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W-League's Kingdom Take W-20 Championship at IMG Academy; Kalamazoo holds on to defeat Force 2-1

United Soccer Leagues
Kalamazoo holds on to defeat Force 2-1 for W-20 title at IMG Academy

The Kalamazoo Kingdom and Force FC Football Academy renewed their Midwest Division rivalry in the W-20 Championship presented by Nike Sunday, with Kalamazoo holding on for a 2-1 victory to take the title at IMG Academy.

Goals at either side of halftime by Micaela Kovacs and Madi Morgan staked the Kingdom to a 2-0 lead, and they had to hold on during a frantic finish to claim the title.

“First and foremost it was what you want from a championship game,” Kalamazoo Head Cach Lewis Robinson said. “It was a fantastic game from start to finish with two very good teams, loads of quality and hundreds of chances.”

The opportunities started early, with Force FC’s Irene Young having the first good chance in the 13th minute, but her open header went into the arms of Kalamazoo keeper Kailey Naumchef. Seven minutes later Olivia Emery nearly put Kalamazoo on the board first, but she just missed getting ahold of a cross through the six-yard box.

Kovacs, the youngest player on the Kalamazoo roster and a 2015 Michigan State University recruit, broke the deadlock in the 38th minute when Lauren Moore caused a turnover that fell to Kovacs, who calmly slotted the ball inside the far post.

Force’s Kyla Kellermann, the tournament’s Golden Boot winner, nearly evened the score in the 51st minute, but her shot from in close was deflected away by Naumchef, the Safe Hands Award winner. Force seemed destined to find the equalizer when Joan Sieja ripped a long shot off the crossbar in the 54th minute, but Kalamazoo added to the lead three minutes later when Morgan hit a long strike over the head of Force keeper Jenna O’Dell to double the lead.

Force refused to give in and raised the level of pressure, and it was rewarded in the 75th minute when Eliza Van De Kerkhove’s cross deflected off a pair of defenders and into the net to make it 2-1. Force twice thought they had found the equalizer, but the posts were unkind as Irene Young hit a long drive off the crossbar in the 79th minute and Sieja hit the post in the 90th.

“We have a good little rivalry going with them and it’s always a great game,” Robinson said. “Michigan is without a doubt a hotspot for women’s soccer right now.”