Published Jul 16, 2022
Written By:  Thomas Costello
             ​Central Region Contributor

Albion featured outstanding attack build-up and a big performance by goalkeeper Atlee Olofson to move on to face Nashville Rhythm in the South Regional Final


Miami, Fla. was the home of two WPSL South Region semifinal playoff matches on Saturday with teams traveling from across the Southeast. After a seven-goal back-and-forth match in the morning, the Charlotte Eagles and Albion Hurricane Football Club Royals faced off in a contest between the best WPSL side from North Carolina and Texas. On paper, it was a matchup between two strong possession teams, but key plays on both sides of the ball gave AHFC Royals an edge, winning 5-1.


Entering the match, Charlotte was the second-best goal-scoring team in the entire WPSL, and almost got started early. On a break, midfielder Michaella Arteta charged the Eagles’ offensive penalty area and shot on future Notre Dame goalkeeper Atlee Olofson, who made a save to keep the match tied at zeros early.


Then, the Royals started a 25-minute stretch where they scored four goals and controlled the matchup. AHFC’s first goal came in the fifth minute, off an interception from defender Leah Klenke. From the quick change in possession, right inside the Royals’ offensive half of the midfield line, turned into a booming cross to forward Selena Brooker who put Albion up 1-0.


AHFC’s second goal almost came three minutes later when once again Klenke received the ball and made a cross-field pass to Brooker. This time, Brooker sent a pass down the right wing, followed up by a pass to forward Zoe Main who made a diagonal cut through the penalty area before doubling the lead for AHFC.


It wasn’t only the Royals who had chances. In the 17’ minute, the Eagles found space down the left sideline and into the 18-yard-box, although at a tight angle, Charlotte put a shot on frame for another save by Olofson.


The Royals added their third goal less than a minute after Olofson’s save. Albion's midfield stepped in the way of a Charlotte pass and held the ball for a couple of seconds, just enough time for forward Jaide Prejean to receive a pass and make a one-on-one run against the keeper to score and put AHFC up by three, less than 20 minutes into the half.


In the 30’ minute, it was Klenke again starting the attack.


Klenke received a pass in the Albion defensive midfield, with two Eagles approaching, and withstood the pressure long enough to find an open teammate down the open left sideline. Klenke received the ball again and charged towards the left side of the penalty area near the goal line before sending a cross into the penalty area that went off the head of a Charlotte center back and was headed in by forward Adelhia Ghonda.


After the fourth goal, Charlotte didn’t rush back to midfield. Instead, the Eagles huddled up for less than a minute to regroup. A combination of that time together and a Royals side that sat further back to end the half gave the Eagles chances on offense.


Before the end of the first half, Charlotte forced two saves. In the 32’ minute, the left side of the Eagles’ attack again challenged Olofson with a shot she recovered. With less than a minute left in the half, Charlotte shot again, but this time it was an AHFC defender who cleared the ball off the line before it could get to the keeper.


Despite the late pressure, Albion headed into halftime up 4-0.


At that point, it’d be easy for a team to give in with a four-goal deficit to erase, but not in the playoffs. Charlotte entered the second half with the same momentum it carried to end the first.


That energy and momentum led to an Eagles goal in the 52’ minute. After both sides traded lobbing clearances, the Royals passed back to the defense to regroup. The final pass from AHFC had a light touch, after Charlotte pressed the Royals defense, with an open ball going to Charlotte midfielder-turned-attacker Faith Adams.


Adams dribbled from 10 yards outside of the penalty area and took a shot just inside the 18-yard-box. The shot hit the bottom of the crossbar, hit off the field, and then away from the goal line. Although not immediately called, the goal was given to Adams, cutting the Royals’ lead down to three. Olofson, who was on the goal line when it happened, walked to midfield before the restart to plead a case for no goal to the referee, but the goal stood.


The remainder of the playoff battle was exactly that, a battle. Both sides created opportunities, but it was Charlotte who had the most, with the Royals settling for chances on the counter. AHFC’s goalkeeper Olofson wasn’t going to allow a full comeback.


In the 58’ minute, Olofson made three saves in a row. After an initial punch out, Olofson made a diving save before getting up and making another seconds later. No matter what Charlotte threw at the Albion goal nothing else made it past Olofson.


To Charlotte’s credit, goalkeeper Anna Rexford kept the lead at three for most of the second half on the chances created by the Royals. In the 74’ minute, AHFC had a breakaway and Rexford showed confidence to go to the ground quickly and stop the attempt to go under the keeper.


There weren’t only more saves in the second half, but more physicality. As both teams got tired from the Southern Florida heat, the timing of tackles was less crisp than earlier in the match, resulting in more fouls on both ends. The match stayed respectful, however, with no ill will behind the challenges, despite the one-sided score line.


Before it was said and done for the Royals, they did score one final goal in the 88’ minute – a tap-in off a Rexford save. With the final score of 5-1, AHFC plays another day, with its eyes set on Sunday’s South Region Final.


Albion’s opponent, on Sunday, is the Southeast Conference championship-winning Nashville Rhythm. Prior to the Royals’ victory, Nashville came back from two deficits to win 4-3.


Sunday’s match takes place at 10:00 a.m. ET. Whoever wins moves on to Stillwater, Okla. for next weekend’s WPSL Championship.