Soccer gals need to unleash Fury

ROB BRODIE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:45 AM ET

Officially, they're duelling for top honours in the W-League's Eastern Conference.

But there will definitely be a Final Four feel to the proceedings at Keith Harris Stadium this weekend.

Call it the proverbial Group of Death.

"Three of the very top teams in the league are here," Ottawa Fury owner and CEO John Pugh said of the field for the conference finals, which begin tomorrow.

The overall playoff seedings confirm it. The Northern Division-champion Fury (11-0-1), which posted the 13th unbeaten season in W-League history, goes in ranked No. 1. The Northeast Division's best, the Washington Freedom (12-1-1), rank No. 2, followed closely by the fourth-seeded Jersey Sky Blue (12-2-0).

The weak sister, if you can call them that, is the Toronto Lady Lynx (7-3-2), ranked ninth heading into playoffs.

For the Fury, which has made four straight Final Fours (it was runners-up the past two seasons), the top seeding is a first. That earned the home-field edge this weekend.

"It's always important to be the highest seeded team," admitted Pugh. "We should have a pretty decent crowd, all of them cheering for us. We're pretty happy about it."

RHINOS HOSTS

Survive this weekend and they'll draw a much-preferred route to another final. The Fury would line up against the host Rochester Rhinos -- a team Ottawa has already beaten twice this season -- in the Final Four semis on Aug. 3.

"Would we be happy about that? I'd say we would be," said Pugh.

But first things first. In the Sky Blue, the Fury is facing a side that, for all intents and purposes, is the New Jersey Wildcats that were a league power in recent years. The Sky Blue and Freedom both intend to join a proposed new women's pro league next season.

Back on June 20, the Fury edged the Sky Blue 3-2 in an exhibition match at Keith Harris, but had to hang on after building a three-goal lead. Jersey's roster includes four players who took part in the Pan American Games tournament in Brazil and another four who represented the U.S. at the Nordic Cup U-23 tournament in Finland.

BRITS ARE BACK

Two Fury players, midfielder Rachael Axon and striker Jodie Taylor, represented England in the latter event. They arrived back in town at 1:30 a.m. yesterday, assuring Ottawa will field a full side this weekend.

It's a squad that had a lot of growing to do, given that six Fury regulars from a year ago were released to the national team residency program. Midfielder Carmelina Moscato departed a few weeks back after accepting a college coaching job at Louisville.

Given the player turnover, the first unbeaten season in Fury history had to rate as a bit of a surprise. But Pugh said team management began to realize, about two weeks into the season, that "we'd recruited extremely well." Two University of Tennessee players, goalkeeper Vanessa Philips-Bosshart and defender Jenny Jeffers, made a major impact. So did the two English imports, who were later joined by defender Faye White, a women's soccer legend in that country.

SCORING STAR

German international Anne Laue became a scoring force.

Blended in with a core of returning veterans, led by Kelly Parker, Leah Robinson, Marie-Eve Nault and Annie Hamel, it turned out to be a winning mix for coach Frank Lofranco.

"Frank knows what it takes to bring them together and peak at the right time," said Pugh.

Now comes the big test. Maybe the biggest one of them all.

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FURY-IOUS PLAY

WHAT: W-League Eastern Conference finals.

WHEN/WHERE: Tomorrow-Sunday at Keith Harris Stadium, Carleton University.

SCHEDULE: Tomorrow (semi-finals) -- Washington Freedom (12-1-1) vs. Toronto Lady Lynx (7-3-2), 2 p.m.; Ottawa Fury (11-0-1) vs. Jersey Sky Blue (12-2-0), 5 p.m.; Sunday -- Final, 5 p.m.

AT STAKE: Winner advances to North American finals, Aug. 3-5 in Rochester, N.Y.

TICKETS: Available through Fury, 613-235-3879, or on game day at stadium starting two hours before kickoff.


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