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That USWNT magic is right under your nose

From looking around the internet, I can tell there is quite a buzz about the US Women’s National Team comeback win over Brazil, and rightfully so.

It was a tremendous match that featured a little bit of everything: an own goal, some ridiculous decisions from the referee, a late equalizer and even a penalty shootout.

From a national stage to a local one

It’s great to see so much interest in the women’s game, because the quality in the sport is getting better at an astonishing pace. For evidence, look no further than the first American loss in the group stage to Sweden last week. Or check out the technically superior Japanese team taking out tournament favorites Germany in the quarterfinals. But the question for me and others who love the league is, can Women’s Professional Soccer ride this wave of interest as a domestic league?

As some frequent readers of this site might know (though not many looking at the comments), I cover the Philadelphia Independence for the PSP. Even though I followed the team with great interest last season, when they lost in the WPS Final, I didn’t make it out to West Chester for a single match. But since the team moved to Widener University this year, I’ve been lucky enough to catch every home match, and what a treat it has been.

Independence very well-built for the World Cup year

Ali Krieger

The 2011 season is a strange one for WPS because of the Women’s World Cup. The entire USWNT roster plays in the league (save for German-based, PSP fave Ali Krieger), sprinkled throughout the six teams. There are also players in WPS from other World Cup teams, including Sweden, Brazil, and Canada. There was a scheduled break this year so that teams wouldn’t have so many games without their national team players and the stars of the league: Abby Wambach, Hope Solo, Marta, Caroline Seger, Christine Rampone, and all the other names you now know if you tuned in yesterday.

But throughout the first half of this WPS season, the national team players have been in and out of their clubs with training camps and exhibition matches. The Independence have thrived this year, and much of the credit goes to head coach Paul Riley and owner David Halstead, because the team was smartly built around a nucleus of players not going to the World Cup.

Not that there is a lack of star talent on the team though. Spanish stars Laura del Rio and Veronica Boquete frequently feature with the club (Spain did not qualify for the WC). Boquete, in particular, has been a revelation since joining the team last month (think a less-whiny version of the fleet-footed Marta). Lianne Sanderson, a top English talent who had a falling out with national team coach Hope Powell, has appeared in every match for the Independence.

And the Americans that have stayed behind are no slouches either. Tasha Kai has been in great goal scoring form and Jen Buczkowski looks like a younger, fitter, and more tenacious Shannon Boxx in her defensive midfield role. Central defenders Nikki Krzysik and Kia McNeill are one of the top pairings in the league, with Krzysik a fine distributor of the ball and McNeill a big, bruising force in the air. And rookie Sinead Farrelly has already seen time with the USWNT and looks to be a mainstay on the national scene as she matures (she’s only 21).

Don’t just take my word for it

Here are the stats: Tasha Kai leads the league in goals with 8 in 12 games, including a hat trick against Sky Blue FC last week (she also leads the league in shots, shots on goal, and offsides). Veronica Boquete leads the league in assists with 4 in only 6 games (she just joined the team last month). As a whole, the offense leads the league with 25 goals in 12 games.

And let’s not forget about the defense, which has only let up 13 goals in 12 matches, tied for tops in the league. Goalkeeper Val Henderson is second in the league with 3 clean sheets in only 7 matches. And, oh, she’s not even the first choice keeper. Nikki Krzysik and Jen Buczkowski have played every minute of every match so far this season. So I guess it’s no surprise that Philadelphia is currently top of the table with 24 points from 12 matches.

But even all those numbers can’t sum up the quality of the soccer you’ll see on the pitch for the Independence. Paul Riley is the reigning WPS Coach of the Year, a title he should easily win for the second consecutive year. His formations and line ups are everything that Peter Nowak’s are not: Consistent, well thought out, and effective in every match (and no baffling substitutions!) Even in the two matches the Independence lost this season, they were competitive and had a chance to grab a point until the dying minutes (both one goal losses).

The Independence currently have two home matches remaining and probably at least one home playoff match after that. Those games are Sunday, July 31 vs Atlanta at 6:00pm and Sunday August 7 vs Sky Blue FC, also at 6:00pm. Any chance I might see some of you there for one of them? If not, why? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the women’s game as it stands right now in this country and more specifically the Philadelphia area. And as you can tell if you’ve made it this far, I will gladly share my own.

One Comment

  1. i’ll go. remind me that weekend.

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