By Scott French
PENSACOLA, Fla. -- The Gulf Coast Texans shredded the competition all year in the Women's Premier Soccer League, but they saved the best for the finish. Emphatic victories over Salt Lake United in the semifinals and Aztec MA in the title game capped a perfect season, well, perfectly: with a championship.
There's a lot of star power on the Texans: dynamic Jamaican forward Shakira Duncan, a Scandinavian contingent of attacking midfielder Mia Persson, striker Ida Gregersen and central defender Fanny Forsman, Brazilian goalkeeper Patricia Nardy, a good-sized collection of local products, top players from Hawaii and Japan and around the South ... we could go on.
The biggest impact was Tina Murray's.
The Jamaican wing-playmaker, a local girl, sort of -- she starred at the University of West Florida, in Pensacola -- scored one goal and set up another in Saturday's 3-0 semifinal triumph, then played pivotal roles in every goal in Sunday's 4-0 title-game victory.
She is the WPSL's Player of the Year.
Duncan is the flashier of Gulf Coast's islanders, with sublime skill that draws oohs and aahs from teammates and foes alike -- fans, too, as all the No. 23 Texans jerseys scattered among the crowd this weekend at Ashton Brosnaham Stadium -- but it is Murray who makes the Texans click.
“Tina is very consistent,” Texans head coach David Kemp said as his charges soaked him with an ice shower following the final whistle Sunday. “She holds the ball up well, and she always gets the ball in dangerous areas for us. We liked the matchup on the left wing today, and we were trying to get it to her every time she got behind the defense. She did a great job.”
It's what's expected from Murray, who grew up in Jamaica playing with Duncan and followed her to West Florida after two years at Meridian College in Mississippi. They have a connection uncommon in summer-league soccer, and it fueled the Texans' 11-0-0 run.
Duncan scored 11 goals with five assists, and Murray netted nine goals with 10 assists.
“It's deadly, man,” Murray said of the Texans' Jamaican connection. “We understand each other, and that's a great advantage. We know where to go. I mean, once I pick up the ball, she knows where to run, and I know where to put it. That's a good advantage we have over everybody.”
It worked like a charm in the final four. Murray provided a 54th-minute lead against Salt Lake United on Saturday, then set up Duncan in the 82nd minute to assure Gulf Coast victory. In Sunday's win over Aztec, Murray fed Persson in the 21st, sent Duncan sprinting on a counterattack in the 60th to make it 2-0, then delivered the crosses -- both to Duncan -- that led to Gregersen's goal in the 65th and Persson's second in the 69th.
Aztec head coach Dushawne (Doc) Simpson was impressed.
“When I watched their game yesterday, it was evident she is multitalented,” he said. “Right foot, left foot, assists, 1-v-1 -- she can do it all. She's a great player.”
Murray was the WPSL Southeast Conference Player of the Year, the top player in the final four, and now, officially, the best of the best in the 65-team WPSL. A perfect cap to a perfect season.
“I can't find even find the words ...,” she said as she celebrated with teammates. “This is the best moment of my life so far.”