Maryland Rush Girls take UK champions to PK’s in LK Cup in Liverpool, England
(Via Maryland Rush) – The rising U15 Maryland Rush girls soccer team from Annapolis traveled to Liverpool, England from July 28 to Aug. 5 to play in the Liverpool Knowsley Cup soccer tournament.
The girls spent the past year planning the trip with Excel International Sports and running fundraisers to offset some of the costs. The trip included tours Liverpool, Chester, and the famous stadiums of the English Premier League soccer teams Liverpool F.C. and Manchester United. Leading up the tournament, the Rush girls played friendlies against Manchester City Ladies F.C. and local Liverpool club Maghull F.C. The Rush girls prevailed in both friendlies, beating Manchester City 3-2 and Maghull 5-1.
Maryland Rush President Tim DeWitt, who coached the Rush girls during the trip, described the extraordinary experience the trip provided: “I travelled to England twice previously with youth teams, and while all three trips were fantastic, this was my favourite. By playing in a tournament rather than just playing friendlies, we lost some touring time, but in its place we saw truly outstanding competition and, more importantly, our girls were able to spend significant amounts of time with the English and Scottish girls from the teams we played getting to know them and learning about their cultures. The girls learned more about European perceptions of Americans in this one week than many Americans learn in a lifetime. Additionally, the tournament gave the girls first-hand experience with the extraordinary football culture in England. Rather than a typical American tournament championship game that is watched by parents and relatives of the respective teams, the teams that had been eliminated showed up to watch along with the Lord Mayor and a number of councilmen and councilwomen from Knowsley.”
On the first day of competition at the LK Cup, the Rush girls started slow, losing their first game but then rebounded to beat local Liverpool clubs Woolton F.C. 4-1 and Mossley Hill F.C. 4-1 with a hat trick from Sarah DeWitt in each of the two games and goals from Chloe Macdonald in each game. The Rush girls 2-1-0 record in the preliminary round placed them second in Group B and advanced them to a semi-final match against Birkdale F.C, which finished ahead of Blackpool FC and atop Group A after the preliminary games.
In the semi-final on the second day of competition, the Rush girls beat a tough Birkdale F.C. team 3-2. The Rush girls took an early on a goal from Sarah DeWitt. Ten minutes later, the Birkdale F.C. girls drew even on a penalty kick. Not to be deterred, the Rush girls scored again off a goal from Sarah DeWitt to lead 2-1 at the half. Early in the second half, the Rush girls turned up the heat, peppering the Birkdale keeper with shots. Sarah DeWitt succeeded in putting a third goal in the net to give the Rush girls the a 3-1 lead.
With a series of near misses from Shelby Cavey, Elsa Flynn and Chloe Macdonald, the Rush girls threatened turn the game into a rout. The Birkdale girls, however, held on and rallied to score near the end of regulation, but it proved to be too little too late and the Rush girls moved on to the championship game with a 3-2 semi-final win.
The Rush girls advanced to the championship game against the Central Girls Football Academy from Falkirk, Scotland. Two weeks earlier the Falkirk girls had been crowned UK Champions by winning the All Cities Elite Shield Tournament in Leicester, England. With the Scots outscoring their opponents in the LK Cup preliminaries and the semi-finals by a total of 25-0 and the Rush girls scrapping their way into the finals, no one other than the Rush girls, their coaches and their parents expected the championship game to be anything other than another drubbing.
In each prior game the Scots scored twice in the first ten minutes of regulation, so the crowd anticipated early domination by the Scots. The Rush girls, however, came out ready to play and earn the respect not only of their new Scottish friends but also of the many English players, coaches, families and fans that came out to watch the game including the Lord Mayor and Mayoress of Knowsley and several Knowsley council members.
The Rush girls opened the game strong with the back line of Gracie Burns, Delaney May, Alexis Heverly and Mara Torres defending fiercely and attacking with speed on the flanks. Ten minutes into the game, when the Rush had outshot the Scots 4-2, the crowd could sense the Scots’ frustration building and the Rush girls confidence growing with each passing minute. The teams battled throughout the first half, but neither team could find the net so the half ended 0-0. The teams played evenly throughout the second half with both teams creating opportunities but both keepers proving too skilled to allow a goal. Throughout the half, more teams and fans from other fields at the complex joined the crowd to watch extraordinarily exciting game and chants of “Go Rush” could be heard coming from the English fans as the Rush girls won over the crowd. Regulation time ended with the teams locked in a 0-0 draw, so the teams proceeded to PK’s.
The shootout proved to be every bit as much of a nail biter as the regulation match. and opened in controversy. After the Falkirk girls scored on their first PK, Rush’s Chloe Macdonald hit the left post with her PK, causing the ball to roll across the front of the goal on the goal line. The Rush players thought the ball crossed the goal line, but the officials indicated no goal. When Falkirk’s second kick also scored, the shootout looked bleak for the Rush. The Rush girls, however, narrowed the gap to 1-2 with a goal from Sarah DeWitt, and then to 2-2 with a block by Rush keeper Madison Scott and another goal from Rush’s Mara Torres. Falkirk then went ahead 3-2 with a score on their fourth PK and remained ahead 3-2 going into the final kick after Rush’s Shelby Cavey’s PK veered wide. On their fifth kick, Madison Scott again blocked Falkirk’s PK to keep the Rush in the game. With the game on the line, Elsa Flynn proceeded to drill the Rush’s fifth kick into the lower right corner to force the shootout into the 6th kick. The 6th kick, however, proved to be too much for the Rush when Falkirk scored with a low shot to the right post and then a brilliant save by the Falkirk keeper on Gracie Bruns PK for the Rush.
While the loss in the PK shootout stung, the Rush girls had won over the English crowd, earning their respect and friendship.
The award ceremony proved to be a “win” for the Rush with Rush players taking the top honors for individual players. Rush’s Madison Scott won the Top Keeper award, which was given based on voting by coaches from all of the teams participating in the tournament. Rush striker Sarah DeWitt beat out Scottish U17 national team player Sam Kerr to win the Golden Boot award for the top scorer in the tournament with nine goals in five games.