Seattle left no questions about who was the league's best in 2022.
May 24, 2022 by Jenna Weiner in Preview with 0 comments
SAN DIEGO— Capping off an undefeated season, Seattle Tempest took home the inaugural Western Ultimate League title, holding off San Diego Super Bloom in the final 18-15 in San Diego. After doubling up the Arizona Sidewinders 24-12 in their weekend-opening semifinal game, Tempest withstood a fourth quarter push from their Super Bloom hosts to secure the championship. In the third place game, the Sidewinders, whose superior goal differential over the San Francisco Falcons and Los Angeles Astra got them into Championship Weekend on the final weekend of the regular season, upset Oregon Onyx 17-14, Onyx having fallen to Super Bloom in the semifinal round 24-15.
As could be intuited from the scorelines, the top two seeds, Seattle and San Diego largely rolled to victory, setting up a mouth-watering final. Against the Sidewinders, Tempest started out hot and built an early 4-0 lead against their opponents from the desert, and then put together two more 4-0 runs in both the second and fourth quarters to ensure their win.
Maintaining their balanced offensive contributions from the regular season, Seattle finished the semifinal with twelve goal scorers and followed that up with thirteen different goal scorers in the final. Sam Rodenberg added four goals in each game, continuing her goal scoring prowess from the regular season, when she put up seventeen goals in five games, and a cluster of other Tempest players contributed three goals, assists, or blocks in the semifinal as Seattle cruised to the win.
While Arizona didn’t manage to keep it close in their semifinal against Seattle, that didn’t mean that they were short on phenomenal plays from their high-flying roster. Chief among them in the semifinal was Cynthia Thomas’ greatest, where Thomas made an attempt to catch the disc on the sideline, mac’d the disc up into the air, and then followed it while managing to stay in bounds and threw it chicken-wing style back into play where Megan Maxfield was there to retrieve it. Although the point didn’t eventually go Arizona’s way, as Seattle scored their third straight point to open the game, it still stood out as one of the most incredible plays on the weekend.
“Honestly, I tried going up for the [disc], and once it came out of my hands, I knew I really didn’t want to turn it over,” recapped Thomas before Sunday’s third place game. “So I just went for it, grabbed it, couldn’t necessarily tell if I was in or out and just with a prayer, threw it backwards and had a teammate right there to catch up without a beat.” It was a statement play for the Sidewinders in a game they weren’t even expected to be in, and while it didn’t pay off in the moment, that energy would bear fruit come Sunday as Arizona took on Oregon in the third place game.
The Saturday nightcap game between the no.2 and no.3 seeds, San Diego and Oregon, was an entertaining, high scoring affair, halftime arriving with Super Bloom holding a four goal lead over Onyx 12-8. Julia Salvacion was the star of the show in the first half for San Diego, laying out twice for incredible goals, although the second, which Salvacion caught off of a tipped block, was actually called back on a travel, a decision that was roundly booed by the definitively pro-Super Bloom crowd.
San Diego were also powered by the ceaseless energy of Alex Diaz, who piled up a mind-blowing stat line of seven goals and two assists in the semifinal, directly contributing to over a third of the club’s goals in the semifinal. “[Having] fun, [having] really good teammates that can get you the disc, that’s a big part of it. You can’t score seven goals without seven assists, [and] I have great handlers on offense and on defense,” she explained of her outstanding statistical success.
For Oregon, although they weren’t able to put up as much of a fight against San Diego as they were hoping, it was still a solid performance from a team that didn’t even exist mere months before the season started. Aly Steinfeld continued to demonstrate how central she is to Onyx’s success as she threw a weekend-high six assists on Saturday and four more assists on Sunday, while Valerie Peacock provided key goals in the first half that kept Oregon within touching distance of San Diego after the home team had sprung to a 3-0 lead. The high tempo and intensity that both teams brought made for a fitting end to a fantastic day one, and set up a pair of enticing matchups on Sunday.
The third place game opened up day two’s action and was an even affair through the first half, Arizona building an initial 6-3 lead before Oregon pulled it back to a 9-8 Sidewinders lead going into halftime. Returning to her SportsCenter-highlight best, Kody Lippincott drove the upstart Sidewinders throughout the game, including a ground-shaking layout grab that saw her cover some fifty yards in a dead sprint, bid to snare the disc mere inches above the turf, and then pop up to dish the assist to Jade McLaughlin for a 9-6 Arizona lead. It wasn’t the only layout-to-assist sequence of the game for Lippincott either; she did it once again with the third quarter clock winding down to give the Sidewinders a decisive 15-10 advantage with just over a quarter remaining.
Unfortunately the game wasn’t all about the highlight plays. Arizona’s Lippincott and McLaughlin and Oregon’s Steinfeld and Aubri Bishop, who had a time-expiring layout block to end the game, created memorable moments. But it also included two key moments of potential controversy, both seemingly going against the Sidewinders.
The first came at the end of the first half, as Arizona looked to score to extend their one point lead with the final possession of the second quarter. With the disc not quite at half-field, the last seconds ticked away and the Sidewinders coaches tried to call timeout to give them a chance to draw up some final offensive movement to end the half. However, the observers ruled that the timeout had been called after the clock hit zeros and so the possession immediately ended there, leaving Arizona to wonder what could have been had they taken that timeout just moments earlier.
The second contentious situation came at the end of the third quarter, with Sidewinders captain Helen Eifert tracking down an away throw to the very back of the end zone and making a valiant effort to keep herself in play with a toe drag as she laid out to catch the disc. With two nearly overlapping lines at the back of the end zone and no observer standing directly on the back line to definitively see whether Eifert was in or out, she was eventually ruled out and the disc turned back over to Oregon. Upon replay, it seemed as if Eifert’s foot may have just barely touched down in bounds before she hit the ground out-of-bounds, but without the ability to review it, the call remained out and Eifert was denied what would have been an incredible goal.
In the end, neither of those calls made a real difference in the game as Arizona went on to close the game out 17-14, cementing their claim that they did indeed belong at championship weekend. To Oregon’s credit, they put up a solid showing on the weekend and overall during the course of the season, despite an abbreviated run-up compared to their competitors, including hosting two games at Providence Park in Portland, home to the MLS’s Portland Timbers and the NWSL’s Portland Thorns. “I want to give a huge shout out to the Oregon community and Portland community in general,” said Onyx leader Morgan Zajonc. “They’ve come out strong, and it’s been so much fun. Without them, it wouldn’t have been as great of a season so just want to say thank you to all of them and looking forward to 2023!”
In the final game of the 2022 WUL season, Seattle and San Diego put on a show in one of its best games, with Tempest the eventual winners and inaugural champions but not without a fight from championship weekend hosts. Initially it looked as if the undefeated favorites would roll as they burst out of the gates with back-to-back breaks, but then San Diego settled in and it was game on. Kelli Iwamoto was at the heart of the Super Bloom offense, as she so often has been this season, and laid out time and again in the final to save offensive possessions for the home team. She connected with Diaz, the team’s goal scoring machine, to tie the game up at 3-3, and the teams seesawed back and forth from there.
After a pair of holds, it was San Diego with their first lead of the game, Diaz picking up yet another goal to take it to 5-4. Then Seattle punched back, Rodenberg answering Diaz’s goals with more of her own, and Tempest regained the lead 6-5. The points came thick and fast, both teams playing mostly stunningly clean offense despite the wind picking up. When there were turnovers they usually came via blocks, including an astounding eight by Kaela Helton over the course of the final. It was 9-8 in the favor of Tempest by the time the breathless first half was finished, but that’s the closest the margin was the rest of the way.
In the second half, Seattle surged to a commanding 15-10 lead at one point in the third quarter, as Tempest’s three line system allowed them to maintain their pressure on Super Bloom as the final wore on toward the heat of the afternoon. “We have a lot of experience on this team, [players] who are used to tight games or knowing when to turn it on,” observed Tempest veteran Cassie Wong before the final. “And I think we trust in each and every one of us to be that difference maker. It’s not like one or two people who’re going to make that difference, it’s all of us recognizing that every single person on the team is going to make that difference in elevating together as opposed to having to rely on a few individuals.”
That trust paid off in spades as Seattle were able to close out the game despite the best efforts of Iwamoto, Helton, Salvacion, and company, sealing the first ever Western Ultimate League title. Although several teams came close to knocking off Tempest throughout the season, including Super Bloom twice in tight three-point losses in both the regular season and the final, nobody could quite finish off the beast that was Seattle this season. “[It’s] pretty wild, I don’t know, I don’t take anything for granted,” bubbled Tempest captain Cheryl Hsu after Seattle had celebrated their championship win. “I think this is just super honoring, and I think well deserved, as well. We put in so much work and I gotta thank the fans and supporters behind the scenes too.”
It was a well-deserved win for Seattle, who held off San Diego’s late charge, but Tempest will now have a target on their backs come 2023 as the Western Ultimate League look to follow up on what was, by all accounts, a very successful first season.
- Aly Steinfeld (Oregon Onyx)
- Julia Salvacion (San Diego Super Bloom)
- Alex Diaz (San Diego Super Bloom)
- Kody Lippincott (Arizona Sidewinders)
- Sam Rodenberg (Seattle Tempest)
- Kaela Helton (San Diego Super Bloom)
- Qxhna Titcomb (Seattle Tempest)