Motor City FC's title bid ends in shootout loss in national semifinals

Larry O'Connor
The Detroit News
Motor City FC's Yujie Zhao carries the ball in the first half. Zhao scored Motor City's goal in regulation.

Motor City FC dominated play in the first half, but the Utah Royals FC Reserves prevailed in the penalty kick shootout in a Women's Premier Soccer League semifinal Friday in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

The end result? Utah (12-1) is heading to Sunday's national title game and Motor City (11-1-1) is returning home. The match went to a shootout after ending 1-1 in regulation and 30 minutes of extra time.

Amber Marshall (fourth minute) scored for Utah and Yujie Zhao (27') for Motor City. 

Utah's goal came off a corner, which wasn't properly cleared and the ball found its way to Marshall in front.

"It's the way the game goes," Motor City FC coach Aaron Byrd said. "We gave up a very uncharacteristic goal for our team, two-and-a-half minutes into the game. For about 40 minutes of that first half, we absolutely carried that play. We were all over them. They couldn't figure it out.

"Then halftime came along and we hadn't scored any goals or taken advantage of the way we played and (Utah) regrouped."

More: Motor City FC mixes elite talent with blue-collar ethos during championship run

Utah won the shootout 4-2 with Hailey North burying her spot kick into the upper right-hand corner of the net past Motor City goalkeeper Bethany Kopel (Novi). Autumn Smithers and Jaelin Howell converted PKs for Motor City while Alexa Spaanstra's attempt was saved by Utah's keeper Kaytlin Bradley and Zhao shot wide.

Kopel saved Cameron Tucker's attempt.

The defeat ended Motor City's six-game winning streak, which included playoff wins over Torch FC (6-0) and Chicago Stars Reserves (4-2, extra time) in taking the Eastern Division title on Sunday at Ultimate Sports Arenas in Pontiac. 

It was Motor City FC's first trip to the national finals in the club's six year history in the league.

"I don't have enough good things to say about this group," Byrd said. "They are just great, great, hard working, motivated, talented players."

Twitter: @larryo1961