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WPS Final Preview: Western New York Flash vs Philadelphia Independence

Photo: Michael Long

Game Time: 4 pm Saturday

TV: Comcast Sports Network

The Philadelphia Independence is back in the WPS Final for the second time in only their second year of existence. After dropping last year’s final 4—0 to FC Gold Pride, this year’s motto has been “unfinished business.” They have a tough task in front of them in the Western New York Flash, this year’s regular season champion.

Regular Season Meetings Don’t Count for Much

Western New York and Philadelphia have played each other three times this season, but those match ups can hardly be considered a barometer for this weekend’s title tilt.

In the first match up in Philadelphia (WNY won 2-1), Philadelphia was without league MVP Veronica Boquete. In the second match up in NY (Philly won 1-0), all of the World Cup players were gone, including Amy Rodriguez and Nicole Barnhart for Philly and Christine Sinclair, Caroline Seger, and Alex Morgan for Western New York (though Marta played in the game). And in the two teams’ final regular season match up (won by Philly 2-1), the World Cup players were still missing for both squads (though Sinclair featured in the second half for WNY that day).

The first match up of the season was the closest to seeing both teams at full strength. That game was a gritty affair, with the ball bouncing around the midfield for most of the match. Megan Rapinoe—who ended the season with magicJack— scored for Philadelphia before WNY answered back through Becky Edwards and a Marta PK (the decision for which was fairly contentious). All of the goals came within the first 25 minutes. After that, the game settled down into a midfield battle for the rest of the match with few chances for either side.

The 1-0 victory in Western New York is significant for the fact that it was the only time the Flash has lost at home all season and Philadelphia should gain some confidence from knowing they are the only team to win there. Danesha Adams, who will probably feature off the bench on Saturday, scored the stoppage time winner in that game.

Talking Tactics: The Battle for the Midfield

As I noted in my piece about Jen Buczkowski yesterday, the midfield battle will be the key to this match. Buczkowski will have the important duty of trying to shut down former Independence player Caroline Seger. The Swedish international will be looking to be the playmaker and to getting the ball into Marta, Sinclair and Morgan. Buczkowski will have to limit Seger’s touches and be a physical force on her former teammate when she is on the ball.

Equally important will be the two-way play from Sinead Farrelly on the outside of the midfield. The rookie from Havertown was sensational last week in frustrating Megan Rapinoe in the Super Semifianl and must have a similar match this week. Farrelly was successful not only with her defense in that game, but in getting forward and making Rapinoe defend her, and Philadelphia will need her to be an offensive as well as defensive presence against the Flash. She’ll most likely be matched up with McCall Zerboi or possibly Becky Edwards.

Going the other way, league MVP Vero Boquete will be looking to create space for herself in the midfield. Most of Philadelphia’s chances will filter through the dynamic no.10 at some point. She’ll likely be aided by Tina DiMartino, who will try to take players on one-on-one and supply service to Amy Rodriguez and Tasha Kai.

If Buczkowski and Farrelly can’t limit the touches of Seger so that the ball is constantly being fed into the Flash’s trio of dangerous strikers, it could be a long day for the Independence. Conversely, if Vero finds space and time on the ball, things will be very difficult for the WNY back line.

Defensive Match Ups

Western New York’s most positive formation is a 4-3-3 with Marta, Morgan, and Sinclair all up top. I won’t be surprised to see them start in that formation, but it will be a bold move against Philly’s 4-4-2, which is actually closer to a 4-1-2-1-2.

There should be a lot of attacking soccer in this one, so the outcome might just depend on which defense can make the big plays. While Philadelphia’s back four have been very solid as a unit all season, playing almost the entire season together with little rotation, WNY’s defense can be rated just as highly. Whitney Engen won this year’s WPS Defender of the Year award while the Canadian Candace Chapman and the New Zealander Ali Riley are both internationals.

The goalkeepers will also provide a stern test for anyone who does find a way to fire a shot on goal. Nicole Barnhart, Hope Solo’s back up on the USWNT, was sensational for Philadelphia last week in the semifinal. Ashlyn Harris had a terrific regular season for WNY, winning the award for top goalkeeper in the league. You can expect at least a few top drawer saves from each at some point.

Probable Starters:

Philadelphia: 4-4-2

Goalkeeper: Nicole Barnhart

Defense: Leigh Ann Robinson, Kia McNeill, Nikki Krzysik, Estelle Johnson

Midfield: Jen Buczkowski, Sinead Farrelly, Christina DiMartino, Vero Boquete

Forwards: Tasha Kai, Amy Rodriguez

Western New York: 4-3-3

Goalkeeper: Ashlyn Harris

Defense: Ali Riley, Candace Chapman, Whitney Engen, Rebecca Moros

Midfield: McCall Zerboni, Caroline Seger, Becky Edwards

Forwards: Marta, Christine Sinclair, Alex Morgan

Prediction: Philadelphia 3-2

This is a tough one to call. Western New York is a fantastic team that will cause the Independence problems and is almost certain to find goals in the game. But Philadelphia will be confident after a fantastic win last weekend and surely the thoughts of last year’s final will be in the heads of some players. Vero Boquete has to be dominant again and Philadelphia will have to find a way to keep the ball to have the opportunity to take the game. Kai and Rodriguez must maintain their form from last weekend and hope that WNY’s “big three” are not all in form themselves.

It should be an exciting one.

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