Pensacola FC won the 2019 WPSL Championship on July 21. [KT KING]
PENSACOLA, Florida — As Ana Paula Silva Santos stepped up to take a free kick for Pensacola FC in the 66th minute of the WPSL Championship match onJuly 21, she knew the team needed a spark.
Trailing a feisty Utah Royals FC Reserves squad 2-1, Santos knew this might be the best opportunity she would see to draw her team back in the waning moments of their WPSL campaign.
With a short run up, Santos struck the ball true, over Utah’s wall, and into the upper ninety of the net.
“All I could think about was how well we were playing, how well we started the second half, and how much we deserved to win that game,” Santos said. “I kept whispering to myself, ‘You can do this, you can do this,’ and then it happened. I was happy to help my team tie the score.”
Pensacola would go on to win the championship 4-3, after Briana Morris’ final goal came with just two minutes left in the second half of extra time. Pensacola FC returned home victorious to a soccer community starved for a championship after the team finished runner-up each of the previous two WPSL Finals.
For this team, this WPSL season meant more than just a championship. The club developed its Pensacola FC Academy team and watched the squad finish third in the Gulf Conference.
Owner and coach David Kemp is hoping that bringing home the championship trophy will further invigorate an already enthusiastic Pensacola fan base.
“There is so much more exposure this year,” Kemp said. “I’ve been unable to keep up with all the well wishes, all the social media messages — it’s gone completely on a different level this year.
“Our whole community is really supportive and behind it, I think it is great for our community. We are hoping some more girls will sign up to play soccer and be inspired by this amazing group.”
For the Pensacola squad itself, the coaching staff regularly provided inspiration. Lead by Kemp and his assistant coaches, the staff assisted the team in tactical understanding and rigorous technical work. More than anything though, the staff looked to ensure that the culture of the team was incredibly tight knit.
“David Kemp is a very good coach,” Silva said. “He had a huge impact in the team not only in making a good team, but making sure we were more than that. He made sure we were friends more than just teammates. He always made everybody feel included, and that’s all you can ask for. Having a team with good chemistry both on and off the field is the first step for excellence.”
Mollie Rouse, who played a remarkable game in the final, including providing the set up for Morris’s game-winning goal, was more than happy to contribute to a championship path. As the final whistle blew, Rouse simply described the emotions of winning as too much to handle.
“Obviously we were all overwhelmed with happiness when the final whistle went,” Rouse said. “We knew certain (teammates) had been in the championship before and hadn't managed to get the win in the past, so it was a great feeling knowing we helped them to finally achieve what they deserved.”