Flint — If Flint women's soccer defining chapter was going to be written, a Genesee County native wanted a hand in it, or foot, in this case.
Grand Blanc’s Jenna Blackburn blasted two goals and assisted on another as Flint City AFC downed AFC Ann Arbor 4-2 on Saturday at Kettering University’s iconic Atwood Stadium in the club's USL W League debut.
Midfielder Alli Leonard (penalty kick, 30', and 66') also produced two goals in the team's curtain-raiser, which included a dazzling postgame fireworks display. The season opener is one of 12 encounters in the W League's eight-team Great Lakes Division for Flint. The team will also participate in the 2022 Michigan Milk Cup.
Flint (1-0) hosts Indy Eleven (1-0) on Thursday with a 7 p.m. kickoff at Kettering’s Atwood Stadium.
Blackburn, a Western Michigan University junior, made history in the 22nd minute, beating the Ann Arbor goalkeeper at the near post for Flint City’s first-ever goal.
Forward Abby Werthman (Livonia/Madonna University) sent Blackburn through with a pass to her right foot. Blackburn deftly shifted the ball onto her left foot before burying it into the net. She forced netminder Kendall Robertson into a reaction save after the ensuing kickoff.
On her second goal, Blackburn uncorked a shot on goal and won a tussle with Ann Arbor defender Olivia Brannon for the ensuing rebound before angling a right-footed shot into the left corner.
“That was really a scrappy goal, just a lot of battling," said Blackburn, who led Grand Blanc to a state finals appearance in 2018 as a sophomore. "Eventually, I got a look at the goal and I just bent it in a little bit and it worked out."
Blackburn spent last summer with Motor City FC of the lower Women’s Premier Soccer League. She knew Costa Papista, Flint City AFC & Bucks president whose daughter, Eva Papista was a Nationals teammate for five State Cups and three National Championships.
An offer to play with the new pre-professional outfit was too good to pass up. “It's right in my backyard, why not?” she said.
The 5-foot-10 striker impressed coach Aaron Roy.
“What a player,” he said. “She gives us a big presence up top. This was the first time that we’ve seen her. It was her first game with us and she didn't disappoint. She was wonderful.”
Blackburn's lethal touch neutralized Ann Arbor's scattershot approach, which was underscored by hitting the crossbar three times.
Leonard (Butler University) converted a penalty in the 30th minute to give Flint a 2-0 lead. The referee pointed to the spot after Ann Arbor's Hazel Wright handled a ball in the 18-yard box.
The midfielder placed her penalty attempt to the keeper's left. Robertson got a hand on the shot but couldn't stop it.
The visitors’ 14-year-old sensation, Chloe Ricketts, made it a one-goal game in the 34th minute, beating Flint goalkeeper Sophie Homan with a high arching shot from 16 yards out. Tiffanie Hollingsworth assisted.
Blackburn’s second goal restored the home side’s two-goal cushion going into intermission.
The same scenario occurred in the second half when Ann Arbor’s Brooklyn Whitehead scored after Flint’s backline failed to clear a corner kick.
Some 45 seconds later, Leonard muscled her way along the 18-yard box before launching a low left-footed drive into the right corner for Flint’s final goal.
“Alli was awesome tonight,” said Roy, who has known Leonard since she was 12. “I know what she is capable of and before the game I said to Alli, “Hey, you’re a great player and capable of beating anyone in their midfield. They won’t be able to handle you. Just play your game, have fun and go forward.' And she did.”
Overall, the weight of opening night with a new team in the elite USL W pre-professional league was overwhelming at first. Blackburn's first goal lifted that burden.
“I had jitters, the players had some jitters,” Roy said. “After the first half, I felt we settled in after discussing adjustments in the locker room at halftime. We talked about tracking players a little better, getting organized a bit more, and changing our point of attack quicker in transition moments.”
“Even though Ann Arbor made it close, we never felt uncomfortable.”
Flint — Jenna Blackburn (Abby Werthman) 22’, Alli Leonard (PK) 30’, Jenna Blackburn 36’, Alli Leonard (Jenna Blackburn) 66’
Ann Arbor — Chloe Ricketts (Tiffanie Hollingsworth) 34’, Brooklyn Whitehead 66’
Ann Arbor — Brooklyn Whitehead (tackle) 73’
Flint — Sophie Homan, GK; Karen Barry, Lauren Bos, Abby Werthman, Jaden Frigerio, Zoë Hudson, Alli Leonard, Sami Lopez, Caitlin O’Malley, Jenna Blackburn, Grace Simon
Ann Arbor — Kendall Robertson, GK; Olivia Brannon, Jenna Smith, Tracy Akiror, Tatiana Mason, Tiffanie Hollingsworth, Chloe Ricketts, Brooklyn Whitehead, Claire Cahalan, Hazel Wright, Anna Rusanen
This Thursday, May 12th, 7 pm, Flint City AFC will host USL W powerhouse, Indy Eleven. Tickets are $7/kids, $12/adults and $17 VIP Reserved which includes VIP hospitality tent access. Free magnetic schedules will be available at the gates courtesy of PFCU and Bishop International Airport and the free Funtastic Kids Zone will be available for the kids all evening. 501 Bar & Grill will be serving fresh tacos and pulled pork sandwiches along with assorted libations at multiple locations within the stadium. Purchase tickets at www.ticketmaster.com or at the stadium gates one hour prior to kickoff. Game time is 7 pm with gates opening at 6 pm. Discounted group tickets are available by emailing email@example.com. Kettering’s Atwood Stadium is located at 701 University Avenue, Flint, MI 48503. For more information, please visit www.flintcityafc.com.