Los Angeles Soccer: Cherelle Khassal
Blue Heat (8-1-5) edged the Vancouver Whitecaps (8-2-4) by one point and two-time W-League champ Pali Blues (7-1-6) by two to move within 90 minutes -- Sunday night against the Whitecaps at College of the Canyons -- of the national semipro/amateur league's final four in Tukwila, Wash.
The Seattle Sounders (8-4-3), who finished fourth in the West, will join the three conference champions as host of the July 29-31 finals at Starfire Sports Complex.
Cal State L.A. All-American Liz Franco's sixth goal of the season boosted the Blue Heat to a 1-1 draw with the L.A. Strikers, and their second scoreless draw of the campaign with Pali Blues was enough to advance the Whitecaps, who are affiliated with the Major League Soccer club and played in last year's W-League title game.
Vancouver's hopes to win the regular-season title ended with a 3-3 tie against Colorado Force, which required a three-goal comeback after Erin Gunther scored a hat trick in the first 21 minutes for the Force. UCLA star Sydney Leroux netted the last two goals, her ninth and 10th, for the 'Caps.
All three contenders failed to assert control when given the opportunity down the stretch. Blue Heat won just once in their last six games and heads into the postseason without a victory in their last three games. Vancouver and Pali won just twice in their final six.
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Khassal tallied in the Strikers' victories over Victoria and the Colorado Force. The first-year team is 2-2-0 heading into Sunday's game at Pasadena City College against archrival Santa Clarita Blue Heat, for whom Khassal played last season.
Her teammate Christina Murillo (Cal State Fullerton) joined Khassal on the W-League Team of the Week, and Pali Blues defender Sasha Andrews also was honored.
In the rival Women's Premier Soccer League, Orange County Waves forward Kristina Larsen (Mission Viejo HS/UCLA) was Player of the Week after scoring a hat trick in a romp over San Francisco Nighthawks.
With Hollywood United departing for a rival league, the Ventura County Fusion might have figured they were in a two-team battle for the Premier Development League's Southwest Division title this year.
They would have been correct.
Only the other team isn't Orange County Blue Star.
The Fusion made that clear Friday night with a 7-2 pasting at Ventura College, running their record to 4-0-1. That's only worth second place -- Fresno Fuego, apparently their chief competition, is a point better, at 4-0-2.
The teams drew, 0-0, May 1 in Ventura and meet again June 11 in Fresno.
They're in another battle this week, for the division's berth in the U.S. Open Cup. Fresno won all four of its qualifying matches, and the Fusion is 3-0-0 heading into Saturday's PDL match against the Southern California Seahorses at La Mirada High School. Ventura County will advance if it wins by two or more goals or by one goal while scoring at least three. A 2-1 win forces a coin flip, a 1-0 win, draw or loss sends Fresno through.
Thousand Oaks' Danny Barrerra (Westlake HS/UC Santa Barbara) played the key role against Blue Star, setting up two goals -- his league-best fifth and sixth assists -- and scoring the finale.
When the opportunity to own a women's soccer team presented itself last year, Joe and Debbie Caracciolo jumped at the it. It cost them a friendship but gave their club an archrival before it had a name, coach, players or a place to play.
The L.A. Strikers will make their debut Saturday in the USL W-League, taking on two-time league champion Pali Blues in the 1 p.m. opener of a tripleheader at Cal State Fullerton, but the dates to circle on the calendar are May 29 and July 13.
That's when the Pasadena-based side takes on the Santa Clarita Blue Heat, a second-year club that counted Debbie Caracciolo as operations manager last year. The parting was not sweet -- Blue Heat owner Carlos Marroquin felt blindsided, Caracciolo felt abandoned -- and the battle will be intense.
"I went from hero to zero [with Marroquin] the minute I chose this franchise," Caracciolo said. "In my eyes, we had this partnership of working together, and I thought we had a great relationship throughout the entire season. At the end of season, when the opportunity presented itself, you'd think he'd be happy for me, that we were able to put this together, about another game to add to the schedule. That wasn't the case. I don't understand why he's upset I'm not working there."
Marroquin says he'd have loved to have been supportive, but he felt betrayed because he said the Caracciolos didn't let him know they were considering taking their own team -- not until they had done so.
'TASTE OF IT': Both head into the season with similar goals: to reach the playoffs, give players an opportunity to grow and showcase their talents, and to connect with their communities -- and especially the youth soccer clubs.