Seattle Sounders Women captain Jenna Holtz, right, receives the Jerry Zanelli Cup from WPSL Commissioner Rich Sparling, left, after her club won the 2018 WPSL Championship. [Theresa Bragg]
Sounders forward Celia Jimenez Delgato dribbles away from Pensacola forward Mya Swinton during the 2018 WPSL Championship match. [Theresa Bragg]
NORMAN, Oklahoma — Seattle Sounders Women finished a strong second-half defensive effort with a counter-attack goal on the match’s final touch as it defeated Pensacola FC 3-1 to win the Jerry Zanelli Cup at Gordon Drummond Field on Sunday.
Georgia Cloepfil assisted Seattle’s first two goals, the later the match-winner in the 55th minute, and starred throughout the match, for she consistently created space from the right wing in the final third.
The title is the Sounders’ first since the club joined the Women’s Premier Soccer League in 2016 and finished the 2018 season with a 10-0-1 record. They defeated Fire & Ice SC, the defending league champions, in the semifinals before defeating Pensacola, which was making its fourth championship weekend appearance in six years, in the final.
“It’s an incredible feeling, a long journey but a journey I don’t want to end.” Sounders coach Scott Ford said. “It’s a special feeling.”
Seattle scored first in the 9th minute. Mireya Grey, who scored the only goal during Saturday’s semifinal win, crossed the ball from the right wing to the near post, where an awaiting Cloepfil back-heeled the ball in front of goal to Kirsten Pavlisko, an incoming Florida State freshman who sprinted to the center of the box to one-time her shot into goal.
Pensacola did not allow Seattle much time to celebrate, for it equalized two minutes later on Anele Komani’s header. The ball arrived from a corner kick, and a failed Seattle clearance deflected the ball into traffic and up to an awaiting Komani at the back post.
The match was tied at one at halftime, yet Celia Jimenez Delgado gave Seattle the lead in the 55th minute. Cloepfil found Delgado, a member of the Spanish National Team who played in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, with a cross to the center of the box.
Although Delgado’s goal was the match winner, Pensacola still threatened an equalizer for the remainder of the match.
Seattle worked to move Uchenna Kanu, the league’s leading scorer, further away from the box when she was on ball. Yet Kanu was still able to create three second-half scoring chances, including a strong 25-yard strike in the 90th minute that bounced off the crossbar.
“I think we expected a little more direct threat from (Kanu), but they still played well,” Ford said. “We made some adjustments at halftime to put us in a better position to compete against that, and we did a fantastic job.”
Seattle added the third goal on the final touch of the match. With Pensacola pushing forward in the final seconds of stoppage time, Pascale Dumesnil won a challenge outside of the Pensacola box, dribbled forward and hit a low, unassisted shot into the left corner of the goal.
“We stuck to our game plan and worked hard from the first minute to the last,” Cloepfil said. “They really threatened us, but we stuck together and went with what we knew could win us the game.”
Pensacola finished the 2018 campaign 9-1-1 and appeared the more threatening side in the first half, creating 12 chances (six in each half) during the match compared to Seattle’s four.
However, each of Seattle’s four scoring chances resulted in shots on goal, three going in.
“It was a great game, extremely tight, and I feel unfortunate for our ladies because they gave everything,” Pensacola FC coach David Kemp said. “I felt like we did enough to win the game, but hats off to Seattle. They took the couple of chances they had and are worthy champions.”
Seattle won the first Jerry Zanelli Cup, the championship trophy that was renamed in January to honor the league’s founder. During Zanelli’s 20 years as commissioner, which ended with his retirement in September 2017, the league grew into the largest women’s soccer league in the world with 106 clubs for the 2018 season.
Visit the official WPSL Twitter account for game action and postgame highlights, and check out our @wpsl Instagram Story, for Sounders midfielder Jenna Holtz has taken over to share the team's postgame celebrations.
9’ — Seattle: Kirsten Pavlisko GOAL (Georgia Cloepfil assist)
11’ — Pensacola: Anele Komani GOAL (Unassisted)
55’ — Seattle: Celia Jimenez Delgado GOAL (Cloepfil assist)
90 + 4’ — Seattle: Pascale Dumesnil GOAL (Unassisted)
32’ Yellow Card — Seattle: Pascale Dumesnil (Foul)
Seattle Sounders Women celebrate with Jet City Auxiliary supporters after winning the WPSL Championship on Sunday. [James Poling]