The Long Island Rough Riders women’s team plays Grand Rapids FC in the United Women’s Soccer National Semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Grandville High School in Grandville, Mich.
A win puts the Rough Riders into the 2017 UWS National Championship Game against the winner of Santa Clarita-Detroit Sun FC at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
“As much as I want them to enjoy this experience, we can’t lose sight of why we’re here,” Rough Riders first-year coach Adam Whitehead said. “Enjoy the experience, enjoy being part of a team that got this far, but don’t lose sight of the fact that we’re here to win and go on to win the whole thing. It’s a great achievement to do what we’ve done, but the job’s not finished.”
Long Island (8-2-1) defeated 2016 UWS runner-up New Jersey Copa FC 5-1 on Tuesday to claim the Eastern Conference crown and earn an automatic berth into the four-team National Semifinal. Grand Rapids FC (10-1-1) won a four-team playoff for the Midwest Conference title.
The Rough Riders scored five goals or more in a game for the fifth time this season in the midweek victory, and have found the back of the net 40 times this campaign, while surrendering only 11. Morgan Santoro leads the team with 10 goals (third in UWS) and 20 points (sixth in UWS), while Kayla Saager has seven goals and Erica Modina has five. Long Island has more than doubled its scoring output from last season, having scored 16 goals in 2016.
“It’s a change in mentality,” Whitehead said. “We go into every game wanting to outshoot the opponent, so just the amount of shots we’re taking, but we’re also being a little more selfish in front of goal. It’s the confidence to take the shot and not make the extra pass.”
Grand Rapids FC scored 32 goals during the regular season, while allowing only seven (one in the first half). Bethany Balcer leads the league with 14 goals and 31 points.
Similarly to how they approached the East Final against division foe N.J. Copa FC, which hadn’t lost at home all season, the Rough Riders are focusing on what’s in their control while putting the pressure on their opponent.
“We haven’t been in anything like this before with this group, so we’ll try to take the pressure off and put it on the teams we play against,” Whitehead said. “I’m definitely going to say we’re more than good enough at the moment to beat anyone in front of us. You don’t go away and win at Copa 5-1 and become an underdog in the next round. With it being a new experience there shouldn’t be any pressure because we don’t really know what to expect.
“We’ve got this far and we’ve done pretty well. We don’t want to stop now.”
BY: Michael LoRé