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It's goals galore as FC Gold Pride beats TEPCO Mareeze, 4-1

Center Line Soccer's full coverage includes video interviews with FC Gold Pride's Camille Abily and Ali Riley, as well as head coach Albertin Montoya. 

DANVILLE, Calif. — Tucked away in the rolling hills below Mt Diablo, the Mustang Soccer Complex plays host to FC Gold Pride as they quietly continue their preseason camp in anticipation of the second season of Women’s Professional Soccer in the Bay Area. On Saturday night, the Pride roared to life as the team opened the doors to the public for their exhibition match with Japanese side TEPCO Mareeze. An enthusiastic crowd of all ages lined the field and were treated to an exciting display of offensive prowess in a 4-1 Pride victory.

First half goals from Camille Abily and Christine Sinclair were backed up by second half strikes from Abily and Rosie Tantillo on a chilly night in Danville. The lone goal from TEPCO Mareeze was tallied by Sawato Yasumoto after some defensive miscommunication.

A constant theme in 2009 was a lack of scoring from FCGP. Already solid in defense with the likes of U.S. Women’s National Teamers Nicole Barnhart and Rachel Buehler, the team lacked that instinct to finish in the attacking third. Currently undergoing some dramatic roster changes ahead of the 2010 season opener, the team looks much better prepared to improve on last season’s 17 goals in 20 league games.

The changes were evident from the kick-off, as new acquisitions Kelley O’Hara, Ali Riley, and Abily combined with veterans Tiffeny Milbrett and Sinclair on the first goal of the night. In just the fifth minute, Riley made a great defensive interception along the touchline and fed a quick pass to Milbrett on the wing. A perfectly executed give-and-go with Sinclair left Milbrett streaking into the penalty area behind the Japanese defense. She then pulled back in perfect pass to the top of the area for Abily to calmly slot out of the reach of goalkeeper Misaki Amano and just inside the far post for the 1-0 lead.

Mareeze leveled the score in the eleventh minute, as a miscue on a defensive clearance bounded just inside the penalty area for Yasumoto to volley past a helpless Barnhart. The equalizer signaled game-on for the Pride defense, and they were rarely tested for the rest of the evening.

FCGP continued their attacking ways, consistently sending players into the attacking third at every opportunity. Head Coach Albertin Montoya has made it clear that he wants everyone on the field to be ready to pressure their opponents as high u the field as possible. “We’ve been working on that throughout the week, because we will most likely play that style throughout the season,” said Montoya. “We want to make it difficult for the other teams to get behind us.”

Dangerous runs from O’Hara and Sinclair kept the Mareeze defenders on their heels for much of the half. In the 20th minute, the pressure paid off as Abily found plenty of space at the top of the area. Spotting Sinclair on the wing, she weighted a perfect pass into her path, which Sinclair one-timed over the ‘keeper into the far upper corner of the goal for a 2-1 Pride advantage.

Coach Montoya recognized that the work of Abily leading up to the goal from Sinclair was something that might have been lacking previously. “I think she is one of the best midfielders in the world,” he said of Abily. “She really controls the tempo of the game and links up with the forwards and the backline tremendously.”

Mareeze settled down for a stretch and held the bulk of possession over the next 10 minutes, but they never did test Barnhart’s goal. The Pride showed they could lay effective defense too, as they thwarted any Mareeze movement with the all near their penalty area.

Sinclair was unlucky not to double her scoring on the night in the 42nd minute as she met a solid cross from O’Hara just inside the area. Her shot from close range was expertly guided just wide of the post by goalkeeper Amano.

In the 45th minute, Abily dribbled toward goal from just inside the byline, but her shot was met by two desperately sliding defenders whom knocked the ball out for a corner kick. Unable to convert on the ensuing kick, the Pride entered halftime with a 2-1 lead.

The second half saw the Gold Pride continue to push forward against the Japanese defenders. In the 47th minute Riley held the ball in front of the defense before giving to her ex-Stanford teammate O’Hara just outside the area. O’Hara dribbled toward goal, and looked certain to break through before being taken down by the defense. The referee pointed to the spot, where O’Hara missed the penalty kick conversion when her shot blasted off the goal post.

The interplay between the two rookies from Stanford began the play leading to the penalty, and the connection between the two was evident all game. “It’s been awesome,” exclaimed Riley. “Kelley (O’Hara) is just an amazing player. It is so nice to be playing with her, and she works so hard offensively and defensively.” She then added with a smile, “She is one of my best friends, and we’ve been looking forward to this since the draft. It’s been great.”

Riley was not done, and in the 51st minute she dribbled deep into Mareeze territory before crossing for second half substitute forward Kiki Bosio inside the area. Bosio could not get off a clean shot, but the ball was cleared right to Abily. Her low drive was poorly handled by the goalkeeper and snuck just past the post for the 3-1 lead. The French international tallied her second goal of the game, and was still smiling postgame as she shared her feelings on the performance, “It’s very good. It’s a good team, and I like playing with these teammates.”

The lead-up to the goal again illustrated the speed of Riley, as the converted forward again initiated the attack from her position on the back line. Coach Montoya made special note of the rookie’s contributions:

“Ali is exactly what we thought she was when we drafted her,” said Montoya. “The speed she provides in the attacking third and in defense — no one beats her. The coaching staff wants (opposing) players to take her on, because she has that speed to keep up with them and take the ball away and then distribute the ball. She is not just an athlete, she is a soccer player.”

By the 60th minute, many of the game’s starters had been substituted for players looking to make FC Gold Pride’s 22 player regular season roster. However, the pace of the match remained in their control, with Pride possession in Mareeze territory the norm over the final 30 minutes. Forward Bosio continued to impress as she stated her case to be a member of the talented Pride strike force.

“Kiki Bosio has been exceptional for us the last week and a half,” said coach Montoya. “We brought her in with the thought of putting her in as a holding midfielder, but she has down very well up front. She holds the ball, she has power, and she can take players on. She is a great post-up player.” As an added attraction, she also features a flip-maneuver on her throw-ins that propel the ball well into the center of the field, essentially creating a set-piece situation from a simple restart situation.

In the 82nd minute, one of her trademark throw-ins toward the Mareeze goal was collected by O’Hara. Without space to create a shot, O’Hara pulled the ball back to the edge of the area for substitute midfielder Rosie Tantillo to blast off the bottom of the crossbar and into the net for the final goal in the 4-1 victory.

Might such a sequence be commonplace for FC Gold Pride in 2010? Certainly Bosio looked up to the challenge of competing for playing time on a team that not only features two women who have scored 100 goals for their national teams in Sinclair and Milbrett along with last year’s college player of the year in O’Hara, but also adds the world’s best striker in Marta early this week. For coach Montoya, he was not at all concerned with figuring out whom to make his starters come the regular season. “That’s a good problem to have,” he explained. “It will be interesting to see who the top three forwards will be. You want that competition in practice everyday that is what is going to make them all better.”

For now, the offensive quality of the team that was so lacking last year seems to be vastly improved. “Things are really falling into place,” said Montoya. “You look at this result, and we haven’t even added Marta to the team. Then it really gets interesting.”

Saturday’s solid performance against a technically sound TEPCO Mareeze side came against some good competition. Coach Montoya was pleased with his team’s effort on the night, “It’s exciting that we are scoring goals. We’ve only been together for a week of preseason, so all I’ve asked it that we continue to improve on things.” A comprehensive 4-1 victory certainly looks like a good start to 2010, but does it get any better?

“Well, actually it does,” smiled Montoya. “When we are in the finals in front of 20,000 fans — that will be better.”

Scoring Summary:

FCGP — Camille Abily (5, 51), Christine Sinclair (20), Rosie Tantillo (82)
TEPCO — Sawato Yasumoto (11)

FC Gold Pride lineup:

Nicole Barnhart (Brittany Cameron 46; Erin Guthrie 77), Ali Riley (Elizabeth Harkin 59), Candace Chapman (Lauren Wilmoth 59), Rachel Buehler, Candace Wilson (Kristen Graczyk 46), Becky Edwards (Kimberly Yokers 59), Carrie Dew (Rosie Tantillo 59), Camille Abily, Kelley O’Hara, Christine Sinclair, Tiffeny Milbrett (Kiki Bosio 46)