Scoring the winning goal on a free kick in Sunday’s rematch of the 2008 tier I final in the St. Albert Women’s Soccer League was a pleasant surprise for Brittany MacDonald.
With the ball positioned to the left of the net in prime scoring territory, the veteran midfielder for the Morinville Ladies curled a wind-aided shot towards the far post.
“Normally it goes over the net whenever I do it so I kept my head down and this time it went top corner,” a smiling MacDonald said after the 1-0 decision over the defending champion Pink Panthers at Eldorado field.
Her goal in the 54th minute stood the test of time in a match marred by a howling cross-field breeze. The flagpoles marking the pitch were doubled over by the unrelenting blast of Arctic air.
“The wind was pretty bad so we tried to keep the ball on the ground quite a bit but the other team was really pressuring us,” MacDonald said.
The Panthers marked Morinville tight on the ball but never really threatened offensively.
“The game was very, very defensive,” MacDonald said. “They were really strong defensively against us.”
Morinville controlled play in the opening 45 minutes but couldn’t finish as the wind played tricks on the ball around the Panthers net. Morinville keeper Daniel Lafond was called upon to make only one key save on a late scoring attempt before the first half ended.
After falling behind early in the second half the Panthers spent more time in Morinville’s half of the field but struggled to put shots on net.
Throughout the contest Morinville was successful in exploiting the outside lanes with runs into open space as the Panthers clogged up the middle. Alison Forsyth was a going concern up front for Morinville throughout the contest. The team’s forward-rich line-up included strong efforts by Suzanne Gaetz and Melissa Duro.
Morinville didn’t take the Panthers lightly in the first meeting between the division one teams after the ladies in Pink pulled off a 2-1 playoff upset last year for the league crown.
“It was a revenge game, for sure,” MacDonald said. “We came out thinking they’re probably going to be pretty good. They have a few players we didn’t recognize but they still played us tough.”
Despite an impressive record last year in league play, Morinville fell short of the division pennant with a second-place 10-1-3 mark. Needing to win the last game before the playoffs to place first overall, Morinville gave up a late goal against the sixth-place Mavericks and settled for a 3-3 draw. The result ended Morinville’s four-year run as the top team in the regular season and was denied a trip to the tier IV provincials for the first time in five years.
“We didn’t win in the playoffs and we didn’t go to provincials either so it was a disappointment,” MacDonald said.
Morinville will battle Storm United and Revolution FC for division honours. The Storm (11-2-1) finished one point above Morinville for a provincial berth but was winless in three matches in the tier IV bracket. In 2007 the Storm lost the tier I league final to Revolution and last year was bounced out of the semifinals by Morinville by a shocking 5-0 score. Revolution, a medal contender for the upcoming World Masters Games in Australia, was knocked out of the playoffs by the Panthers 4-0 in a semifinal stunner. In league play Revolution (7-2-5) was third, six points ahead of the fourth-place Panthers (6-6-2). The previous season the Red Menace went undefeated as the second division pennant winners and tier I champs.
“It’s going to be an exciting year,” said MacDonald, a graduate of Sturgeon Composite High School. “We’ve got some new players but the big thing for us is our speed in the forwards.”
The next game for Morinville (2-0) is tonight against the Hi Balls (0-2) at 7 p.m. at Eldorado.
The Panthers (0-3) are back on the pitch this Sunday versus the Lady Titans (1-1-1) at 7 p.m. at Salisbury field.