Former USC star Shannon Cross scored a goal and set up two more as Ajax America advanced to its fifth successive Women's Premier Soccer League final four with a 3-0 romp Sunday over archrival California Storm at Muir High School in Pasadena.
The triumph in the Pacific Conference final sends the South Bay-based club to Dallas, where it will face the winner of Thursday's Big Sky Conference final -- Oklahoma Alliance FC or Phoenix Del Sol -- in a WPSL semifinal on Saturday evening. The title game will be played Sunday afternoon.
Cross, who played at Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach and is an assistant coach at the University of New Mexico, sent in a cross that UCLA's Liz Zadro (Mater Dei HS) finished in the 11th minute, powerfully headed home the second goal nine minutes into the second half, then set up former Florida State/USC striker Leah Gallegos (Franklin HS) with a beautifully measured ball beyond the Storm's backline in the 82nd minute.
“She was back to being Shannon,” said Ajax coach Brian Boswell, who said Cross has been slowed by constant travel between Albuquerque and Los Angeles. “Shannon played like Shannon should have played all season. This is Shannon again. Hopefully, it bodes well for us next weekend.”
Midfield leaders Dani Bosio (Pepperdine/Santa Margarita Catholic High School) and Carmen Bognanno forced Storm legend Brandi Chastain to play deeper than she likes, limiting the Storm's attack.
“We had a plan for taking care of Brandi, and that seemed to work,” Boswell said. “We forced her back. Brandi likes to play higher, but she had to come back because she wasn't getting the service. … Brandi needed another Brandi. She was coming back to get the ball, but then there was no Brandi to give it to.”
The Sacramento-based club, which has been eliminated in the playoffs by Ajax (8-3-1) the past three years, was again without Brazilian legend Sissi, who had hoped to make the trip for Sunday's game, and struggled with a short bench that grew smaller with several minor injuries that forced players from the field.
W-LEAGUE: The pairings for the rival W-League's final four, which will be played Thursday and Saturday at Canyon High School in Canyon Country, were set with Buffalo Flash's victory Sunday in the Central Conference final. The Flash (12-0-2) will face the Atlanta Silverbacks (9-2-1) in the first semifinal Thursday, with top-seeded Hudson Valley Quickstrike Lady Blues (11-1-0), from Newburgh, N.Y., meeting the Vancouver Whitecaps (7-0-4) in the nightcap.