Carolina and Red River champions meet at the southern tip of Florida to move forward in the 2022 WPSL Playoffs
Published Jul 14, 2022
Written By:  Thomas Costello
Central Region Contributor

After a tough regular season schedule, it’s time for the WPSL playoffs. In the South Region, one of the two conference semifinals features the top sides from Texas and North Carolina in AHFC Royals and the Charlotte Eagles.


From the Lonestar state is the Albion Hurricanes Football Club. Based out of Houston, the Royals are back-to-back Red River Conference champions, playing top-level talent to win both recent trophies.


In 2021, it was by an 83’ minute penalty kick to defeat Tulsa Soccer Club on July 9, in Dallas. This season saw similarities. After going down a goal, forward Jaide Prejean put the Royals level against DKSC BADTOP, a 2022 WPSL expansion team. That score line held till the end of the match, leading to a penalty shootout that AHFC won 4-2, earning Albion a trip to Miami.


“It was a really good game to be honest with you,” Rob McGann, AHFC head coach, said. “Any side coming out of that going to Florida deserved it.”


What the Royals bring to Florida is a desire to keep going. To McGann and his club, who he joined entering the 2022 WPSL season, their focus is winning Saturday and continuing onto Sunday, and then earning a spot at WPSL Championship in Stillwater, Oklahoma.


AHFC is determined to get there through a high possession style of play. The Royals focus on keeping the ball and having purpose behind their possession.


“Soccer’s an easier game when your team has the ball,” McGann said “That’s what we try to take into every game is have the ball as much as possible.”


In the regular season, it was that style of play that narrowly won the Southern Division of the Red River Conference over the Houston Aces and Challenge Red Devils. Throughout a coaching change and losing players to new WPSL expansion sides, the Royals amassed 22 points in the standings in 10 matches and found strong form to end the season. Now it heads to Florida on the back of a six-match unbeaten streak and five straight wins.


On the other side of the field are the Charlotte Eagles, a team familiar with success. Since joining the WPSL in 2019, the Eagles have won their conference three years straight, even reaching the 2019 WPSL playoffs before losing to eventual WPSL champions Pensacola FC.


In 2022, Charlotte had its best season to date, not losing a single match in the regular season after only losing two in its first two seasons combined.


Charlotte also plays a possession-style game that usually ends in a flurry of goals. In seven matches, Charlotte averaged 6.4 goals per match. Its +42-goal differential is the second best in all the WPSL, behind the Central Region’s KC Current II, who finished with +49. Even so, Charlotte’s 45 goals overall are second best in the country, creating a challenge for the Royals.


On the field, Charlotte’s goal scoring is led by Arkansas 2019 Gatorade Player of the Year Kailyn “KK” Pavatt. This season, Pavatt scored seven goals and added four assists for the Eagles, leading the team in both categories. The Mississippi State forward shined for a team rich with talent.


Defensively, goalkeeper Anna Rexford, a Kentucky native who plays at the University of Cincinnati, has allowed only three goals in 2022, which creates a fun goalkeeper matchup between Rexford and the Royals. On AHFC is future Notre Dame goalkeeper Atlee Olofson, who at only 17-years-old has helped propel the Royals to their championship season.


Saturday’s regional semifinal promises to bring fireworks on the field. The winner of Saturday’s Noon EDT contest goes on to face the winner of FC Surge and Nashville Rhythm, Sunday at 10 AM. EDT.


While playing two matches on the same weekend looks tough from the outside looking in, it’s what elite youth players who now play in the WPSL are used to. Many players come from the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) where players are used to multiple matches in a weekend.


Fortunately, the WPSL allows for multiple substitutions, giving players a break and allowing competition to stay at a high level. A level that both AHFC and Charlotte will bring to Miami this weekend.