Given a pair of upsets on the other side of the bracket and Miami's form in their 1-0 semifinal win over Akron this morning, this afternoon's Buffalo-Western Michigan semifinal cautiously felt like a de facto championship match. Much like last season, the deciding goal came in the final ten minutes when WMU's Candace Uhl's cross found a path across the goalmouth to Emma Kahn.
Uhl and Kahn were the two most dangerous players on the pitch for much of the game, but if you're a soccer novice, the commentary made the match seem much more lopsided than it was. The Broncos outshot the Bulls 14-9 and generally enjoyed more possession, but each team had spells of chances.
Through one half, the similarities to last year's championship were uncanny. Each team enjoyed stretches of momentum, WMU slightly more, and while UB found dangerous challenges in the run of play through the center of the field, the Broncos worked to the outside, earning more corners and some dangerous crosses from the edge of the box. I am not sure if the referee was the same as last year's championship, but I think she was, and there was a similar lopsided approach to Western's physical play and Buffalo's attempt to match it.
In general, I felt Buffalo had the more dangerous chances despite less of the possession. Kassidy Kidd was a dervish early, creating three grade-A chances in the first fifteen minutes, including one shot that nearly trickled through Stephanie Heber, and the Bulls were most dangerous when she was working off the ball with her creative runs. A shot sent wide early in the second half may have been the best chance of the game for either team, but the First Team All-MAC senior didn't convert. In the second half, Moira Petrie and Julia Benati each had time with the ball at the top of the box, but shots that made it on frame were hit weakly.
WMU by contrast, only forced one truly difficult save from Laura Dougall but wore the responsible Bulls defense down. The Broncos used six subs while only three saw the field for UB. It nearly worked - I can't fault a coaching decision in a 1-0 game - but you have to think given the Bronco momentum over the last fifteen minutes that fatigue on the wet, slow field played a role.
Buffalo finishes the season 11-7-3. Their 27 wins over the last two seasons matches a program high set over the course of the 1999 and 2000 seasons. This result is a disappointment, but not terribly surprising, as the two teams played to a draw in Kalamazoo earlier this year and have not seen a game decided by more than one goal since a 4-2 UB win in 2007. Over the two years of the Shawn Burke era, both regular season matches have been 1-1 draws and each team has a a single goal scored inside of 80 minutes. Just two evenly matched programs.
I'll have a season postmortem post in the coming weeks, but this year's team will graduate five seniors. Jackie Hall and Kristen Markiewicz will leave big holes in the defense for the second straight year, and Kassidy Kidd's late-season offseason production will be missed. Off the bench, N'DEA JOHNSON's sub minutes will go to another forward, and Mackenzie White's graduation (for now) leaves only one backup behind Laura Dougall.