Azul Enters Postseason

After a disappointing tie against the Westside Timbers on Saturday, July 6, EMFC Azul’s head coach Jürgen Ruckaberle looked for a more passionate effort against 6-1 THUSC Diamonds. And he had reason to be impressed, though the next day’s scoreboard showed a loss. Azul fell 4-1 facing a superior team, but Ruckaberle took a lot of good away from the match as the women’s team prepares for next weekend’s playoffs.

“It certainly looked like there was a different attitude today, which is nice,” he says. Heavily favored against the Timbers, they trailed 2-0 at halftime and scrambled to notch a tie despite playing uninspired ball. Ruckaberle credits his players for looking much livelier on Sunday, and far more active in the open field on offense, making superb goalkeeper Cris Lewis work while holding the Diamonds’ shots on goal in check.

THUSC just happened to make the most of their offense. The Diamonds’ Jen Stoltenberg, who played professionally for the Vancouver Whitecaps FC, scored two goals in the first half, and Madison Hairston impressively knifed her way through the defense with dazzling footwork in the second half to match her teammate’s total.

Before Hairston put the game out of reach, Azul’s Caitlyn Jobanek broke free from a defender in the 53rd minute and hit a booming strike into the net from the left wing.

For Ruckaberle, though, something is still missing, and it has to do with the effort level. He believes soccer should be a getaway rather than just another activity. He wants to see his players, and female players in general, place more importance on the game — to take a page out of Stoltenberg’s book. “The reason why Jen Stoltenberg is so good is because that is what she loves to do,” he says. “You can see it. She doesn’t play soccer any more as a way of life, so for two months she is like, ‘Wow, I get to play competitive games?’ And that has a domino effect because that inspires others. I would love to see more of that fire.”

Sunday’s performance was an uplifting sign for Azul, and as the fourth seed in the upcoming four-team playoffs, they will have the chance to take another step in that direction this coming Saturday, July 13, as the underdog in Seattle.