Women's Soccer News: WPSL Pacific-North Playoff Race Comes Down to Wire
The battle for conference championships and playoff berths has been fierce throughout the Women's Premier Soccer League (WPSL), but there's nothing else like what's going on in the Pacific-North Conference.
Five teams are separated by three points heading into the final weekend of the regular season, and only the top side is moving on the postseason. Everyone except the first-place California Storm has two games to play – the Storm wrap up their season Saturday night against second-place North Bay FC Wave – and nearly every game is a showdown between contenders.
It's unquestionably wild in the West this year.
“Usually, we've had one or two teams [battling at the top] in the past, but never with five teams all having the chance of going,” said Storm owner/coach Jerry Zanelli, also the WPSL's founder and commissioner. “The fact is, there are so many scenarios it's impossible to sit down and figure out any of them.”
There are dozens of permutations, amplified by all the showdowns. Four of the five remaining games pit one contender against another. Three of the clubs – North Bay, West Coast Wildkatz and Bay Area Breeze – have two such battles.
The fifth team in the running is the Central California HEAT, and after a meeting with the Wildkatz, they finish up against winless San Francisco Nighthawks.
The fun starts Friday night at 7:00 p.m. with defending Pacific-North champion Bay Area taking on North Bay at Chabot College in Hayward.
Here's what the standings look like heading into Friday's game:
1. California Storm 4-2-3, 15 points
2. North Bay FC Wave 4-1-3, 15
3. West Coast Wildkatz 3-1-4, 13
4. Bay Area Breeze 3-2-3, 12
5. Central California Heat 4-4-0, 12
6. San Francisco Nighthawks 0-8-1, 1
The remainder of the weekend looks like this:
West Coast at Central California, Fresno City College, 6:00 p.m.
North Bay at California, Folsom High School, 7:00 p.m.
Central California at San Francisco, Burlingame High School, 1:00 p.m.
West Coast at Bay Area, Foothill High School (Pleasanton), 4:30 p.m.
The advantage belongs to North Bay, a Marin County club that went to the playoffs as conference runner-up in its first two seasons. Win out, and the Wave are champions.
“We are in the driver's seat, but it's going to be very difficult for us,” said North Bay head coach Luis Quezada. “We know the Breeze is going to come in and battle us. That's always a great game, but if our players show up and play like they [can], we should be able to give them a nice battle. It could go either way. Then we turn around and play Saturday against the Storm and the players they have.
“I don't know that we're in the driver's seat. We're playing two amazing teams. It will be an honor to go out and do our best.”
The Sacramento-based Storm have the conference's biggest names, with Brazilian legend Sissi and former U.S. Women's National Team stars Brandi Chastain and Aly Wagner on the roster. They also have Stanford star Teresa Noyola, who in January won the Hermann Trophy as college soccer's best player.
Quezada paid tribute to Sissi, who came to the U.S. to star in the late, great Women's United Soccer Association and played on with the Storm after ending her pro career.
“Her wisdom on the field is second to none,” he said. “It's quite an honor to play against her and to coach against her. There's very few people in the country who see the game like she does. She's a complete architect, conductor, engineer on the field. She's amazing.”
The Wave have some talent, too. They've surrendered a conference-low seven goals behind goalkeepers Lindsay Dickerson from Stanford and Katelyn Rowland from UCLA and defenders Jessica Ingram from San Jose State and Hayley Abbott, an Australian who plays collegiately at Southeast Missouri.
Forward Jordan Carlberg, from Sacramento State, is “one of the most underrated players in the country [with the ability] to change direction, even in the air,” Quezada says.
Bay Area, a professional side, has players with Women's Professional Soccer (WPS), European club and international experience, including goalkeeper Val Henderson, a local product who starred at UCLA and was with three WPS clubs.
Former San Jose Earthquakes star Troy Dayak has quickly built Livermore-based West Coast into a contender, and Clovis' Central California HEAT emerged as a force under strong new ownership this year. They swept their series with the Storm, who are unbeaten against everybody else.
Why is it so tight this year?
Zanelli says there's never been better parity and that everybody has upgraded their rosters as more and more players seek out opportunity in the WPSL.
“I think the quality in the WPSL is drawing the best players to our league,” he said. “We had over 70-plus calls and emails, over 70 players contact us to be on our team this year. I think all of the teams, every single one of us, is working hard to make this league very competitive.”
Who will emerge the victor, to join Pacific-South champion San Diego SeaLions and the winners, also to be determined this weekend, in the Northwest and Big Sky-North conferences at next weekend's Western final four in San Diego?
Any guess is as good as another.
“It's going to be tough, no matter what,” Zanelli said. “I've been involved with this for 15 years, and this is probably one of the most exciting seasons. Everybody around me is trying to figure out the scenarios. The scenario for me is win [on Saturday] and find out what happens with everybody else.”
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