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Analysis and player ratings: WPS Final

photo by Michael Long

For the second consecutive season, the Independence were defeated in the WPS Final. Last year, Philadelphia was humbled to the tune of 4-0 in a loss to FC Gold Pride. This year’s game played out much differently with the Independence executing their game plan almost perfectly and only really failing in not converting the many chances they created.

I thought the key to the game would be the midfield battle, and much of the game played out in between the two 18-yard boxes. But I wrongly assumed that the two best offenses in the league would be able to create and finish more scoring opportunities when I predicted a 3-2 scoreline. Instead it was a phenomenal defensive battle with chances few and far between for either side.

Philadelphia wins the midfield battle

In my preview, I predicted Jen Buczkowski would be the one to match up against Caroline Seger, but it turned out Paul Riley had a different plan. Instead it was Sinead Farrelly following the influential playmaker around the pitch. With Farrelly limiting Seger’s touches, the big three of Marta, Christine Sinclair and Alex Morgan found their main supply line cut off. As a consequence of Farrelly doing some defensive dirty work, Buczkowski was free to clog the remaining passing lanes. Marta was forced to drop deep into the midfield to find touches, which allowed the Independence back four to stay behind the ball and contain the crafty Brazilian.

With Farrelly and Buczkowski doing the dirty work, Boquete found room in between the WNY midfield and defense to get on the ball. She couldn’t find the room she had last week against magicJack but found a few important passes that could have/should have led to clear opportunities. Especially a terrific ball to Rodriguez early in the second half which I will discuss more below.

A-Rod’s missed chances haunt the Independence

It almost hurts to be too critical of Rodriquez because of the tumultuous season she has had, but the striker had more chances than anyone in the match to make her mark and couldn’t convert on some key occasions. And while the 88th minute goal was obviously huge, it was the chances she didn’t take that should have won the Independence the championship. Put clean through on goal in the 54th minute by Boquete, she took two terrific touches to get away from the chasing Whitney Engen only to have her final touch to round Harris go just a little heavy and eliminate her angle. It was the best chance of the match to that point with the game still scoreless and it was disappointing when the chance ended with a poor Tasha Kai shot dragged wide without Harris ever having to make a stop.

The striker will also be disappointed not to have at least forced Harris into a save when Laura del Rio lofted a lovely ball into her path in the 102nd minute. which ended with her first-time shot meekly rolling to the right of the keeper. But the biggest chance for A-Rod was to get a perfectly weighted ball rolled into her path 16 yards from goal by del Rio on 120 minutes that surely would have been the winner. Instead, Rodriguez hit a stinging shot just wide of the far post and the chance went begging. With the game on her foot, at the death of the match, the striker needed to at least force Harris into a save with a shot on the target. Maybe it’s the lack of confidence still lingering in her mind from missing out on the World Cup Final or the fact that she’d only scored three goals all season, but you would have counted on last season’s A-Rod to convert that chance. The striker will have something to prove in 2012, and I for one won’t be surprised to see a return to form.

Painful penalties

Barnhart, feeling confident after a huge save just before the final whistle, got a hand to the first two WNY PKs from Marta and Sinclair but could not keep either out. She will be particularly aggrieved not to have  kept out Marta’s shot as she got a good chunk off of it diving low to her left. McCall Zerboni stepped up and confidently sent Barnhart the wrong way before Seger and Yael Averbuch also fired shots that the Philadelphia goalkeeper could not read.

Philadelphia’s kick takers were almost just as perfect and even Laura del Rio’s saved shot was not a bad effort. Lianne Sanderson’s shot straight down the middle of the goal was as confident as Danesha Adams effort blasted into the top corner. Leigh Ann Robinson’s effort should have been kept by Harris, but the defender will count herself lucky to have the ball spin over the top of Harris after she’d initially made the stop. Vero’s shot also oozed with confidence straight into the lower corner of Harris’ net. The biggest knock I’ve had on del Rio’s game this season has been her finishing and I was nervous for her watching her step up for the spot kick. While her shot was toward the corner, it was at a comfortable height for Harris and when she guessed right, the game was over.

Quotes:

Paul Riley:

“I thought it was a pretty even game and I thought we created the better chances. But we couldn’t put them away. You gotta put your chances away or you finish second.”

“In overtime we took over the game. We created three great chances [for] Amy Rodriguez…at this level you have to bury one of those chances. She didn’t bury any of them and we paid the price.”

On Nicole Barnhart’s last minute save:  “That’s a world class save…As soon as I saw Seger rise, I went ‘Oh, shit.’ And all of a sudden this hand came out from nowhere. That is an unbelievable save.”

“Sinead Farrelly was our man of the match. She did a great job on Seger. Everywhere Seger turned, Sinead was in her shorts.”

“Give the back four a lot of credit. Kia McNeill was magnificent tonight, Nikki Krzysik was magnificent. Estelle and Leigh Ann were steady-eddys at left back and right back.”

Amy Rodriguez:

“You kick yourself. Because you can’t get those moments back and I wish there was different outcome today.”

WNY Coach Aaran Lines

On goalscorer Christine Sinclair: “She’s a phenomenal person. A quiet hero. Humble. And a fantastic footballer. A world class soccer player…She’s given us everything.”

Player Ratings:

Nicole Barnhart – 7

Produced probably one of the best saves of the WPS season in the 120th minute to deny Seger at the death. Was a little slow to come of her line and own the box on occasion. She possibly could have cut off the ball that Sinclair scored on and got her team into trouble before coming up big on the Seger save. Guessed correctly on the first two PKs but couldn’t keep one of them out.

Estelle Johnson – 7

Caught flat footed when Sinclair streaked behind for her goal. But outside of that glaring mistake, a solid game from the right back. Did well defending Marta, matching her pace and not allowing the Brazilian to run behind. Found limited space to get forward down the wing, but joined the attack on occasion with mediocre service.

Nikki Krzysik – 8

Very smart game from the captain. Left the physical defending to McNeill and did what she does best in cutting out through balls and eliminating passing lanes. Her clearances were perfect almost all game and its hard to think of a touch that went astray.

Kia McNeill – 9

Fantastic match for McNeill. Did well matching up with the very physical Sinclair. Was a presence in the air all game, winning every header in her area. Late in regular time she even jumped into the offense to help create the tying goal.

Leigh Ann Robinson – 8

Probably the most improved player over the course of the season. Really settled into the left back role and had a fantastic final. Matched up with Alex Morgan for a large portion of the match, the speedy striker rarely got behind Robinson who was always there to make a last ditch tackle. Did well to jump into the offense when presented with a chance as well.

Jen Buczkowski – 7

Another good match in the holding center midfield role. Buzz was free to clog the passing lanes and take away balls into the feet of Marta, Morgan, and Sinclair while Farrelly marked Seger out of the match.

Sinead Farrelly – 9

Possibly the best player on the pitch for either team. Shadowed Seger effectively for 120 minutes. Defended deep into her own box, got forward to offer support to the attackers and rarely misfired a pass. The sky is the limit on this versatile midfielder.

Christina DiMartino – 5

Looked tired and failed to make a huge impact on the match. She was slow to get up the pitch in support of her strikers and offered less than satisfactory service. She’s looked tired over the last month of the season and Riley’s decision to stick with the midfielder can be questioned.

Veronoica Boquete – 7

Not the dominant performance that she had against magicJack, but still a good effort from the league MVP. She found space between the WNY midfield and back line and looked to find Rodriguez and Kai beyond the WNY back line. Never really found a guild edged chance for herself after coming up with four game winners during the regular season.

Tasha Kai – 6

Kai has been good for at least a few decent scoring opportunities in most games this season,  but the striker failed to find much room beyond the WNY defense and had trouble creating much space for herself. The WNY defense did well to keep the speedy striker in front of them for much of the match and Kai could not combine with Rodriguez and Boquete to offer much threat in front of the WNY goal.

Amy Rodriguez – 6

Found space and gaps in the WNY defense but could not convert on some of the biggest chances of the game. Did fire the 88th minute tying goal through Ashlyn Harris’ legs.

Subs:

Danesha Adams – 8

Good shift from Adams off the bench. Came in and did a little bit of everything. Served quality set pieces, played creative balls toward Vero and A-Rod and even chipped in a little defense on the wings. Hit the shot off the post that Rodriguez was able to convert for the game tying goal. We can wonder if the first half would have been a little bit different if Adams had been on for DiMartino.

Laura del Rio – 6

Has performed well off the bench in previous weeks but could not find the chemistry to really influence the match. She was confident on the ball, but her positive dribbling rarely resulted in much danger in the final third. Her presence in that space has to improve for del Rio to feature in the starting XI.

Lianne Sanderson – 7

Came in as a last roll of the dice replacing Jen Buczkowski late in regular time. Her fresh legs were a threat, especially in the two extra time periods when she was given space to run at defenders. Probably took the cheekiest penalty out of all ten shooters, rolling the ball straight down the center of the goal.

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