Category Archives: Philadelphia Independence

The teams line up before the opening WPSL Elite contest.

WPSL Elite Opens: It’s Not WPS, But It’s Something

The teams line up before the opening WPSL Elite contest.

EAST LONGMEADOW, Mass. – Even for someone who was but a passive WPS observer for most of its history, I couldn’t help but be a bit nostalgic as I pulled into East Longmeadow High Saturday afternoon for the opener of the new WPSL Elite between the host New England Mutiny and the New York Fury.

ELHS is a fine high school facility, and much easier for me to get to than Harvard Stadium – former home of the Boston Breakers and an hour or so to the northeast – but my mind flashed back to the buzz surrounding WPS last summer, when Alex Morgan sent kids scurrying for her autograph just by walking out to tape a Fox Soccer Channel promo. When 15,000 people showed up in Rochester and nearly 10,000 in Atlanta to watch professional women’s soccer.

Of course, you know the rest. If you don’t, it’s all here on this site for you somewhere, complete with the sordid details.

But as the hard-working Mutiny staff got things together for the opener, it was quite obvious that 10,000 people were not walking through that gate. And with only three portable toilets available, that was probably a good thing on that front.

Surely as Paul Riley walked out onto the field and took a look around, somewhere in his mind, those thoughts must have been there. As two-time defending WPS Coach of the Year with Philadelphia, Riley has to be considered one of the top women’s coaches in the nation. The league was coming off a World Cup bump last summer, Riley’s star was rising, it looked for a fleeting moment like WPS would thrive, and surely Riley’s reputation would right along with it.

Even when WPS collapsed, Riley still held out hope for some kind of return in 2013, which was surely part of the reason why when he returned to Long Island with the Fury he initially stayed out of WPSL Elite. But as it became (becomes?) increasingly obvious that WPS might be gone for good (and an opening left by Aztec MA made it convenient), Riley and the New York Fury were in the WPSL Elite for its inaugural run in 2012.

It can be a dangerous hobby to focus on the past. What’s done is done, and a few (or a good deal more than a few) mistakes shouldn’t deter us from looking toward the present and the future.

“I said to the players in the locker room, ‘After seven months of what has happened, you’ve got to want to play.’ To put the uniform with your name on the back means a lot,” Riley said. “I’ve been a social director and a psychological director the past several months trying to give them the best advice I could, whether it be abroad, whether it be here, for another team in their neck of the woods. That includes not just our players, layers from Sky Blue, players from Atlanta, just because we’ve got connections. I’ve been trying to help everyone as best we can. We’ve obviously got quite a few players from WPS.

“It’s nice to be back on the field, it’s nice to be coaching again, to put a suit back on and feel like you’re back at church again on a Sunday night. I enjoy the games , that’s what we all live for is the games. Hopefully, this will be the start of getting back into a WPS-like league, making it full-time for the players. We’re doing our best to make it full-time.”

(You can see my complete postgame interview with Riley here.)

Full-time or not, Riley has put together a squad (not even including his Supergroup that will play in some exhibition games this summer) that looks like a favorite in WPSL Elite. After a brief bright start from the host Mutiny, the Fury had four goals by halftime, three by Merritt Mathias. But a look around the Fury lineup saw basically what would be a WPS team, perhaps minus the stars.

Yes, there were no national team players and Vero Boquete is in Sweden, but Brittany Taylor at right back was too strong for anyone the Mutiny had to offer. Riley gave full credit to veteran Kim Yokers for dominating as a holding midfielder in a 4-4-2, and rightfully so. Tina and Gina DiMartino ran the wings, while Meghan Lenczyk played an attacking role in support of what would be two WPS rookies in Jasmyne Spencer out of Maryland and Mathias.

(Tobin Heath is on on the New York roster, but it’s not clear if she’ll be able to play at all with the national team schedule. Heath was on the roster as No. 19, and late in the game, Riley put a No. 19 in the game, who was announced by the PA announcer as “Tobin Hearth”. But it obviously wasn’t her.)

The Mutiny, while pretty clearly outclassed in this game, did show signs that they could be competitive in the new-look WPSL Elite, mostly because of who they didn’t have. Kristen Mewis, Toni Pressley, Vicki DiMartino (who missed the chance to play against her sisters), and Morgan Andrews are all with various age level national teams. The team also looked much more comfortable when defender Kate McCarthy was inserted late in the first half. Coach Tony Horta decided not to start McCarthy because she had arrived to the team after finishing finals at Boston College just a couple of days before kickoff. A game against Chesapeake this Saturday (with Andrews) should give us a better gauge of where they’re headed.

Mathias is an interesting story in her own right. She was as highly touted as they come as a youngster out of Alabama, playing in the youth national teams, and committing to North Carolina very early (sophomore year). But after two inconsistent years under the microscope in Chapel Hill, Mathias decided she would rather be at Texas A&M, where she was a two-time All-Big 12 selection and was one of the best college strikers in the nation. However, since U-17, she hasn’t made an appearance in the national team, and went undrafted in WPS.

Riley, though, saw potential, and when WPS collapsed, and with the national team players (as well as stars like Boquette and Marta) basically out of commission in the States for 2012, it was an opening for players like Mathias. And Saturday was certainly a good start to making a big impact.

“With the league (WPS) folding, the dreams and ambitions of all these players were kind of crushed,” Mathias said. “It was hard to rebound from that, but everyone has come full circle. It’s heartbreaking that the league’s not around, but we’re doing the best we can. It’s still awesome to be able to play at good facilities and against these kind of players.

“Right now, it’s about playing and enjoying it.  I think it’s sad that the girls from college don’t have what they had two years ago. It’s a huge bummer, but this is a great opportunity. So long goal ahead, get to the World Cup and Olympics, that would be awesome. But for right now, enjoying playing and playing as long as I can. It’s what I love to do.”

There was a delay, a pregnant pause even, before that last sentence, almost like she had to apologize for it.

I thought of the curious – or really not so curious – case of Boston College goalkeeper Jillian Mastroianni, who grew up near me and rose to be one of the best in the nation at her position. She was drafted by Sky Blue in January, and with a couple of WPSL Elite teams in Massachusetts needing help in goal, it was assumed she would play for the team of her choosing.

Instead, with a degree from Boston College in her pocket, Mastroianni chose to “retire” and go out into the real world. For 99 percent of America, they nodded their heads at Mastroianni’s choice and said to themselves, “Good for her.” But those invested in women’s soccer probably just sighed and shook their heads, not in a judging manner, but in a sad one.

Surely, Ciara McCormack is one of those headshakers. ­Since graduating from college in 2001, McCormack has gone from Boston to Vancouver to Denmark back to Vancouver to Ottawa to Norway back to Vancouver again all while representing Ireland (qualifying through her father) internationally in the last decade. She started at center back for the Mutiny in the opener last Saturday.

Along with Tiffany Weimer and Manya Makoski (two former WPS players who are playing in Denmark and Finland, respectively), she runs GirlsCANFootball, also just a few miles from my abode in Connecticut (Weimer and Makoski are both local products from our sometimes great state), which has helped her keep playing.

“It’s been a cool way of marriaging the opportunity to continue playing and then also mentoring younger players through coaching them, that’s sort of allows us to continue our dream and ability to play at this level,” McCormack said.

McCormack has also written for various publications and on her blog (check out this moving tribute to her “Mum” on her 60th birthday recently), sometimes controversially, as she has called out the Canadian soccer federation, WPS stars, and anyone else that draws her ire.

If I have sympathy for people like McCormack, it’s because there is a kind of kinship there. God knows how many times along my life’s journey, people (including family) have wondered why I do what I do, why I spend so much time coaching and writing about soccer (and other sports) when I almost certainly could have a more lucrative profession. But when I asked Ciara – who went to Yale (with one graduate season at UConn) – about it, she summed it up much me eloquently than I ever could.

“I’ve had border guards at the airport ask me what’s my connection with the U.S., and I say, ‘coach and play soccer’, and then they start laughing when I tell them where I went to school,” she said. “I get it from my parents. I mean, again for me, I think the most important thing is knowing what your passion is, and obviously going to a school like Yale was a great opportunity educationally, and exposed me to a lot of fantastic things, but soccer has always been where my passion is. Whether or not that fits the mold of what an Ivy League graduate is supposed to be doing at 32, I’m not sure, but I have no regrets. I obviously still love the game enough to be out here, so here I am.”

And here we are. The WPSL Elite will not be the caliber of WPS this season, there likely won’t be any games that 10,000 paid customers show up for. But in the next couple of months, we’ll try to bring you as many stories as we can from the league as best we can while holding down real jobs and other commitments just as many of the players and coaches we’ll be reporting on do.

It’s what we love to do.

The uniforms of Kate McCarthy (#21) and Rebecca Mays (#10) await their owners prior to the New England Mutiny's opening game.

Photo Essay of the 2010 WPS Championship Game

Click the link below for the full Photo Essay.

Photo Essay | 2010 WPS Championship

I woke up this morning with slightly blackened knees and grey shins. Three  bags littered my bedroom floor with gear half-strewn around them. My favorite Coachella hat was resting on my airplane sized Pelican case with a crumpled FC Gold Pride press pass nestled in the dimple of the fedora. I woke up this morning, and all was right with my world.

Let’s go back a day. I was up out the door by 9:15am, scooting straight to the absolute best corner store/deli to grab the key ingredients for the morning: OJ and cheap Champagne. This was not just any day, this was WPS Championship Day. Tailgating was a must. Shooting out a few tweets then I was on the road, my red Prius scooting through a California marsh towards the better-smelling-greener-grass other side; Hayward.

Tailgating with some Twitter buddies, I grabbed my press pass and set up on the field to the right of what soon would be Val Henderson’s goal. This placement was key, as it kept me out of the incredibly unflattering view of the FSC cameras.

The beating Cali sun kept the sweet turf field rather toasty. So a short period of kneeling down quickly gave way to me perching on my Pelican case. Perfect. Great day, great atmosphere and a great behind-the-scenes coordination by the FC Gold Pride crew. Was a fun shindig all around.

Rather than cut down the hundreds of shots into just a few beauties to share with you all, Jenna let me have some fun. I love enablers.

Click the link above to browse my Photo Essay, and enjoy!

Philadelphia Independence the Victims of FC Gold Pride Master Class

As a tuckered out Philadelphia Independence team trudged to the locker room at halftime you got the sense that the team’s fate had already been decided. Regardless of how stirring manager Paul Riley’s team talk was, how were they possibly going to compete with this FC Gold Pride side? After 45 minutes they had been strategically out-matched, thoroughly out-played and positively worn out. The Independence returned from half time with no new ideas and no illusions (or delusions?) that they were capable of beating the foreboding Bay Area side.  

With today’s rousing 4-0 defeat of the Independence in the 2010 WPS Championship, FC Gold Pride have proven that they are peerless. Some commentators have asked whether this is the best women’s club soccer team in history. It’s a pretty unanswerable question but after today’s performance it isn’t an unreasonable one. From top to bottom, this FC Gold Pride side is faultless. Even if the Philadelphia Independence could have offered up a fully fit squad, it’s difficult to imagine the end result would have been much different. Paul Riley’s side would have perhaps been less bloodied but would still be well-beaten.

FC Gold Pride dominated the match from the outset and never looked back. The team was absolutely spell-binding in the first half with its multi-pronged attack and constant possession. The Independence outnumbered FC Gold Pride’s midfield with five players to three but it made no difference. Philadelphia was unable to unsettle Gold Pride’s crisp passing game, just as its defense was also powerless to stopping their opponent’s long balls.

FC Gold Pride’s varied attack was constantly threatening. The precision and pragmatism of FC Gold Pride’s aerial game (particularly from captain Rachel Buehler) was particularly astounding. You would think a team outfitted with players with the dynamism of Marta, Christine Sinclair, Camille Abily, Tiffeny Milbrett and Shannon Boxx wouldn’t need to rely on crosses or hopeful long balls. But they did and it worked to devastating effect.

The first goal came as a result of one of those crosses.  In the 17’, Shannon Boxx served a ball into the box. Val Henderson made two huge saves on Marta before the ball found the foot of Tiffeny Milbrett who served it to an open Christine Sinclair for the goal.

Then in the 29’ Kandace Wilson hoodwinked Independence center-back Allison Falk with a quick and deceptive run. The speedy left-back found an open look and blasted a shot to make it 2-0.

The Independence’s vivacity was continuing to fade as the team was made to chase FC Gold Pride all over the park. As the match wore on, the exhausted side continued to lose its sharpness. If it wasn’t for some heroic stops by Henderson, the score line could have reached bombastic proportions before half time. But the Independence goalkeeper did well to prevent any more humiliation, or at least delay it.

The second half picked up right where the first half had left off as FC Gold Pride continued to operate at a fevered pitch. In the 53’, Marta blew by three Independence defenders and laid off the simplest of crosses to an unmarked Sinclair for FC Gold Pride’s third goal.

Sensing victory, Gold Pride scaled back the intensity for the rest of the match. Philadelphia could do little to shift the scales, however, as a tired and overrun midfield provided zero link-up play for striker Amy Rodriguez. The frustrated forward remained anonymous for the rest of the match, due to little fault of her own.

In the 60’, Lianne Sanderson had what would be the Independence’s best opportunity when she managed to get behind the imperious FC Gold Pride defense. But right-back Ali Riley proved to be as handy in defense as she was in the attack as she cleared the cross off the line.

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2010 WPS Championship Game Preview

After five months of regular season action and two lengthy playoff matches, the culmination of the 2010 WPS season will occur on Sunday at 2:30 P.M. ET.

The bill could potentially produce a classic as the scrappy underdogs of the Philadelphia Independence travel to tussle with the machine, the myth and the majesty of regular season champions FC Gold Pride. Will yet another WPS giant-killing be on hand?

Here again is a ‘to-do list’ for each team served up with a healthy portion of unbridled anticipation.

 

For the Philadelphia Independence:

 Keep drinking the kool-aide.

Fact: the Philadelphia Independence should not win this game. They undoubtedly know this. But as Danesha Adam’s apparent handball and Amy Rodriguez’s last-gasp 120’ goal proved, the Independence can get it done by hook or by crook. WPS Coach of the Year Paul Riley has breathed life into his team all season. The Independence hit the ground running, despite having a new cast of characters, most of whom had yet to prove themselves at the professional level. That speaks volumes to Riley’s man management skills. Riley has shown immense trust and affection for his players. They’ll be looking to repay the good will on Sunday.

 

*If things go haywire early on and the Independence go into halftime with a 3-0 deficit or something, expect Riley’s halftime team talk to sound a little something like this:

 

Remember what got you here.

Gritty midfield play, unflappable self-belief, trust in the sum of its parts, dogged persistence and a little bit of luck. The Philadelphia Independence don’t play the most thrilling brand of soccer but that hasn’t prevented the team from finishing third and winning both its playoff games. The Independence love to create goal-scoring chances but they also love to destroy them at the other end of the field. They’ll have to do a lot of that against a team as dangerous as FC Gold Pride. Expect the same game plan used in the previous playoff games: play a shallow defensive line, stifle passing movement and possession in midfield and capitalize on rare chances in front of goal.

 

Stay disciplined defensively.

In other words, don’t let Frida Magnusdottir run wild. The Icelandic international ventured forward frequently early on in the Boston game but stayed put defensively as the game wore on. Philly will need all the help it can get defensively against this FC Gold Pride team. That means use overlapping runs from full-backs sparingly.

 

Force FCGP to stay compact.

Good luck with this one but give it a shot. FCGP love to spread the ball around every corner of the field and they use it to devastating effect. Not having Kelley O’Hara will hurt a little but FCGP will still try to burn the flanks with the likes of Ali Riley, Kandace Wilson and Marta bombing forward. It’s no secret that Philadelphia neutralized both Washington and Boston by eliminating the wide game and trapping possession in central midfield. The team was then able to control possession and keep the ball out of their opponent’s half. Philadelphia will have their work cut out for them tomorrow. Val Henderson has been Riley’s preferred choice as of late as Karina LeBlanc has never returned to the form she had in 2009. Henderson is certainly a quality goalkeeper but probably isn’t in WPS’ upper echelon (or is she?). By the way, Philadelphia has the second-worst defensive record in the league next to Atlanta.

 

Make sure Nikki Krzysik and Allison Falk get their vitamins in the morning.

Another factor in Philadelphia’s success in the playoff matches has been the pairing of Krzysik and Falk in central defense. Sara Larrson has seemingly been dropped in favor of Krzysik and it has worked wonders. The converted outside back has exhibited a good deal of tactical awareness, covering the passing channels that lead to Val Henderson. Falk remains the most aerially dominant center-back in WPS. The 6’0 defender will be forced to contend with old buddies Marta, Shannon Boxx and Camille Abily. Hopefully she can remember what she learnedwhile scrimmaging against them last season.

 

Pay no mind to the detracting statistics.

Again, the Philadelphia Independence shouldn’t win this game. But the Independence will surely think of this as yet another opportunity to prove people wrong.

Philadelphia will have to ignore these facts:The team did just have to fly cross-country after logging 240 minutes of competitive soccer in one week. FC Gold Pride are on a record 13-game unbeaten run and finished the regular season with a 4-1 win over this very Independence team. The last time FCGP lost was back on June 27 to Karen Bardsley’s Sky Blue FC. That was also FCGP’s only home loss of the season. Only two WPS teams have worst away records than Philadelphia has. Philadelphia has never led against FC Gold Pride. Philadelphia has conceded nine goals against FCGP, which is nearly one-quarter of Philly’s total goals against record this season. FC Gold Pride has conceded almost exactly half of the goals Philly has with 19 goals against to 36.

 

For FC Gold Pride:

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Philadelphia Through to 2010 WPS Championship But Not Without Incident

As if the Boston Breakers/Philadelphia Independence match-up wasn’t interesting enough. This time there were no egregious fouls, penalty kicks or cracking goals but there was – or appeared to be – a hand ball. With the score level at 1-1 after regular time, Independence striker Danesha Adams seems to have batted the ball in with her hand in the 103’. Neither Boston Breakers goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher nor the Breakers’ typically attentive defense seemed to make much of a defensive play on Adams’ attempt, perhaps suggesting that knew it was a blatant hand ball and felt it was going to be called as such. But it wasn’t, the goal stood and it sees the Independence through to the 2010 WPS Championship game.

The Boston Breakers can’t necessarily feel completely hard done, as the team missed a glorious opportunity nine minutes later. Breakers’ substitute Kasey Moore thwacked an attempt off the crossbar and the rebound fell to the feet of an open Alex Scott who had an unobstructed shot on goal. She whiffed the effort, however, and the Breakers couldn’t conjure up any more second chances.

The home side started well, pinging the ball across the field and widening play. The Independence put immense pressure on Boston’s central players but it didn’t seem to mute the Breakers’ attack. Fabiana and Kristine Lilly were instrumental in Boston’s lively flank play in the first half. In the 22’ Lilly sent a ball sailing towards Lauren Cheney who ably chipped her shot over a hesitant Val Henderson.

The Independence rose to the challenge and answered back, however. In the 29’ Amy Rodriguez dispatched a pass from midfield into the feet of Caroline Seger who planted a shot into the right side of the net for the equalizer.

The intensity resumed for the rest of the first half but seemed to simmer in the second. Philadelphia’s cagey midfield effectively shut down Kelly Smith, immensely limiting Boston’s attack. Fabiana was peculiarly subbed off in the 72’ and Boston lost yet another dimension in offense (Jenn Hildreth was 100% right about this). Philadelphia’s defense remained water-tight when tested. The Independence won back and kept possession in the second half, just as the team had against Washington in the WPS First Round.

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A Kind of Tactical Preview Of the WPS Super Semifinal

Boston Breakers/Philadelphia Independence matches have been known to produce some pretty wild moments like extraordinary goals from outside backs, fouls in the penalty area, goalkeeping howlers and improbable comebacks. This match-up has also denied amnesty for old knees and rubber running tracks either (see Kelly Smith, Frida Magnusdottir and August 28).

Tonight’s Super Semifinal could be set up for even more merriment. Who knows, the 2010 WPS Champion may very well be competing in this match. Expect fireworks.

Here are three tactical suggestions for each team.

 

Boston:

4-5-1!

After months of frustration and nine winless games to prove it, Tony DiCicco found the right formation. Jordan Angeli and Leslie Osborne would be the defensive buffer behind Fabiana, Kristine Lilly and Lindsay Tarpley. Smith would pull the strings in the prototypical #10 role and help out Lauren Cheney up top when need be. It was a pretty perfect set-up and there’s no reason to change it, even with the absence of Osborne. Expect either Laura del Rio or Liz Bogus to fill the void out wide that will be left by Tarpley, who has seemingly been shifted to central midfield. Much like the First Round game, this match will be decided in the midfield. Philadelphia’s midfielders will apply constant pressure on Boston’s creative players (namely Kelly Smith). Boston should expect this. Tarpley and Angeli should be prepared.

 

Take advantage of the narrow pitch and the noisy crowd.

It’s a bit of an injustice that the league’s best-attended team will be forced to play perhaps its most significant game (in the WPS era, that is) in the smallest ever stadium to hold a WPS game. The total capacity might be downsized but the atmosphere definitely won’t be. The Riptide will be out in full force for sure and 3,000 Breakers fans (do you think any Indy supporters will make the trip?) will be spiriting the team along throughout.

Additionally, to pick up on an earlier point, Boston should try to contend with Philadelphia’s immense physical pressure by pinging the ball out wide. The field will be quite narrow which might complicate this but the more you keep the ball away from the vortex that Philadelphia creates in the center of midfield the better. The Washington Freedom began their First Round match by spreading the ball out wide to Sarah Huffman and Sonia Bompastor but then they made a tactical switch, added a striker and forced the attack to come up through central channels. This played directly into Philadelphia’s hands and the Freedom rolled over and died in the second half (and extra time). Don’t do this, Boston. Use Alex Scott and Stephanie Cox to full effect if Kristine Lilly and whoever the left outside midfielder will be can’t get runs in from out wide.

 

Keep a constant eye on A-Rod.

And not just for 90 minutes but if need be, for every second of extra time. Rodriguez doesn’t seem too bothered by the DiCicco/black sheep/redemption drama. It’s the final game before the WPS Championship. She’s coming off a huge game-winning goal in the First Round and will be looking to prove that she can perform in the clutch as well. That’s all the incentive she’ll need.

A-Rod will be coming up against what is probably the second best defense in the league. Amy LePeilbet will probably be asked to cut off any possible runs. Ifeoma Dieke will add force if deemed necessary. Boston’s defense will need to be flawless and 100% focused throughout. Give A-Rod one chance and she’ll punish you.

 

For Philadelphia:

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We're Entering the 347th Minute and It's Still Scoreless…

Photo courtesy of Howard C. Smith/isiphotos.com

The Philadelphia/Washington match-up was always going to be characterized by one adjective: laborious. And was it ever. 

Both teams worked hard throughout the 120 minutes (more on this in a bit). But perhaps it was the viewer who worked the hardest, as there were many sequences in the match that rigorously tested one’s attention span. Possession kept getting knotted up in midfield and neither team managed to find a consistent rhythm. And then there were the missed chances. Dozens of them, it seemed. 

Washington had a decent first half and controlled the flanks reasonably well. Philadelphia, on the other hand, were dead set on sending the ball up the middle and hoping that Amy Rodriguez could convert something out of nothing. Still, neither side looked very threatening. 

The second half resumed and Washington vowed to play in a more attacking formation, subbing off fullback Becca Moros for forward Lene Mykjaland at the half. Anita Asante was shifted from midfield to the back line. Despite Asante’s best efforts, Washington paid dearly for this. Philadelphia was the aggressor for the rest of the match. Amy Rodriguez, Tina DiMartino and Caroline Seger troubled Washington’s back four and would have easily put the game to bed had it not been for one person: the USWNT’s #1 in waiting, Ashlyn Harris.  

Sensing trouble, Jim Gabarra demoted the industrious and dependable Sonia Bompastor to left-back. She made three tremendous saves that rivaled the brilliant work of her goalkeeper and kept the Freedom alive. Abby Wambach was uncharacteristically anonymous in the second interval, as was Nikki Marshall. 

It’s never good when a team’s goalkeeper gets more time on the ball than a team’s star striker. But the Freedom were in good hands. The rookie Harris seemed utterly unflappable, even as her back line continued to falter. By the end of the second half, Washington’s defense had apparently sent out a hospitable invitation to Philadelphia’s front six players for tea and biscuits in the final third. But Harris wasn’t having any of it. Her one-handed aerial stop of Lori Lindsey’s close-range effort could have perhaps won the game. 

The score remained 0-0 at the end of regulation. 30 minutes of extra time would commence and perhaps it was tired legs or maybe a lapse of concentration, but both teams seemed content with penalty kicks. The intensity that characterized the match for much of the second half had cooled down considerably. Philadelphia kept on the attack, albeit at a much slower clip while Washington’s attack remained non-existent. 

And then it happened. 120′ after the first whistle indicated kick off and 30 seconds before the final whistle would indicate penalty kicks, Amy Rodriguez totally pulled an Abby Wambach. Tina DiMartino slipped Rodriguez a pass in the box and Rodriguez calmly put it past Harris. Rodriguez had been frustrated by either Harris, the post or poor technique throughout the entire game. But not at that moment. She snapped her six-week goal-scoring drought with what will surely be one of the most significant goals of her life. 

Rodriguez’s 12 regular season goals proved she’s no fluke. Her team’s surprising postseason appearance proved that she isn’t damaged goods. Her extra time goal to send her team through to the penultimate match before the WPS Championship game proves that she’s a stellar striker who can change games when it matters most. That’s what elite athletes do and in this moment, Amy Rodriguez is a member of the elite. 

And if things go her way in five days, perhaps Tony DiCicco will agree.

Philadelphia Acknowledges It Has An Attendance Problem, Does Something About It

For all the great things that are going on with the Independence, it’s a shame that few Philadelphians seem to care. Philadelphia is coming off of last weekend’s game against Boston which took in a paltry gate of 2,093; the lowest of the 2010 season and the second lowest in league history. (The first being the Sky Blue FC game last season that attracted 1,878 attendees. Also on July 4th. Thanks to Jacqueline Purdy for the correction).

Philadelphia ranks rock bottom in overall league attendance at 3,068. That average is buoyed by the 6,028 people that attended the Independence’s inaugural match, however. In reality, the team hasn’t been able to break the 3,000 mark since then. They’ve been the only WPS team with that distinction.

The numbers are particularly sad because Philadelphia is actually you know, a good team with good players, a great coach and compelling storylines. Amy Rodriguez was the finest American player of the month of June not named Michael Bradley. Karina LeBlanc has a great personality. Tina DiMartino has proven to be a great pick-up. Heather Mitts is pretty. Lianne Sanderson is a fine #10. Allison Falk is the best aerial defender in WPS. Val Henderson is the best goalkeeper in WPS without a starting job. Lori Lindsey is a fantastic creative (and destructive) force in midfield. Joanna Lohman is funny. Holmfridur Magnusdottir has an awesome name. Caroline Seger, well who knows about Caroline Seger.

Those things should all count for something. Come on Philadelphia, other WPS markets would love to have your team. The Independence deserve your love and affection.

(However, performance evidently has little to do with strong attendance numbers as FC Gold Pride are right down there with Philadelphia while Boston and Chicago have consistently had the best attendance figures of the season. In fact, the attendance average chart is almost the exact mirror image of the league table.)

The fact that West Chester is on the outskirts of Philadelphia probably hasn’t helped. But what else could account for such little interest? MLS’ Philadelphia Union (also an expansion side) actually has the second best overall attendance average in the league behind the Seattle Sounders. Granted, they’ve only had 3 home games so far but they’ve been able to attract 26,221 people to each match which is an outstanding figure for an expansion team that’s at the bottom of its conference. So come on guys, what gives?

With this in mind, General Manager Louise Waxler has appointed Eric Hansen as Director of Ticket Sales. Hansen has previously worked in similar positions with the New York Jets and a minor league hockey team. Per the press release, he specializes in “creating a strategic plan to increase sales from the previous season, implementing new procedures, organizing databases and tracking methods, and managing staff needs and communications.”

Sounds good to me.

Considering Hansen’s past experience with the Jets, perhaps Paul Riley can make personal phone calls to season ticket callers a la Rex Ryan. Hey, if it helps spur support…

That last line about not having the best players but having the best team sounds exactly like something Riley would say. Hmmmm.

(Thanks Ian)

An Interview With Paul Riley

Philadelphia Independence coach Paul Riley has guided his team all the way to second place in the standings. His efforts were rewarded with being named coach of Abby’s XI. Here he talks about his impressions of the team, what he thinks of A-Rod’s recent success, why the Independence have the best chemistry in the league and what the future holds for his beloved Liverpool FC.

 

AWK: Your passing and movement has looked fantastic. Is that part of your coaching philosophy?

PR: I think that you do off the ball is more important than what you do with the ball so if you can take care of the ball when you have it then you get a good combination. Players make X’s and O’s so if you’ve got good players who are technically good which we do obviously because these are the best players in the world, then it makes things easier for a coach. It’s almost like pick a team, roll the dice, and then see the fear in your enemies’ eyes.

 

AWK: I was amazed to see how quickly Abby’s XI adjusted to your system and your philosophy. It honestly looked like they’ve been playing together for a year.

It’s amazing because you come from Philly and you think you know, it’s going to be hard because it’s going to be like preseason again. But once you started doing the drilled they were like flying. Everyone’s peeling out, checking in, there was great movement and everyone had a lot of energy on the field. What I like about it is that they’re hungry, they want to win. There is a rivalry because there’s internationals on the other team so that will add a little bit of grit to the game. I’m not sure there’s enough defenders on the two squads. Very few.

 

AWK: I saw a lot of defenders making runs in and crossing. Did you tell them to do that?

PR: Well we’ve only got 3 in the back so we’re gonna play a 3-5-2. We’re gonna let them run around. The question is whether we’ll get caught out as the other team has 3 in the front.

 

AWK: Do you know what two players are playing up top?

PR: I’m going with Abby and Aluko.

 

AWK: I saw Cheney in the midfield which is good because she can hold the ball up really well.

JP: We showed you our patent with the two up front. Then the triangle behind them and then two players which will be O’Reilly and Chalupny. So hopefully we can get in good areas and cause problems. Their three will cause our three some problems in the back but Chalupny and O’Reilly will need to help us out at the back and give us some structure as I think we’ll be struggling a little bit.

To be honest, the girls want to play so badly. It’s a great environment and they picked the right place to play. Practice was great. Because you come down and you wonder if they like each other, you don’t know. Me and Abby have had our battles on the sideline when they play us but it’s all in professional. We’re both on the same team so we both have the same goal.

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Rodriguez, Philadelphia Continue To Write Story of the Season

Last night’s stunning comeback victory against the Washington Freedom added yet another twist to the fantastic tale that is that of the Philadelphia Independence. The 3-2 win elevates the Indies/PHIINDY/the Cheesesteaks’ to 21 points, just one point behind FC Gold Pride who host Sky Blue FC in a few hours. The victory also furthers the chasm in the standings between them and the Washington Freedom who are now five points behind Philadelphia.

The Freedom’s disastrous second-half collapse in which they conceded all three goals is an indicator of just how dangerous this Philadelphia team can be. After a flat first half that saw both Lene Mykaland score after just 45 seconds and Abby Wambach bury a penalty, Philadelphia came roaring back with inspiration and endeavor. Amy Rodriguez hit two goals in quick succession before Lianne Sanderson beat Erin McLeod in the 92’. Their efforts were duly rewarded as they earned their fourth result in five matches.

If there’s one player who deserves the spoils of this victory, it has to be Amy Rodriguez. After all, she scored Philadelphia’s opening two goals in trademark A-Rod fashion. For the first, Tina DiMartino found Rodriguez behind the defense and the striker made the most of it with a one-timed left-footed shot across goal. Just ten minutes later, Jen Buczkowski found Rodriguez over the top once again. After a touch, Rodriguez dispatched a low shot into the back of the net.

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