Oklahoma's Abbey Bright wide of the box. Bright won the battle, but pushed the ball directly to Samuelsdottir, just inside the box, and her blast found the side netting inside the far post.
“If it's on her left foot and she's got an opportunities, it's going in the back of the net,” Simpson said. “She's famous for that.”
Samuelsdottir said fortune played its role, then took it back.
“That's soccer,” she said. “Often, it's not talent, it's luck. Well, I don't believe in luck that much, but it's just things happened -- they hit the post, they hit the crossbar, and ours went in. ... Forwards are supposed to score, and I just did that in the end.”
Aztec MA 1 (Samuelsdottir 117), Oklahoma FC 0, OT
Gulf Coast Texans 3 (Murray 54, Duncan 82, Gregersen 94+), Salt Lake United 0
Aztec MA (10-1-1) vs. Gulf Coast Texans (10-0-0) at Ashton Brosnaham Stadium (Pensacola, Fla.), 1 p.m. CT