Etat D'Soleil - Pregaming the 49th Parallel Cup Women

It says somewhere in a really old book that a lot of people read that one should “love thy neighbor.”  And when it comes to Canada, we do really like our neighbors to the North.  They are great people living in a beautiful country with much better healthcare laws and a lower drinking age than we have here.

But for two days under a biblically hot sun and weather that is as unpredictable as one of my banana kicks, that love will be set aside for would should be four hard fought football matches that will be played out on a swath of grass under the lights and the beautiful Florida dusk.

The 49th Parallel Cup is here.  Bring on the Yanks, bring on the Bloods, and game on.

This is the first of two preview articles ahead of these weekend’s events.  We will begin with the women because, well, ladies first.

WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP:
USA FREEDOM vs CANADA NORTHERN LIGHTS
SATURDAY, AUGUST 1st, 6:00pm USEDT (Live Link)

Eleven months have passed since Aimee Legault and her teammates raised the International Cup women’s trophy at the center of Punt Road Oval in Melbourne after defeating defending champion Ireland.  This occurred not long after the Freedom clinched third place by defeating Canada’s development team in their final match.

It was the second third place finish in a row, and it didn’t sit terribly well with the Freedom Ladies.  The road to redemption begins in Ft Lauderdale on Saturday night.  Thirteen women from the IC14 Freedom side return for this encounter with Canada, while four Liberty players have been promoted to the senior side. 

They’ll look for their first win since the 2012 PC in Mason, Ohio, when the Freedom came home five point winners.  They’re also looking to erase bad memories of having been crushed in their last two encounters: 86-1 in Edmonton at PC 2013, and 61-7 at IC14 in Melbourne.

“It is always exciting to play the best team in the World and Canada thoroughly deserve that mantel so this will be a great test to see where the Freedom stands at this point in time,” said Freedom coach Leigh Barnes.  “We have 4 new players and 4 Liberty players making their Freedom debut so it is exciting to see players not only develop through their respective club sides but to come through the pathway that has been created to facilitate that process.”

Five of the six players who made the All-World team in Melbourne will be in action, including captain Hallie Lee.  Arguably the best ruck in the country, Lee said last month that she was expecting Canada’s team to be athletic, a trait that she herself possesses.  Up front, she’ll have her Denver teammate Lindsay Kastanek, and New York’s Kim Hemenway who will pose problems near the goals.  Emily Riehl, who is pretty much a ninja in the midfield, also has a booming kick in her arsenal.

Their new weapon in the forwards is former pro soccer goalkeeper Carly Smolak, who in two seasons with the San Francisco Iron Maidens has become dependable for her dexterity and kicking ability, and should be a good test for the Canadian Defense.

Defensively, Minnesota’s Catherine Gregoradis and veteran New York Magpie Drea Casillas will have their hands full, but both have experience at the international level and will have speedy players in the Sacramento pairing of Lauré Kwoka and Katie Klatt waiting to bring it forward.  Pace will be crucial to counter the hard hitting onslaught that is expected from Canada.

Meanwhile, a lot has happened to the Northern Lights since that day last August, and it will be very much a new set of faces that will line up against the Americans on Saturday evening.  Just five of the eighteen starters from the final will be in the team this weekend; four starters, including Legault, are currently playing in Australia, the remaining nine will be missed due to various reasons including injury, pregnancy, and unavailability. Having a great many debutantes will be a challenge, but it’s one that coach Jason Arnold is relishing.

“We are bringing nine rookies who are playing their first game for the Northern Lights,” Arnold said.  “Bringing a new group down to play the US is exciting, but it’s definitely going to be a tough game.”

At 24, captain Marlena Ginocchio from Vancouver has already displayed the cool, calm leadership of someone who has been playing the sport as long as she’s been alive.  She has fully recovered from a foot injury prior to the IC and has played impressive footy so far this season.

Though her younger sister Aimee will not be in attendance due to playing in Australia, Margo Legault will carry on the mantle for the “First Family of Quebec Footy,” and her tenacity will cause the Americans to be smart about their decisions.

Arnold is expecting big games from two players in particular: Calgary Kookaburra Rachelle Chabot is known for her mobility to confuse her pursuers, and Holly Costanza, a hard working utility player for the Ottawa Swans, who is making her return after a devastating knee injury in the buildup to IC14.

WOMEN’S DEVELOPMENT MATCH:
USA LIBERTY vs CANADA MIDNIGHT SUNS
FRIDAY, July 31st, 8:00pm USEDT (Live Link)

Prior to the senior teams meeting on Saturday, the ladies in waiting for their turn at possible glory will take their place under the lights at CBRP Stadium the night before.  Making its debut in 2012, the development game has helped players in both countries grab the attention of the Freedom and Northern Lights selectors down the road.

Both development teams were invited to IC14; the Midnight Suns finished a surprising fourth, ahead of Tonga and Fiji, while the USA lost all six of their matches to finish in a disappointing last.  That result, however, overshadowed a great fortnight of play which is evidenced by the promotion of several players to the Freedom.

There will be quite a few fresh faces for the Liberty – seventeen in point of fact.  That new blood will be flowing at the whim of Judith Stein, longtime captain of the Freedom, who took over earlier this year as head coach of the development side.  She’ll be looking to lend all that she’s learned from playing all over the field towards building the future of the American women’s program.  All of this is in the plans, according to Barnes:

“For the Liberty, we have 17 new players suiting up this time around to face off against the Midnight Suns which is very pleasing indeed and we are looking forward to seeing the new Liberty Coaches take this young, up and coming group to the next level in their growth and evolution.”

Among those new faces are defenders Mackenzie Seckora from Sacramento, and Arizona’s Valerie Barber-Axthelm, who is one of several players on both sides who have only been playing football less than a year.  Ashley Singer will also be helping out defensively after having fantastic rookie season for New York in 2014 and being a large part of their early success this year, and quick Alathea Sison, also from the Lady Suns, hopes to add speed to the Liberty formula.

But there are some old faces from IC14 to go along with the new: the desert twosome of Courtney Church and Nicole Fasula bring strength to the fray, Minnesota’s Terri Tupper provides crunching hits in the back line, and Boston’s Cailin Deal will look trick defenders with her ability.  Among the hungriest players to make it onto the Freedom roster by IC17 is Denver Bulldog Kaitlyn Mascher-Mace.  The 6’2” forward can also moonlight in the ruck, and is capable of winning just about any ball in her area.

For Canada, coach Jason Arnold indicated that, even with all of the new talent stepping up to the Northern Lights, there were still a few players on the Midnight Suns that were unlucky not to make the step up.  Among them are Calgary’s Brittanie Shannon, who Arnold described as “extremely tough” and very difficult to tackle, and Elaine Lenihan, a key member of the High Park (Toronto) Demons of the OAFL.  The Suns will also try and counter the Liberty’s Mascher-Mace with some tall timber of their own; Joanna Rutkowski of the Hamilton Wildcats is also known for her strength, and Arnold praised her prowess in the stoppages.

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