Five Things Learned from the 2011 WPS Championship Game Plus Audio

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.


Aaran Lines

Joe Sahlen

Paul Riley

27 thoughts on “Five Things Learned from the 2011 WPS Championship Game Plus Audio

  1. Katreus

    Sort of disappointed the audio cut off on Lines’ answer about Boquette. Funny that the Flash and Philly just basically traded their star CMs to each other.

    Riley’s thoughts are interesting too on the comparison of midfield with last year’s team. And Riley talking about putting chances away… Sort of funny given what he’s said previously. Also, Barnhart played great.

    Congrats Flash!

  2. Devin

    I disagree a bit on Engen. Arod ran by, thru and around that defense. If she has any sort of quality, this game would’ve been 4-0 and no one would be mentioning Engen as potential player of the match. I think Engen is great and not all those runs lie at her feet, but a world class player (ahem) makes a few of those chances and that ultimately falls on the defense.

    As far as Morgan for arod, give morgan 1/3 of the balls into space that arod had and it’s 3-0 going away.

    1. Soccer

      Very true…..ARod is a Choker…..Morgan is clutch.

      Morgan is really just the odd man out in that top 3. Sinclair and Marta pretty much know how to play with each other so well, bringing in a younger player is just a little more difficult.

      SWAP Lauren Cheney for Carli Lloyd ASAP…..this will make a difference!!!

      1. Jenna Pel Post author

        I agree with you on this one. In a 4-3-3 with Marta and Sinclair, Morgan is simply the passenger.

        1. Katie

          I think to get the most out of Morgan play a 4-3-2-1 with her up top. Clearly a crowded front line, something has to change. Otherwise I think they are wasting her.

  3. Katie

    I agree with Devin about Morgan. I don’t think we need to look any farther than Morgan’s performance in the World Cup. Sure didn’t look like she was playing in her first World Cup.

    In the final, A-Rod was put in a position to score, Morgan not so much. She’s the third option behind Marta and Sinclair.

    I’m going to give Morgan a break considering the whirlwind her life as been lately. She needs a rest. Not to mention I don’t think we’ve seen the best she has to offer yet. The USWNT needs to find a way to have Morgan and Cheney together on the field A LOT in the future.

  4. sec

    I believe now we can (and should) get beyond the thought that “A-Rod was unlucky” or “A-Rod lacks confidence today, but will come around” — today she confirmed the longstanding pattern: very poor ball control and ball-striking skills. And forget the simple question whether it should be Morgan that replaces A-Rod on the USWNT starting 11; any number of players would do better (if not Morgan, then Press or Leroux or others). It is really sad, because Amy obviously has worked very hard, but until she improves dramatically, she does not deserve a spot on the UWWNT. She has proven this point, over and over again, through her play — she commits the same errors, again and again.

    Her coach, Riley, affirmed in this interview that the game was lost (and winnable) at A-Rod’s feet. (So much for worrying about her fragile confidence: I guess now that the season is over, the coach is able to call it as he sees it – and he saw A-Rod blowing too many chances).

    Yes, the A-Rod rebound through the Harris 5-hole was a dramatic equalizer, but it was a point-blank reaction that A-Rod did not place and which caught Harris at the wrong moment. A “garbage goal” if I ever saw one. Like A-Rod vs. Italy last November, or Buehler vs. N. Korea: hardly anything more than sheer reactions. It is dwarfed by all the A-Rod misses on the Philly counter-attacks that required a bit more skill and composure. A-Rod’s goal was hardly like Morgan vs. China, vs. Italy, vs. France, or vs. Japan.

    (Btw, Pia also really needs to re-evaluate Buehler’s spot on the USWNT, given some of the defensive efforts seen today, and given Buehler’s lack of athleticism, as demonstrated vs. MJ recently).

    Anyway, great match, great showcase, incredible performances by both sides. Marta was amazing at times. Ali Riley was exceptional, both defensively and offensively. Philly’s defense and positioning and Barnhart’s play were also amazing. Averbuch’s penalty take was just one play, but what skill and deception! Great spectacle overall. The Field Turf takes away from the game a bit (all those unnaturally bouncing balls), but maybe we should be thankful that there were no football lines dominating the field, like at Harvard and Widener. (WPS must find a way to overcome that issue soon — unfitting and unattractive to play with FieldTurf and football markings).

    1. Jenna Pel Post author

      I forgot to highlight Averbuch’s spot kick! Very cheeky. I agree that these issues are chronic with A-Rod. She’s just not a clinical striker. It was so very typical of her.

  5. shreddir

    Replace A-Rod with Christen Press, Whitney Engen for Buehler, Kia McNeil for Leipelbet, and Jen Buzckowski for Carley Lloyd for the next WNT camp call-up. We’ll be awesome.

    1. adams

      I like some of these suggestions; these players deserve a call-up. But Jen Buz is primarily a defensive player and Lloyd is supposed (emphasis on supposed) to be our attacking-type or box-to-box mf depending on what Pia feels like. We’re still BADLY in need of a central player with attacking abilities and good distribution. I still don’t feel like we have many options here yet – maybe a college player will emerge or someone who doesn’t play the position now will be shifted there.

      1. Courtney

        I think Sinead Farrelly should be given a look at the offensive-minded, attacking midfielder position on the USWNT. Great distributer and can shoot.

  6. Katie

    No offense to Press but just because she won ROY in the WPS does not put her ahead of Morgan on the USWNT. Morgan has clearly proven herself with her performance in the WWC. 2015 Morgan and Cheney should start up top. I’d like to see Engen in the back instead of Buehler. Younger, faster and smarter!

    1. shreddir

      No way did I say replace “Alex” with Press! I want both of them on the squad. Even though Christen was our “enemy” here at Cal the last 4 years, but now that we don’t have to play her anymore I luv her. It goes without saying Morgan is my girl..Go Bears!

    1. Elizabeth

      I actually wasn’t impressed with DiMartino or any of the midfield wingers in the final for that matter.

      The final was exciting but not very pretty; neither team could complete more than 3 passes at a time it seemed. All the attack came from straight up the middle.

      My player of the game was Ali Riley. What a talent.

      1. shreddir

        Unfortunately Ali decided to be capped for the New Zealand senior team already so we can’t touch her even though she grew up playing here. Too bad WNT didn’t show more love when she was a U20 🙁

        1. Katie

          I was wondering about Riley and New Zealand since she was born or at least grew up in Cali. I think we missed that one big times. Left backs are hard to find and she is a very good one.

  7. Chris

    I was a little dissapointed with the year that former UVA standout and 2nd overall pick Sinead Farrelly had.

    Was she playing in the wrong position or just on a team with too much depth?

  8. John

    Just saw that Pia is going w/ the WWC roster f/ the Canada friendlies. I scream why? Mitts is done, Boxx needs less wear if she’s gonna have something f/ Olympics. I understand the whole connect w/ the fans who noticed the WWC, but what an opportunity to look ahead, reward form and learn to play w/o some of the current pieces. If you limit the roster to those born in ’84 or ’85 and later it’s an interesting mix and would supply space f/ so many of the players speculated about in this blog.
    I hope Pia realizes her need to make this team younger. It was the WWC’s 2nd oldest roster and that says alot. However, if the US finishes at the WWC there are alot of 3 and 4-0 games and we sing the praises of the ’11s f/ years. Of course, it wouldn’t make ’em any younger.

    1. Katie

      The two games against Canada are essentially a “victory tour,” all WWC players. The Olympics has a smaller squad so expect to see most of the same faces with it less than a year away now. After that I think the changes start to take shape.

      1. Random

        I also believe the “victory tour” (really couldn’t come up with a more appropriate name?) is in the players contracts as well. If they had won I believe it was going to be 7 “victory tour” games, by coming in 2nd they gteed 2 games. So they really couldn’t replace any of the players, but I do agree that it would have been a fine time to give others more time. I’m hoping Pia uses this time to give O’Hara, Saurerbrunn (sp?), and Morgan more playing time. (how sad is it that I could only come up with three younger players that need more time that are actually on the roster and I don’t really consider Saurerbrunn a young player).

        @kool-aide thanks for continuing to fight the good fight on this one. I am so sick of the Ali Riley what if conversations it isn’t even funny. She wouldn’t be the player she is today if she had waited around for the US, so the conversation is irrelevant.

  9. Joshua

    US Soccer is calling the Sept. 17 and 22 friendlies with Canada a “WNT Celebration Series”.

    I agree with John about needing to make the team younger. However, Wambach and Solo, for two, both appear to have indicated they want to return for the 2015 WWC. They will be 35 and 34 that year. I see no indication any other player on the current roster wants to retire before 2015 either, at least not yet anyway.

    If Pia wants to make the team younger, likely she is going to have to push some players out the door, much like Silvia Neid appears to be doing to the German women’s team with the recent retirement announcments. On this matter, I don’t think Solo is irreplaceable but I see no replacement for Wambach.


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