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WOMEN: Ajax advances; Pali and LAFC don't

Ajax America is one win from its fifth straight final four. Pali Blues isn't going to three-peat. And LAFC Chelsea's fine first season has come to an expected end.

One of three local teams in national women's leagues was successful in its playoff opener, and three-quarters of the field for next week's W-League final four in Canyon Country has been filled.

South Bay-based Ajax America (7-3-1) was the winner, using second-half goals by Carmen Bognanno and Chloe Byrne to claim a 2-0 win over North Bay FC Wave, from Marin County, in the Women's Premier Soccer League's Pacific Conference semifinals.

Ajax will face longtime rival California Storm (11-1-0) in Sunday's 5 p.m. conference final at Muir High School in Pasadena. The Storm, from Sacramento, received a superb opening goal by U.S. legend Brandi Chastain and two strikes from Fiona O'Sullivan in a 3-1 victory over Pasadena-based LAFC Chelsea in the opener of a doubleheader at Pasadena's Maranatha High School.

Ajax, a two-time WPSL champ, and the three-time titlist Storm are two of the most enduring names in women's club soccer, and they've battled for years. One of their most memorable showdowns was in last year's Pacific Conference final, which Ajax won on penalties.

“Oh, God, we've been playing each other for 20 years,” said Ajax coach Brian Boswell. “I enjoy Jerry [Zanelli, the Storm's coach and the WPSL's commissioner] -- he always puts a good group together. Brandi's always a class act; we've been playing against Brandi forever. It's always fun. You know you're going to be up against a good team against those guys.”

Said Chastain: “How many times I've played them, over and over, again and again, in this situation. … I guess it is [special]. I like the old-time rivalries. It's good with Ajax, and that's good for the game.”

In the rival W-League, Canadian national-teamer scored one first-half goal and set up another to lift the Vancouver Whitecaps (7-0-4) to a 2-1 victory over visiting Pali Blues, which had won the league title in its first two seasons.

Vancouver will join Husdon Valley Quickstrike Lady Blues (11-1-0), from Newburgh, N.Y., Atlanta Silverbacks (9-2-1) and the winner of Sunday's Buffalo Flash (11-0-2)/Ottawa Fury (9-1-3) in Thursday's W-League semifinals at Canyon High School. Pairings will be set after Sunday's Central Conference final.

LAFC Chelsea (6-4-1) surrendered three goals in the first 30 minutes against the Storm, a longtime powerhouse that should be stronger Sunday with the addition of Brazilian legend Sissi. She missed Saturday's game because of a commitment with the club team she coaches.

Mary Ronau scored for LAFC in the 52nd minute.

Bognanno gave Ajax a 65th-minute lead from Temryss Lane's cross, and Byrne nicely finished a counterattack 20 minutes later to double the advantage.

In Burnaby, British Columbia, Tancredi scored in the 35th minute and set up Amy Vermeulen six minutes later. Sara Gama scored for the Blues in the 61st.

The WPSL and W-League are national amateur/semipro leagues and the second tier of women's soccer in North America.