By KEVIN OKLOBZIJA
When you compare the 2017 season with the the current campaign for the Rochester Lady Lancers, the first word that comes to mind is success.
The Lady Lancers didn’t win a game last summer, going 0-9-1. They were outscored 35-10.
This year, with one game remaining, Rochester is 4-3-2 and 14 points. That’s called a big-time turnaround.
Yet late Saturday afternoon, it was difficult to bask in the contentment of major year-over-year improvement when a playoff berth was all but a long shot.
The Lady Lancers saw a 1-0 lead turn into a 3-1 loss to the Lancaster Inferno Rush, and as a result saw their playoff hopes significantly damaged. They’ll need to win next week in Buffalo against the Western New York Flash and then get a lot of help, starting Sunday afternoon when the Inferno Rush play at the Flash.
Two weeks ago, the Lady Lancers were in first place in the East Conference of United Women’s Soccer. Today, they are in third, and only the top two teams get in.
The Lancers lost back-to-back games on the home turf of Charlie Schiano Sr. Field at Marina Auto Stadium, first to the Western New York Flash last Saturday (2-1) and then today to the Rush (6-2, 18 points).
“The past couple games, we weren’t our best and it showed — we didn’t get the results we wanted,” said forward and assistant coach Brooke Barbuto, who scored the Lady Lancers goal in the 27th minute.
The Lady Lancers started so well, too. Goalkeeper Kenna Kosinski made a leaping, one-handed save on a shot by Rene Ross in the seventh minute, and then Rochester began to pressure the Rush with a consistent attack.
However, Lancaster goalie Kelly O’Brien made two big-time saves to deny goals by Taylor Wingerden in the 18th minute and Barbuto in the 20th minute.
Barbuto finally scored off a nifty run into the box but Lancaster retaliated with the right foot of Haley Crawford. The junior-to-be at James Madison University tied the score in the 38th minute by sneaking behind the defense on the right side and driving a shot under Kosinski.
“They story of our season,” Lady Lancers coach Sal Galvano said. “We get chances, we may finish some, we may not finish some, and then we make mental errors.”
And those errors were costly on Saturday. Just two minute later, Crawford scored again. This time, she slipped deep into the box and gave the Rush a 2-1 lead.
“In the first 20 minutes they were controlling the game and we were struggling to get the ball,” said Crawford, who has scored six goals this year after piling up 10 a year ago. “But we knew we had to go all out if we wanted to stay ahead of them (in the standings).”
Once ahead, Lancaster was able to deny quality chances for the Lady Lancers and then finally scored the clinching goal in stoppage time.
And so, what could have been a worst-to-first one-year reversal fell a little short. That put a damper on Saturday, but not on the season as a whole.
“We took it from 0-9 to fighting for one of the top spots,” Galvano said. “We exceeded expectations by a mile. There’s nothing but satisfaction.”
Opponents noticed, too.
“They are a completely different team than they were last year,” Crawford said. “They’re physical, they’re fast.”
The Lady Lancers will close the regular season with a 6 p.m. game Saturday against the Flash at D’Youville College. Oddly, the Lady Lancers have played better on the road (3-0-1) than at home (1-3-1). The Flash also don’t play well at home; they’re 0-3, so if the trend continues on Sunday, the Lady Lancers may still be able to win their way to the postseason next Saturday.