Fury back at the four-front

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:10 AM ET

Vancouver, here they come.

One more time.

The Ottawa Fury are headed to their fourth straight W-League championship final, and they might not even need a plane to get there. Not after the high of a 3-2 victory over the defending champion New Jersey Wildcats in yesterday's Eastern Conference final in West Windsor, N.J.

On another sizzling day at Mercer County Community College, the Fury avenged a loss to New Jersey in last year's W-League final on the very same pitch. The Wildcats, who lost at home for the first time in three years, also beat the Fury in the 2004 Final Four semi-finals.

"Finally, we came out on top against them," said Fury striker Rhian Wilkinson, one of the veterans who form the core of this talented side. "We're very happy."

"What a great victory for us," added Fury owner John Pugh. "It's especially sweet because they've stood in our way so many times."

Nobody had more reason to smile than forward Amy Vermeulen, who scored all three Ottawa goals in a span of 15 minutes in the first half.

She was a prolific scorer during her college days at Wisconsin, but the Saskatoon native couldn't remember a game quite like this.

"Not at such a high level," she said. "That's pretty amazing."

Vermeulen now has notched six goals in three Fury playoff wins. She's definitely got the hot foot headed into next weekend's W-League Final Four at Swangard Stadium.

"Amy had a massive performance," said Fury coach Frank Lofranco. "We know that Amy is one of the best finishers in the game. Our objective is to get the ball in the 18-yard box to her.

"If she gets a couple of opportunities in each game, we know the ball is going to hit the back of the goal."

Wilkinson did the work on the first two, directing sharp crosses into the area that Vermeulen headed past Wildcats goalkeeper Sarah Knight. Vermeulen used her foot to convert a nifty volley by Kelly Parker into the hat-trick tally.

The outburst put the brakes on the momentum the Wildcats gained when Brazilian star Formiga redirected a cross by Mami Yamaguchi past Fury keeper Taryn Swiatek in the 20th minute. But Vermeulen and the Fury needed just 34 seconds to draw even, quieting the home crowd.

Even when Yamaguchi pulled the Wildcats within 3-2 with a powerful 20-yard strike with 29 minutes left, the Fury maintained their composure and control of the match.

"We've grown as a team, not only over the last four years but within this year," said Lofranco. "We know we're not going to panic, whatever the situation."

Said Vermeulen: "We came to play and we came to win. We showed up knowing that we didn't want this to be the last game of our season."

Now it's on to the Left Coast, where the Fury should be seeded second behind the unbeaten host Vancouver Whitecaps. If that's the case, Ottawa will line up against the Central Conference champion Charlotte Lady Eagles in Friday night's semi-finals.

After finishing fourth, third, and second in the past three W-League Final Fours, the Fury know only a victory in Sunday night's final will complete their season the right way.

"You better believe it," said Wilkinson. "It's time."


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