The Long Island Rough Riders women’s team earned an automatic berth into the 2017 United Women’s Soccer Championship this weekend following a 5-1 victory against New Jersey Copa FC in the Eastern Conference Final on Tuesday evening at St. John Vianney High School in Holmdel, N.J.
As East Conference champion, the Rough Riders (8-2-1) join West Conference champion Santa Clarita (8-0-0), Midwest Conference champion Grand Rapids FC Women (8-1-1) and wildcard Detroit Sun FC (6-1-3) in the four-team field for the UWS Championship on July 21-22 at Grandville High School in Grandville, Mich.
The UWS will announce the championship bracket Wednesday. The first semifinal is 4:30 p.m. ET Friday with the second at 7:30 p.m. The UWS Championship is 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
“Going into today, we know Copa went to the UWS Final last year, so I told our players the pressure was on Copa to get there again,” Rough Riders first-year coach Adam Whitehead said. “It took the pressure off our players and we played our game rather than focusing on theirs. That was probably our best performance of the season.
“This is massive for us. The fact that we beat the team that got to the Final last year only adds to it. They’re all buzzing. Very happy.”
Morgan Santoro scored twice and Long Island found the back of the net four times in the second half to give 2016 UWS runner-up N.J. Copa FC its first home loss of the season.
Santoro put the visitors ahead in the 39th minute after latching onto a loose ball in the box. The 1-0 lead remained intact at halftime.
The Rough Riders scored twice in the first 10 minutes of the second half to build a comfortable 3-0 lead. Santoro scored in the 51st minute before Taylor Elliott’s shot from distance was buried in the top corner four minutes later.
“That was one the biggest talking points at halftime,” Whitehead said. “If we circle back to the first game of season when we were at home against Western N.Y. and winning 1-0, the reason we didn’t score four or five is because we dropped so deep and invited pressure and sure enough, they scored. The biggest thing I said at halftime tonight was to remember that, remember what we did and try to do the opposite. I told the players to put pressure on Copa, force them back and we’ll get more chances.
“I think the pressure we applied in the second half was probably even higher than the first half. We wanted to keep them as far away from our goal as possible.”
The Rough Riders’ pressure never let up. Kimberly Marra converted a penalty kick in the 69th minute to make it 4-0, and Victoria Antonino capped Long Island’s scoring by finding the bottom corner of the net in the 72nd minute.
New Jersey Copa scored a consolation goal in the 86th minute to avoid the shutout.
“The group we’ve got here deserve this,” Whitehead said. “They put in the hard work, they listen and they do all the things when I ask them to. We’ve come together as the season has progressed. The girls are playing as friends and not a bunch of individuals.”
BY: Michael LoRé