D.C. United Women impress in W-League conference final

How good are D.C. United Women?

Their opponent in Sunday’s W-League East final, the Charlotte Lady Eagles, had eliminated the defending W-League champion Atlanta Silverbacks by winning their division. Charlotte followed that up with a rout over the Long Island Rough Riders, who had won a tough division that included the talent-laden New Jersey Wildcats.

Tough test? You’d think so. But United had Charlotte on its heels from the get-go, taking a fully deserved 3-0 win.

Next up: the W-League semifinals as the Eastern U.S. representative. Pali Blues will represent the West, and Quebec City Amiral will make the slightly shorter trip to join the host Ottawa Fury.

“I said to Jo (Lohman) this morning, I don’t want our season to be over today,” Sanderson said. “‘Cause I feel like we’re just getting on a good run.”

United dominated possession from the opening whistle but had little to show other than a lot of hopeful crosses to teen target player Ashley Herndon. Charlotte keeper Robyn Jones, once a teammate of Lohman and Sanderson with the Philadelphia Independence, controlled the box and made an easy save on a long-range Lohman shot.

But as other United players got more involved, Charlotte had more trouble keeping up. Sanderson’s looping header from the top of the box off a corner kick tested Jones. Then Sanderson gave United the lead with a composed finish off a Molly Menchel cross in the 28th minute.

Charlotte tried to answer right away with a shot from the kickoff that didn’t trouble United keeper Didi Haracic. But the Eagles got some pressure afterward and drilled a shot that hit United captain Marisa Abegg in the face.

“It felt good,” Abegg joked afterwards.

The Eagles were missing Brazilian-born Texas forward Leah Fortune, who injured an ankle a few weeks ago. But Amanda Naeher, whose twin sister Alyssa is a U.S. national team pool goalkeeper now with Turbine Potsdam, made several dangerous runs straight down the middle of the field.

United still kept up the pressure, hitting the crossbar twice within five minutes. Hayley Siegel’s lob pinged off the top of the crossbar, and Jones did well to deflect a powerful Sanderson blast off the woodwork.

Siegel delivered the dagger on a free kick from an acute angle that floated over Jones to the far netting. United went in with a 2-0 lead.

Charlotte started brightly in the second half, but United sealed the game in the 53rd minute. Jerica DeWolfe floated a long free kick to Jones’ right. Herndon won the ball and poked it to Sanderson, who was already anticipating the ball and powered it past Jones.

The Eagles got frustrated, with the ref lecturing Florida alum Shelly Lyle a couple of times and showing Naeher a yellow. But Sanderson, who was not all pleased with Virginia Beach’s “physical” play the day before, thought the Eagles fought honorably.

“Today, I think the team was a lovely team to play against,” Sanderson said.

Charlotte had its best chance in the 66th minute, with Naeher springing Sam Huecker for a one-on-one opportunity. But Haracic handed it well, and the only suspense the rest of the way was whether the menacing Sanderson would get her hat trick.

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