The rain before the New York-WNY match left quite the scenery in pregame warm-ups last Sunday night.
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. – In the end, it was just a scoreless standoff between two of the best teams the 2012 version of WPSL Elite has to offer, but if there was a game that summed up the fluid scene that is women’s soccer at the highest level in America, it might have been Sunday’s draw between New York and Western New York.
You had some great technical soccer, a world-class Flash midfield of Angela Salem, Lori Lindsey, and McCall Zerboni controlling the game (and driving opposing coach Paul Riley nuts in the process). You had big, strong central defenders, like Riley’s pairing of Kia McNeill and Nikki Krzysik, who let very little through them. The teams played very hard, were able to knock the ball around, and it wasn’t hard to tell that it was a high-level match.
But it lacked a cutting edge, a goal scorer, someone that could make things happen in the final third.
“We need a striker badly,” Riley said. “I told you guys before we started the season, we don’t have enough up front to win this league, so unless we get a striker between now and July 1 -Amy Rodriguez-esque or Tasha Kai-esque – I don’t think we’ve got a chance to win the championship, to be honest with you. We’re just not cut-throat enough up front.
“I’ve got nine (strikers) on the hook right now from everywhere in the world. And I’m talking on loan, trying to work out something. Anything.”
And, of course, that last crack led to a perhaps unfair Marta reference.
“I can offer her a couple hundred bucks. She can have free apple pie at my house any time,” Riley said.
Aaran Lines – who had Marta, Christine Sinclair, and Alex Morgan at his disposal last season – was more diplomatic, and was probably the happier coach with the draw, as his team outshot New York 7-1 in the second half and nearly won the game twice in the dying minutes.
“Not quite the same (as last year), but this is a group that I’ve put together,” Lines said. “It’s a very, very talented group, as you can see tonight we had some good experience with Lori (Lindsey) in there and (Klingenberg), it was nice to get them on the field and give them a game, but obviously a little bit different than last year, a little bit inexperienced.”
And there’s another rub, Klingenberg and Lindsey showed their quality in this match, but as alternates for the U.S. Olympic team, they left for Sweden on Tuesday, and who knows when or if they’ll return to play again for the Flash?
“Honestly, it’s been a weird year,” Klingenberg said. “The WPS folded, and that was unfortunate. We really want a women’s league to be around. But then when we heard the WPSL Elite was going to be kind of picking that up, it was great because they were going to work with us with the national team duties. Getting out here with the girls and playing with them is incredible, a great environment to come back to after national team training.
Klingenberg worked extremely hard as she always does – for 90 minutes, and you could tell she was more interested in talking about her Flash teammates then her U.S. teammates, at least on this night.
“We’re glad to be here,” Klingenberg said. “I want to be a part of the team, and we got a good week of training in. I thought that we played well, had some good attacks, hit the crossbar. We were solid in the back, but unfortunately it just wasn’t our day to put the ball in the goal. We have to be a bit better at finishing our chances.”
I guess it’s at this point that we should bring up the line of the great Norman Dale from Hoosiers, “I would hope that you would cheer for who we are, not for who we are not.”
There are things the league has to work out: getting teams to games on time, getting the right uniforms for games (both teams had red on which led to a delay in this game), promoting itself a little better, figuring out what balls to use (Molten is apparently the official ball of WPSL, but New York and Boston were both using Puma in games I went to).
But these are minor things that will hopefully be taken care of. As I’ve pointed out repeatedly, it’s certainly better than nothing at all, and I’m really not trying to be overly negative about what the situation is. Everyone is upset we don’t have the best players in the world here this year, and this is certainly a transition year, but there’s some good things happening. By next year with no major international tournaments to worry about, who knows?
It seems nearly official that the playoff format will be the top four making the postseason, and the semifinals and finals being the weekend of July 27-29 in Rochester. That should mean a really good weekend of Boston, Chicago, New York, and Western New York, although it might take some of the luster out of the rest of the regular season.
“We have a good defense,” Riley said. “I’m pretty comfortable that the defense will get us into the playoffs, but getting into the playoffs is not where we want to be, we want to win the championship.”
Of course, as the standings sit now, New England is in fourth, the Flash are only in fifth, both teams having played four games. Although WNY’s schedule has been much, much tougher, the Mutiny could throw the door wide open if they can get a result in Rochester this weekend.
“We’re hosting, we’d better be there (in the playoffs). Otherwise, there might be someone else coaching the Flash next year,” Lines said.
NEW YORK 3:0 PHILADELPHIA
This will be known as the “bus game”, which saw the Fever end up somehow going through Times Square to get to Hofstra from the greater Philly area. The game started 90 minutes late, which is obviously embarrassing for all involved. But as I talked to about before, not much you can do about it now, is there? Live and learn. It actually took the Fury a long time to break the Fever down, which was a bad omen for Sunday.
“Thursday is a day I’d like to forget,” Fever coach Stuart Gore said. “When you’re sitting there and it takes us four hours to get to New England, how does it take us six and a half hours to get to New York? Those are the wrinkles that need to be ironed out. We were never told we couldn’t take a commercial vehicle on the Belt Parkway, things like that. But I don’t mind being the guinea pig if it will help someone else out. Hopefully, the league will get stronger and stronger and get more and more professional over time.”
INDIANA 0:4 BOSTON
It was funny to watch the battling Tweets from the two clubs in this game, as Indiana tried desperately to find positive things out of this one. To be fair, all of Indiana’s first five games have come against one of the “big”clubs, and no “big” club has even dropped a point yet against a “small” club, so there are some games ahead where Shek Borkowski’s group can think they should be competitive.
NEW ENGLAND 2:1 PHILADELPHIA
The Mutiny escaped with three points in this one, but safe to say they didn’t look great doing it under new coach Chris LeGates, who took over for Tony Horta after Horta took a leave of absence. But three points is three points, and as I said, the Mutiny is three points clear of Western New York heading into this weekend’s showdown in Rochester, one in which they should have Kristie Mewis to go along with the impressive Morgan Andrews (more on her later in the week) in the midfield. And we’ve already mentioned that the Flash has had trouble scoring, so who knows?
CHICAGO 1:0 BOSTON
Must admit, I was quite surprised by this result, but perhaps I shouldn’t have been. I was most surprised that the Breakers were blanked, but the Red Stars certainly have the players to compete for a title and used a Michele Weissenhofer first-half goal to take over the top of the table. The game was very even throughout, which means that all four of the top teams are very close to each other, it would appear.