RSL was the sharper side to open the game, controlling possession well, cleaning up loose passes from the Fire while getting to 50/50 challenges quicker. The last of those factors also led to numerous free kicks going RSL’s way, as the Fire were often late in the challenge. That appeared to cause frustration among the Fire’s players and coaches, which was only exacerbated when RSL was awarded a penalty in the 19th minute when Thea Linkfield was pushed down from behind in the penalty area. Jordan Johnson stepped up and side-footed her shot into the right corner to give RSL the lead.
The goal, though, seemed to refocus the Fire, and they began to play better, gaining more possession and starting to develop their own rhythm. But a turnover in midfield gave RSL a chance to counter-attack, and Jessica Giblin’s ball forward allowed Niki Carter to use her pace to get behind the Fire defense and shoot home into the left corner of the net in the 36th minute.
RSL coach Jim Cote said he was very pleased with the way central midfielders Johnson, Giblin and Amy Werdine had controlled the game from the outset.
“I said to them at halftime that the first 25 minutes were fantastic,” Cote said. “The intensity was high, we were doubling down, triping down on players, team soccer defending was what we needed to do, that’s what I said we had to do before the game.”
Cote said he was also very pleased with the way his side defended, limiting the Fire’s opportunities as they had against Princeton on Friday.
“The back four I thought was fantastic,” Cote said. “It’s the same thing as yesterday, we didn’t give away a lot of chances, and that’s the thing I try to preach to them, that defending is everything and they’ve got to beat all 11 to score, and I think we’ve done a good job of that over the first two days.”
A similar pattern emerged in the second half, as the Fire frustrations led to first their head coach being sent from the sidelines, and then a pair of players being shown two yellow cards, which led to their ejections and the game ending 11-on-9. Between the two sendings off, Zoe Lombard scored RSL’s third, running onto a long ball and flicking her header past an advancing goalkeeper into the vacant net.
RSL will advance as the winner of Group B regardless of its result against the currently winless MPS Renegades on Sunday, and will play Monday at 1 p.m. in the tournament semifinals. Cote said he thought the way the team had performed so far was indicative of the bond the players shared.
“I think they’re excited to see each other again,” Cote said. “I think the excitement of getting the group back together again and realizing what a special group we have, although they’ve had a wonderful year, the energy level to play with each other is certainly there.”