Nearly a full season separates the time the Lancaster Inferno and Connecticut Fusion last met from Friday, when they’ll collide again with elimination on the line.
The United Women’s Soccer East Conference playoffs begin Friday for the third-seeded Inferno, who take on the second-seeded Fusion at 7:00 p.m. at Farming Sports Arena.
The two teams met only once this season, with Lancaster (7-3-0) taking a 1-0 loss on the road as Connecticut (8-0-2) scored on a late free kick.
Neither side had its full roster for that game, according to Inferno head coach Francisco Cleaves.
But the Inferno will travel with a full roster for Friday’s game, which is hardly a guarantee in UWS play.
“We’re going to have our hands full,” Cleaves said. “They really don’t have any weaknesses when you watch their games.”
Connecticut’s strength, Cleaves said, is a dangerous front line, comprised of Tori Sousa, Chanel Johnson and Meghan Doyle.
Doyle’s eight goals are the third-most in the UWS East Conference. Sousa has six on the season, which is good for fifth. Johnson has found the back of the net three times this season.
So the Inferno must remain sharp defensively, which hasn’t always been easy recently. Lancaster allowed three goals to New England last Saturday in a loss and conceded once to Rochester last Sunday in a win.
Controlling possession, as always, will be key as the Inferno strives to keep the ball away from the Fusion’s talented forwards.
“We’re just going to focus on our game,” Cleaves said. “We can’t adjust too much what we do...You know, make them beat us at our game. And also that's kind of what my team wants is to make them beat us. Let's not beat ourselves.”
Lancaster will likely rely on the playmaking ability of Haley Crawford, who owns five goals on the season. Crawford scored once and assisted on another goal in last Sunday’s Inferno win.
But, more than anything, the Inferno can lean on playoff experience.
Lancaster won the East Conference last season and advanced to the UWS’s national championship game before falling just short.
The Inferno return nine of the 11 starters on that team, which beat Connecticut in the East Conference final last season.
“They know that we can win on the road,” Cleaves said. “They have that confidence. That’s really what they’re bringing. They know we can do it. It just takes us playing as a team and doing what we’ve been doing all season.”
The winner will take on the winner of the other UWS East Conference semifinal, between top-seeded New England and fourth-seeded Long Island. The final is set for Sunday, July 14, at a site and time that are to be announced.