August 26, 2011

WPS Championship 2011

WPS Championship – Philadelphia at Western New York (4 pm eastern, Saturday)
Sahlen Stadium, Rochester, New York.

Western New York Flash (13-2-3)
Coach: Aaran Lines

Possible Starting Lineup:
Ashlyn Harris (18 games, 18 GS, 1.00 GAA, 5 shutouts)
Defender: Rebecca Moros (17 games, 11 GS)
Defender: Candace Chapman (12 games, 12 GS, 1 assist)
Defender: Whitney Engen (17 games, 17 GS)
Defender: Ali Riley (15 games, 15 GS, 1 assist)
Midfielder: Becky Edwards (18 games, 18 GS, 3 goals, 1 assist)
Midfielder: Caroline Seger (12 games, 10 GS, 5 goals, 1 assist)
Midfielder: Brittany Bock (18 games, 17 GS, 1 goal, 1 assist)
Midfielder: McCall Zerboni (14 games, 11 GS, 4 goals, 3 assists)
Forward: Christine Sinclair (15 games, 14 GS, 10 goals, 8 assists)
Forward: Marta (14 games, 13 GS, 10 goals, 5 assists)
Note: If Coach Aaran Lines elects to start three forwards, Morgan will likely start instead of Zerboni.

Bench Roster:
FW-Alex Morgan (13 games, 6 GS, 4 goals, 3 assists)
MF-Yael Averbuch (13 games, 8 GS, 2 assists)
DF-Kandace Wilson (13 games, 9 GS)
FW-Gemma Davison (12 games, 5 GS, 1 goal, 2 assists)
MF-Beverly Goebel (14 games, 3 GS, 1 goal, 1 assist)
DF-Gina Lewandowski (8 games, 6 GS)
GK-Brittany Cameron

Not rostered: Ashleigh Bowers, Kim Brandao, Kaley Fountain, Maurine, Alex Sahlen.

Philadelphia Independence (12-4-3)
Coach: Paul Riley
Possible Starting Lineup:
Goalkeeper: Nicole Barnhart (9 games, 9 GS, 1.11 GAA, 3 shutouts)
Defender: Estelle Johnson (15 games, 13 GS, 1 goal, 1 assist)
Defender: Kia McNeill (17 games, 17 GS, 1 goal)
Defender: Nikki Krzysik (18 games, 18 GS, WPS Sportswoman of the Year)
Defender: Leigh Ann Robinson (17 games, 17 GS, 2 assists)
Midfielder: Jen Buczkowski (18 games, 18 GS)
Midfielder: Tina DiMartino (18 games, 18 GS, 2 goals, 1 assist)
Midfielder: Sinead Farrelly (14 games, 13 GS, 1 goal, 2 assists)
Midfielder: Veronica Boquete (11 games, 10 GS, 5 goals, 4 assists, WPS Player of the Year)
Forward: Tasha Kai (17 games, 16 GS, 9 goals, 1 assist)
Forward: Amy Rodriguez (10 games, 6 GS, 2 goals)

Bench Roster:
MF-Danesha Adams (13 games, 8 GS, 3 goals, 1 assist)
MF-Joanna Lohman (9 games, 6 GS, 2 assists)
FW-Lianne Sanderson (17 games, 8 GS, 3 goals, 3 assists)
FW-Laura del Rio (15 games, 3 GS, 2 goals, 3 assists)
MF-Lori Lindsey (9 games, 1 GS)
GK-Val Henderson (9 games, 9 GS, 0.89 GAA, 4 shutouts)
MF-Gina DiMartino

Not rostered: Lauren Barnes, Allison Falk, Lauren Fowlkes, Robyn Jones.

Previous Meetings in 2011:
5/29 at Phi – Western New York 2, Philadelphia 1
6/12 at WNY – Philadelphia 1, Western New York 0
7/9 at Phi – Philadelphia 2, Western New York 1

Top Performers in Series:
Western New York – Harris (3 games, 1.33 GAA), Edwards (1 goal), Marta (1 goal-pk), Sinclair (1 goal-pk), Zerboni (1 assist).
Philadelphia – Barnhart (1 game, 2.00 GAA), Henderson (2 games, 0.50 GAA), Adams (1 goal), Kai (1 goal), Farrelly (1 goal), Sanderson (2 assists), T. DiMartino (1 assist).

For the first time, the two top teams from the regular season will meet in the WPS Championship. Western New York finished in 1st place with a 13-2-3 record and will host this match. Their only two losses this season came at the hands of Philadelphia. Philadelphia finished the regular season in 2nd place with a 11-4-3 record and then defeated magicJack in the semifinals.

17 of the 22 starters from last year’s championship game will be here for this match, although Allison Falk is not rostered and Val Henderson will likely serve as the backup goalkeeper to Nicole Barnhart. But there will be a lot of players with playoff experience on the field on Saturday.

Philadelphia won the season series, taking two of the three matches. The Independence split their two home matches against the Flash and defeated them 1-0 in the only match played in Rochester. Western New York scored three goals in those three matches against Philadelphia, but two of the three were penalty kicks. The Independence were the only team to hold the Flash to less than two goals and they did it twice.

Ashlyn Harris was the WPS Goalkeeper of the Year in 2011. She led the league in goals against with a 1.00 average and posted five shutouts, but three of those five came against Atlanta. Harris has established herself as one of the league’s top keepers in her second year. She has very good reflexes and is one of the quickest goalkeepers in WPS. Harris is one of six players in WPS to play every minute for her team. Brittany Cameron will serve as Harris’ backup.

Nicole Barnhart started only nine regular season matches due to her USWNT duty, but she did post a 1.11 goals against average with three shutouts. She was in goal for only one of the three matches against WNY and Philly lost that match. Barnhart is smart, experienced, and has good size. She also has great command of her penalty area. She posted a shutout in last year’s championship match. Val Henderson will probably be the backup, but could step in without the Independence losing much at that position.

Harris and Barnhart are very close in comparison. Barnhart has the stronger leg, better size, and more experience, while Harris is the quicker of the two.

Advantage: Very slightly to Philadelphia

Western New York will likely start Rebecca Moros and Ali Riley on the outside, with Candace Chapman and Whitney Engen as their central defenders. Engen was the WPS Defender of the Year, an award she certainly deserved. She is a rock on the back line and has very good soccer sense as well. Engen rarely makes mistakes. Chapman gives the Flash a good speedy defender in the middle, something they will definitely need with the likes of Tasha Kai, Amy Rodriguez, and Veronica Boquete running at them.

Ali Riley is one of the best attacking backs in the league, a great two-way player to be sure. Although she only contributed one assist this season, she has great speed and will give any defense fits with her overlapping runs and accurate crosses. Rebecca Moros was picked up midseason after magicJack released her. She has proven to be a steady defender on the right side, taking over for Kandace Wilson.

The Flash have perhaps the deepest back line in WPS, with Kandace Wilson and Gina Lewandowski coming off the bench. Wilson has great speed and like teammate Riley, loves to get into the attack. Lewandowski is a veteran of the Frauen Bundesliga.

Philadelphia has no national team players to boast about on their back line. Estelle Johnson is the only one of the four that was drafted by the Independence, with the other three being picked up from other teams. Nikki Krzysik and Kia McNeill are tough, physical players that won’t back down from anyone in the center of the defense. Johnson is joined on the outside by Leigh Ann Robinson.

What these four defenders do, however, is play very well together as a unit. They have played together a lot and it shows. Krzysik played every minute for Philadelphia this season. McNeill missed only the time when she was red carded. Robinson missed only one match. Johnson started 11 of the last 12 matches. The one thing that could cause them problems is speed, because the Flash have a lot of that with Marta, Morgan, and company.

Western New York and Philadelphia tied for giving up the fewest goals this year, each giving up only one goal per game. Both have strong physical players, especially in the middle. Strangely enough, although Western New York’s defense is considered the more offensive group, they combined for no goals and only three assists for the season. Philly’s back line contributed two goals and three assists to the Independence attack.

Advantage: Slightly to Western New York

This match features two of the best defensive midfielders in the league with Jen Buczkowski for Philadelphia and Becky Edwards for Western New York. It also has two of the highest scoring midfielders, Veronica Boquete for the Independence and Caroline Seger for the Flash, although Boquete practically operates as a third forward.

Three likely starters for the Flash will be Edwards, Seger, and Brittany Bock. If Aaran Lines decides to go with four midfielders instead of three forwards, the other midfielder would probably be McCall Zerboni.
Seger is having a great season, with five goals and an assist in only 12 matches. She is one of the best all-around midfielders in the world. She helped lead Philadelphia on their great playoff run last season.

In only her second season in WPS, Becky Edwards is already being considered as one of the best in the league and a possible future USWNT player. Known for outstanding defense, she has showed the ability to score this season as well, with three goals and an assist. Brittany Bock is a steady, versatile player that can play nearly every position on the field. She is very physical and scored a goal and an assist this season.

McCall Zerboni has been one of the pleasant surprises of the WPS season. After spending most of 2009 on the bench with the Sol and then playing for the struggling Atlanta Beat in 2010, she has taken advantage of the opportunity to play for the Flash. She has four goals and three assists for the season. She had a great game against Boston early in the year, scoring twice and assisting on the third goal in a 3-2 victory. Again, the Flash have great depth in the midfield with Yael Averbuch and Beverly Goebel.

Philadelphia has a great midfield as well, with Buczkowski, Boquete, Tina DiMartino, and Sinead Farrelly. Buczkowski has been one of the keys to the season that the Independence are having. She will likely draw a tough defensive assignment on Saturday, marking one of the Flashes’ top players.

Rookie Sinead Farrelly was a candidate for rookie of the year and had a solid season for the Independence. She had a goal and two assists in 2011, with her goal coming against the Flash. Farrelly is a very good all-around player who is strong defensively. Tina DiMartino has very good ball skills and her distribution might well be a key factor in Saturday’s match. She will look for shooting opportunities, but will primarily focus on setting up her teammates.

Veronica Boquete was WPS Player of the Year. She scored five goals and added four assists for Philadelphia in just a little over half a season of action. When she’s in the lineup, Philadelphia plays very well with a 10-1 record. She is extremely fast and has the ability to get behind opposing defenses.

Like the Flash, Philadelphia has great depth in the midfield with USWNT player Lori Lindsey and veteran Joanna Lohman. Danesha Adams has a habit of scoring big goals in big games and can play either midfielder or forward. A second DiMartino sister, Gina, adds depth to the midfield.

Both teams have very, very good midfields. Both are good defensively as well as offensively. But it seems to me that Western New York has more all-around good players while Philly has more role players. Buczkowski is a defensive specialist, while DiMartino and Boquete are primarily offensive players.

Advantage: Call it even.

Even if the Flash start only two forwards, they are two of the best in the world. Marta and Christine Sinclair tied for the WPS lead in scoring with 10 goals apiece. If you add Alex Morgan as the third forward, it presents the opposing defense with a mind-boggling array of problems. Morgan started only five matches this season and Lines, like Pia Sundhage, seems to like bringing Morgan in off the bench. Morgan tied for the league lead in goals scored off the bench with three. Gemma Davison is another option off the bench for the Flash.

What can be said about Marta that hasn’t already been said? She is five time FIFA Player of the Year and has won the WPS Golden Boot in all three seasons. Her speed should cause Philadelphia some problems and she finishes as well as any player in the league. After returning from the World Cup, she scored seven goals and two assists in just seven matches. She’s scored five goals in her last three matches. Interestingly, only two of her ten goals came at home this season.

Christine Sinclair is just a consummate professional. She works hard, she plays strong, and her runs are precision in action. One might have thought that after the letdown of the Canadian World Cup effort, that she might be a bit down for the second half of the season. However, she returned as soon as possible and scored five goals and three assists upon her return from Germany. Sinclair tied for the lead in goals with 10 and led the league in assists with eight.

Tasha Kai was just one goal behind Marta and Sinclair in regular season scoring with nine. She added another in last week’s playoff match against magicJack, in what was one of the prettiest goals of the WPS season. She has great speed and determination, plus she has a championship ring. But of her 10 goals (counting the playoffs), only one has come on the road this season.

After having a very good season in 2010, Amy Rodriguez has been pretty quiet in 2011. She missed a good portion of the season with the USWNT, scoring just two WPS goals. But one of her goals came in the final regular season match and she scored another in the playoff match against magicJack, so maybe she is heating up at the right time. She needs to be able to use her speed to take defenders with her, thus opening up space for Kai and Boquete.

Depthwise, Philadelphia is very strong at the forward position. Besides the previously mentioned Adams, Philly has Lianne Sanderson and Laura del Rio. Sanderson has been kind of the unsung hero for Philadelphia this season. She lost her starting job to Boquete, but has continued to contribute to the team, scoring three goals with two of those coming off the bench. She also added three assists for the season. Del Rio is another good player coming off the bench. She scored two goals and assisted on three in 2011.

Both teams have great speed up front. Western New York’s top four forwards combined for 25 goals and 18 assists. Philadelphia’s forwards are very good, but the Flash have two of the world’s best.

Advantage: Western New York

Both teams have strong benches, although Philadelphia is a little thin at defender. You could take the 14 bench players for this match and have one heck of a soccer team.

Advantage: Even.

Paul Riley has been WPS Coach of the Year two seasons running, but Aaran Lines would probably be considered to be a close second in this category. Riley seems to get the most out of his players and his substitutions have been timely this year.

Advantage: Slight advantage to Philadelphia

Western New York will be well rested and playing at home. The Flash were 7-1-1 at home this season, while Philadelphia was just 4-3-2 on the road. The Independence are the only team to defeat the Flash at Sahlen Stadium. Both teams have several players that have been in the title match before.

Advantage: Western New York because of the home field.

Last week I had a strong feeling that magicJack might win and that proved totally wrong. Philadelphia came out and played a solid and somewhat dominating match.

Philadelphia isn’t likely to beat the Flash if this turns in to a 3-2 or 4-3 game. In spite of having a very good offense, they usually win with their defense. Containing Sinclair, Marta, Seger, and possibly Morgan for 90 minutes is not going to be easy. The Independence back line can’t match up well in speed. But they did manage to hold De Vanna and Press in check last weekend, plus McNeill did a great job in containing Wambach.

Western New York can beat you in a variety of ways. They have great finishers in Marta and Sinclair and dangerous speed all over the field. They also very strong up the center of the field, with Chapman and Engen on defense and Edwards and Seger in the midfield. Of the two matches Philadelphia defeated the Flash, Marta was gone for one match and Sinclair was gone for the other.

Beware of the trio of Adams, Sanderson, and del Rio coming off the bench. All three have contributed late goals to win games for Philadelphia. Look for Western New York to attack more from the wings, while Philadelphia tends to a more direct attacking style.

I think it will be a close match most of the way, with Western New York taking the lead in the final 15 minutes or so and then adding a goal as the Independence try to push forward late in the match.
My Prediction: Western New York 3, Philadelphia 1