August 21, 2011

Philadelphia Advances to Final with 2-0 Win

The Philadelphia Independence battled to a 2-0 victory over magicJack on goals by Tasha Kai and Amy Rodriguez to advance to the WPS Final. The Independence will face the Western New York Flash next Saturday for the championship.

The return to the final was accomplished in typical fashion by Philadelphia...solid defense, good goalkeeping, hard work, and some timely finishing, a team effort to be sure. Starting just two USWNT players, plus Spanish international Vero Boquete, they were able to outplay and defeat the heavily national team-laden magicJack side.

Paul Riley's starting lineup saw only a few changes from what we saw late in the season. Sinead Farrelly returned to a starter's role after sitting out the last three matches with nagging injuries. Philly started Barnhart in goal, Johnson, McNeill, Krzysik, and Robinson across the back, with Buczkowski, DiMartino, Farrelly, and Boquete in the midfield. Kai and Rodriguez were the two Independence strikers.

Abby Wambach was forced to make one change to her lineup from Wednesday. Tina Ellertson was unable to make the start due to a hamstring injury, so Lydia Vandenbergh started at left back. Their starters were Loyden in goal, Dalmy, Rampone, Sauerbrunn, and Vandenbergh in back. The midfield consisted of Boxx, Schmidt, Huffman, and Rapinoe, with Wambach and Press as the starting forwards.

Philadelphia had the first good scoring opportunity, as WPS MVP Veronica Boquete nearly caught Jill Loyden flatfooted with her shot from 20 yards, but the ball went just wide of the left post in the fifth minute. Christie Rampone earned the first booking of the match, as she was nabbed for tugging on Rodriguez' shoulder in the 12th minute.

The first half hour saw both teams working the ball up the field well, but both sides were unconvincing in the final third and there were very few good scoring opportunities. However, the final 15 minutes of the half saw end-to-end action with multiple chances.

magicJack's first good opportunity came in the 31st minute. Christen Press was able to get free to get off a shot from 28 yards, but her blast was tipped over the net by Nicole Barnhart.

Philadelphia then had a procession of chances over the next few minutes. Rodriguez' shot from the top of the box forced Loyden to slide over to make a save in the 32nd minute. Farrelly sent Kai into the right side of the box in the 34th, but the Hawaiian striker's chip over Loyden wound up on top of the netting. Next, it was Farrelly's turn but her shot from 20 yards went straight into Loyden's hands.

magicJack nearly jumped on top in the 36th minute. Marian Dalmy crossed the ball from the right side to Christen Press, who was waiting just outside the six. She turned on her defender, but her shot hit the outside of the left post. The rebound fell directly to Wambach, whose shot dribbled wide of the right post. Two minutes later, a Sarah Huffman cross gave Philly's defense problems with the ball coming to Press, whose shot from eight yards was blocked by Farrelly.

Philadelphia came right back in the 39th minute with Boquete setting up Tina DiMartino on the left side of the penalty area, but the shot from the diminutive midfielder found nothing but Loyden's hands. In the final minutes of the half, Kai sent a shot right at Loyden from 16 yards and Boquete set up Rodriguez on the right side, but her shot went just wide of the left post.

The half ended scoreless. But this was nothing new for the Independence who were shut out nine times in the first half during the regular season, but were still able to post a 5-2-2 record in those matches. Philadelphia had outscored their opponents 18-7 in the 2nd half during the season. Meanwhile, magicJack had not won a match all year when they didn't score in the opening stanza. One halftime substitution was made as Lisa De Vanna came on for Press.

It took just 24 seconds of the second half for Philadelphia to break on top. Farrelly's serve from the right side was headed by magicJack defender Marian Dalmy to the outside of the box. Kai beat Megan Rapinoe to the ball, burst into the penalty area, deked Rampone, and finished with a curling shot from 12 yards out just inside the left post to make it 1-0. It was brilliant effort by the Independence striker.

Wambach tried to even the match just three minutes later as she settled a Rampone cross in the penalty area, but her first shot was blocked by Leigh Ann Robinson and then Barnhart made perhaps the save of the match with a sprawling effort to send the ball over the crossbar on Wambach's rebound attempt.

Philadelphia made their first substitution in the 56th minute, sending Joanna Lohman in for DiMartino. In the 65th minute, Danesha Adams came on for Kai.

Wambach once again came knocking at the door at the midway point of the 2nd half. Vandenbergh sent in a cross from the left side, with Wambach's header from in close going off the crossbar after Barnhart was able to get her fingertips on the ball. Wambach made her second substitution in the 72nd minute, with Ella Masar entering the contest for Vandenbergh.

Philadelphia continued to pressure the magicJack net. In the 73rd minute, Rodriguez sent one just wide of the right post. In the 75th minute, a Lohman cross was settled by Adams in front of the goal, with her shot glancing off the crossbar.

The Independence iced the match in the 81st minute. Jen Buczkowski passed the ball to Adams, who outfought Sophie Schmidt to win possession. Adams hit Rodriguez in stride and the USWNT striker, glimpsing Loyden off her line, chipped the ball from 22 yards neatly into the upper right hand corner of the net to make it 2-0.

Both teams made their final substitutions in the closing minutes. Philadelphia sent Laura del Rio on for Rodriguez, while magicJack subbed in Nikki Washington for Sarah Huffman.

magicJack had two final chances as the final minutes ticked away. Schmidt was able to get around Barnhart to the end line just left of the goal, but with Ella Masar unmarked in front of the net, the magicJack midfielder got twisted and whiffed on the attempted cross, with the ball rolling harmlessly out of play. In stoppage, Shannon Boxx' attempt from 22 yards was parried wide by Barnhart.

It was a well-deserved victory for Philadelphia. While the two scoring plays were well done, it was very good goalkeeping from Nicole Barnhart and excellent defending, especially from Kia McNeill, Jen Buczkowski, and Sinead Farrelly, that won the day. McNeill was superb in marking Wambach throughout the contest. This was a great team effort to be sure.

For magicJack, after suffering through a controversial year off the field, the players managed to rise up and give a very good account for themselves. They earned their way into the playoffs with solid play over the final few weeks and posted the franchise's first playoff victory. One has to wonder just how much playing two matches a week over the final four weeks of the season took their toll.

Philadelphia will now meet Western New York in the WPS Championship match next Saturday at 4 pm eastern time. Philadelphia is making their second consecutive trip to the final, losing last season to Gold Pride. It is obviously the first trip to the finals for the expansion Flash. The two teams met three times during the regular season, with Philadelphia winning two of the three. All were one goal matches.

Philadelphia 2, magicJack 0

Phi-Tasha Kai (unassisted) 46'
Phi-Amy Rodriguez (Danesha Adams) 81'

Philadelphia - Nicole Barnhart, Estelle Johnson, Kia McNeill, Nikki Krzysik, Leigh Ann Robinson, Jen Buczkowski, Sinead Farrelly, Tina DiMartino (Joanna Lohman 56), Veronica Boquete, Tasha Kai (Danesha Adams 63), Amy Rodriguez (Laura del Rio 85).

magicJack - Jill Loyden, Marian Dalmy, Christie Rampone, Becky Sauerbrunn, Lydia Vandenbergh (Ella Masar 72), Shannon Boxx, Sophie Schmidt, Sarah Huffman (Nikki Washington 85), Megan Rapinoe, Abby Wambach, Christen Press (Lisa De Vanna 46).

YC - Rampone (mJ) 12, Wambach (mJ) 86.
Shots - Philadelphia 20, magicJack 17
SOG - Philadelphia 13, magicJack 9.