In a game that could mark the beginning of a strong friendship and equally fierce rivalry, the Portland Phoenix women’s street soccer team took on the Musqueam Cougars at the Musqueam Gym on March 2. Phoenix, Canada’s first-ever women’s street soccer team, has so far played the majority of its games against men in the Vancouver Street Soccer League.
Like their male counterparts from Portland FC, who represented Canada at the Homeless World Cup in Brazil in 2010, Phoenix players have come together after recent struggles with homelessness. They’ve put a good scare into more than a few of the men’s teams, but are still looking for their first VSSL victory. Unfortunately, the competition wasn’t any easier in their recent game against the Vancouver Police Department’s women’s team.
The weeks of anticipation since the spirited VPD game were palpable during warm-up. Nerves were in the air for Portland Phoenix, who were keen to test their skills against a very talented and well-coached Musqueam team. Only the beauty of the game that was about to be played would outclass the facility provided by the Cougars.
Ready for action, Phoenix was only missing one thing: their goalie. Lesser squads might have thrown in the towel from the start, but instead the ladies with the flaming pink bird on their jerseys threw a pair of gloves on volunteer Simone Aardema and took to the pitch. All-star keeper Debbie was expected at half-time, and they would have to adopt a defense-first approach in the meantime.
The nerves led to a few early miscues that had coach Dominique Falls regularly checking the entrance for Debbie’s appearance. However, Phoenix soon began to find its wings, with Ashley and Erin leading a passing display the Sedins would be proud of. Krista added some early pace to the game, while Trish and Solange along with volunteers Kailin See and Sarah Blyth proved to be reliable two-way players.
Phoenix wasn’t the only team that showed up to play, as the Cougars brought a potent formula of relentless defense and prompt counterattack. Unfortunately for the Cougars, Simone wasn’t the only experienced volunteer that Phoenix had up their sleeve. Jacqui Ferraby was also making regular forays off the bench in relief of the Phoenix regulars and by half-time, she had the score knotted at two-apiece with a couple of fine finishes reminiscent of Ruud van Nistelrooy circa 2002.
Sensing a chance at victory, but also a breakdown in their system, coach Falls made use of the intermission by emphasizing the team’s defensive strategy they’ve been fine-tuning for weeks. Specifically, the instructions were to “stick to your check like she’s gum because there’d be a post-game quiz on what flavour she was”. The pink birds had no trouble putting their coach’s words into action. This forced the Cougars to work the ball off the walls in a futile attempt to shake the avian glue. All were expecting Debbie’s arrival to doubly bolster Phoenix’s defense, but in a move that still has the Sportsnet panel looking for answers, Phoenix gave her to the Cougars who were in need of greater numbers.
The second half featured more back and forth action than a centre-court meeting of the Williams sisters. Jacqui continued to teach by example by completing her hat-trick. However, the goal of the match was recorded by Phoenix’s own Krista(iano Ronaldo). With her first of the season, her wide smile couldn’t help but be reflected on the faces of every one of her teammates. Down 4-3 with only a few minutes left on the clock, the Cougars weren’t going to allow a loss in their own barn without a fight. Their never-say-die attitude paid off with a late goal that sent the game into penalty shots.
However, the Cougars fortune would end there as several of their penalties ricocheted off the woodwork. In contrast, Phoenix’s penalty strikes were clinical and lifted them to their first-ever win. Both teams joined in the celebration and feasted on snacks provided by volunteer Maryvon Delanoe and others. The teams exchanged gifts and made sure to schedule a rematch at the UBC Psychiatry Street Soccer Tournament on March 26 (6 to 10 p.m., UBC Student Recreation Centre). Street Soccer fans everywhere can’t wait!