Women’s soccer sure knows how to do penalty kicks right.
I’m not sure about you, but I’ve had my fill for the year. Between Ashlyn Harris’ rock star block tonight, Ali Krieger’s momentous finish against Brazil, the Claire Rafferty flap against France, and the Boxx/Lloyd/Heath’s misses, we’ve exceeded our annual quota for PK shootout suspense. All nine penalty kicks that preceded Harris’ save on Laura del Rio were class. The strikes by both Christine Sinclair and Danesha Adams were net-bound from first contact. A second round of penalty kicks looked to be guaranteed before Harris showcased the lightning quick reflex skills that have helped make her name. Paul Riley’s decision to not pick A-Rod to be one of the initial five takers was telling, too. Rodriguez stood as a bystander and watched her team lose in penalties for the second time in just a month and a half.
A-Rod was A-Rod, y’know?
At least she has a wedding to look forward to? 2011 has been tough for A-Rod, and could get harder by the tail end of the year. Will Pia Sundhage continue to show her the same fidelity that Paul Riley has as Olympics qualifying looms? It was a thoroughly typical performance from Rodriguez today: at least six clear chances, one goal. Riley’s point about “you have to give her a couple of chances and she’s sure to score one of them” is valid, but it doesn’t make watching her any less frustrating. Philadelphia could have avoided penalty kicks altogether had A-Rod been more opportunistic – particularly the moment in which she rampaged through the box, missed her chance to pounce, and wastefully played the ball back to Tasha Kai. Alex Morgan wasn’t any more impressive on the opposite end of the field, though, which may take some venom out of the “Swap Morgan with A-Rod ASAP” campaign.
The central midfields canceled each another out.
The match was supposed to be decided in the center of the park and therefore it wasn’t. The Flash seemed to play within themselves, particularly in the first half, as several players dropped back into the midfield to make up for the numerical disadvantage. Tina DiMartino did a similar task for Philly as she engaged in a turf battle with Ali Riley. Things became less congested in the second half. A defensive giveaway led to Christine Sinclair’s lovely finish in the 64th minute. WNY’s midfielders looked increasingly taxed as the match wore on, but Philadelphia’s attack appeared disconnected and Vero could never really get the team’s passing game off the ground. WNY stole back the rhythm towards the end of regulation, but neither team made much headway in the final third. Kia McNeil, Nikki Krzysik, Candace Chapman, and Whitney Engen were just too good.
Whitney Engen was the player of the match.
And Kia McNeil is runner-up to Engen. Despite the dramatic goals and heart-stopping PK’s, the match was ultimately a defensive affair. It was fitting too, as both sides had the tidiest defenses in the league throughout the regular season. Defenders should be highlighted in defensive finals, which is why the decision to name Christine Sinclair game MVP is foolish. Sinclair’s award may have been a bit of a make-up call for not winning MVP, but Whitney Engen had a sterling match. Her aggressive professional foul on Vero in the second half was one of her few faults on the day. Engen’s keen positional sense was really on show today. Her anticipation of Vero and A-Rod’s runs was uncanny. At least she’ll finish out the year with both a Defender of the Year honor and now a WPS Championship winner’s medal. Not bad for someone who almost skipped out on playing college soccer.
This match won’t only be remembered for the squirrel pitch invader, thanks goodness.
Aside from the squirrel shenanigans, the first half was turgid, dull, and largely forgettable. The match thawed in the second half, heated up extra time, and finally exploded in penalties. WNY was just two minutes away from a title victory in regular time before A-Rod played the last minute spoiler to Harris for the second year running. The 2009 final will be remembered for the HAO goal that gave Sky Blue FC’s fairy tale story a happy ending. 2010 was hardly a contest as FC Gold Pride wore down an exhausted Independence side. For a little while this year’s final looked to be a major letdown – particularly given the potential for a real cracker. The two teams were indeed evenly matched, but almost at the expense of entertainment and excitement. Fortunately, the match avoided an anti-climatic finish. There’s no telling where the league is going to go from here, but we managed to get an entertaining final between two quality sides in front of over 10,000 fans. The 2011 WPS season is now over. At least it had a nice bookend.