By Scott French
PENSACOLA, Fla. -- They call Shakira Duncan “S-Money” and Tina Murray “T-Money.” Should it be “M-Money” for Mia Persson?
The Swedish midfielder punctuated a superb performance Sunday with two goals as the Gulf Coast Texans outclassed a weary, shorthanded Aztec MA side on their home field to claim their first Women's Premier Soccer League championship.
Persson, from NAIA powerhouse Lindsey Wilson College, scored a 21st-minute opener, then completed a three-goals-in-10-minutes stretch midway thyrough the second half for the Texans (11-0-0) that ended any remaining doubt.
Danish forward Ida Gregersen and Jamaican star Duncan also tallied, and Murray, Duncan's countrywoman, ignited from the left flank an attack that put up 23 shots (to five for Aztec) in a comprehensive performance at Ashton Brosnaham Stadium.
“My god, it's amazing,” Murray, chosen the WPSL's Player of the Year following the triumph, said as she celebrated with teammates. “Just the fact that we were undefeated and then in the final we win, 4-0. That's a huge win right there. Woo! It was my first national final, I'm so excited. I wouldn't want to play for another team.”
Gulf Coast, a second-year WPSL club, ran up a 7-0 scoreline in two final-four games against teams missing key players -- most of them forced to depart for college preseasons -- but the title was more about approach and philosophy than any kind of numerical advantage.
Most summer-league teams are collections of players, with huge rosters to absorb conflicts and commitments that force key personnel to skip training sessions and matches. The Texans are a team in the true sense: daily practices, off-field relationships, a full roster for nearly every match, home and away.
Head coach David Kemp, the director of coaching for the youth club with which the team is affiliated, knew from the year's first get-together that this was possible.
“I think that's what sets us apart, is we train every day, we work together and we do a lot of stuff on the field, and it shows,” he said. “We do no fitness, no fitness tests. Everything we do is with the ball, so I think it's also a victory for soccer in general, for the coaches who believe in doing everything with the ball and believe in technique.”
Aztec (10-2-1), the third team in as many years from suburban Boston's Aztec Soccer club to reach the WPSL final four, was at a huge disadvantage. It had just 14 players -- five starters were missing, including offensive catalyst Maddy Evans from Penn State -- had to go 120 minutes to beat Oklahoma FC in Saturday's semifinals, and struggled to weather the Florida heat and humidity that grew increasingly brutal as the match progressed.
Midfielders Hillary Savoy and Caroline Dixon were forced to depart in the first half with injuries, and although both returned to the constant rotation head coach Dushawne (Doc) Simpson employed to keep his lineup as fresh as possible, the situation was hardly optimal.
“It is what it is,” Simpson said. “They're a great team. They wore us down, we ran out of gas, and we knew it was going to be tough, but give them credit. They deserved it. They played well.
“We're not going to make excuses about what we had and what we didn't have. They came to play against whoever they were going to play against, and they deserved the game.”
Aztec, sparked by Colgate star Jill Kinter on the right flank, was the sharper team for the first 15 minutes, opening space behind the Texans' backline and testing Brazilian goalkeeper Patricia Nardy with three shots. Then everything changed, for good. The Bostonians couldn't get off another shot until the 71st minute, and by then they were down by four goals.
“I think we just dug down deep,” said holding midfielder Jasmine Kauka, a Hawaiian from the University of Alabama-Birmingham who took charge in the middle. “We just came together and started to win balls in the middle again, and it turned around.”
The Texans managed a half-dozen chances in a six-minute span and got the only goal they needed, Persson's first, in the 21st minute.
It came from a Michaela Hahn free kick about 40 yards out on the right wing. She delivered a perfect arc to the top of the Aztec box, and Murray knocked it onto Persson's path for the finish. The game, for all intents, was done.
“Once we finally scored our first goal, I knew it was ours. I knew it was over,” said Murray, who notched her 10th assist of the season on the play. “And the second half is always out half, regardless of how bad we're playing. Once we hit the second half, the first 15 minutes, we know what we want. We just go for it.
“This is the result: Undefeated, perfect season. Second year, a national championship? How much can we ask for?”
Kauka and center backs Jessica Oram, from the University of South Alabama, and Fanny Forsman, a Swede from UNC Pembroke, took care of everything Aztec managed until the final 20 minutes, when Kemp emptied his deep bench.
Murray nearly doubled the advantage eight minutes into the second half, but goalkeeper Erin Quinlan, an All-American from the University of Hartford, parried her first shot and Dana Bergstrom spectacularly cleared her second effort off the goal line.
Seven minutes later, Gregersen scored the second goal -- she tapped home the rebound after Duncan blasted Murray's cross off the crossbar -- and Duncan, with her 11th goal of the season, made it 3-0 five minutes after that, poking the ball through Quinlan's legs following a 50-yard run from Murray's feed following an Aztec corner kick.
Referee Augie Minsaola called for a water break shortly afterward, and Gulf Coast got their fourth almost immediately after the game resumed. Persson slotted home after Duncan dropped Murray's cross back to the top of the box.
“Just one-two all around the box,” Persson said of her goals. “Just try to finish it, pass it in the goal, and it worked.”
The Jamaicans -- Duncan and Murray, both former standouts at the University of West Florida, which is just a few blocks east of the Ashton Brosnaham -- get most of the attention on the Texans, and with good reason: They're spectacular talents deeply in tune with each other, the product of years of playing together, back home and in Florida. Sunday's win embodied how good everyone else is, too.
“It was really Mia and a couple other players -- Jasmine in the middle, Fanny and Jess in the center-back position -- who stepped up and got us going today,” Kemp said. “Boston did a good job of containing the Jamaicans for most of the game.”
The plan, Simpson said, was “to try to keep them in front of you and move your feet. I think we did a great job against the, Obviously, they're going to create opportunities, and you can't be flustered by that.
“They're great players. At some point in time they're going to get the best of you. You've just got to try to limit their chances. I think we did a pretty good job of that.”
Duncan wasn't as influential as she's been in Saturday's 3-0 victory over Salt Lake United, but Murray was a force throughout, with Persson at the heart of the Texans' attack. She was involved in all four goals, although she was credited with just one assist.
Persson was nearly as good -- “M-Money” good, although she wasn't thinking in those terms.
“I'm not into the 'money' thing,” she said.
Murray thought otherwise.
“Oh-ho, we can do that!” she said. “Everybody has the money on our team.”
Ashton Brosnaham Stadium (Pensacola, Fla.)
Gulf Coast Texans 4, Aztec MA 0
GC -- Mia Persson (Tina Murray) 21
GC -- Ida Gregersen 60
GC -- Shakira Duncan 65
GC -- Mia Persson (Shakira Duncan) 69
Gulf Coast Texans: Patricia Nardy; Tori Fish, Jessica Oram, Fanny Forsman, Jordan Stone; Michaela Hahn, Jasmine Kauka, Mia Persson; Shakira Duncan, Ida Gregersen, Tina Murray. Subs: Lauren Arnold, Clarissa Hernandez, Shawn Meach, Cortenay Mincy, Morgan Motes, Alexandria Pickrell, Katie Richmond, Saeda Sueki, Chelsey Williams.
Aztec MA: Erin Quinlan; Carson Laderoute, Jenna Roncarati, Alex Bengston, Dana Bergstrom; Hillary Savoy, Caroline Dixon, Julie Morrissey; Jill Kinter, Greta Samuelsdottir, Eliza Marshall. Subs: Celia Balf, Maddie Bissaillon, Brittany Russo.
Yellow cards: Stone 15, Fish 64.
Referee: Augie Minarola. Att.: 400 (est.).
Records: Gulf Coast Texans 11-0-0; Aztec MA 10-2-1.