After Marta, Christine Sinclair, Alex Morgan & WPS, WNY Flash Search for Meaning

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After Marta, Christine Sinclair, Alex Morgan & WPS, WNY Flash Search for Meaning
Captian McCall Zerboni played a major role with an assist and great all-around play creation as the Flash topped unbeaten Chicago.

You could say that in the world of women's professional soccer, the Western New York Flash has been looking for itself after the end of history. They've now completed six games in what seems like a zombie season.

Ten months ago this club was at the center of the women's club soccer world, having won the championship of the world's premier pro league for women, WPS, having drawn more fans than any pro women's team in the history of the world.

They boasted a roster that could have beaten most national teams, including the world's best female footballer, Marta, and the best from several other countries, as well as America's best rookie. 

Riding high on the women's World Cup wave, the entire league had set attendance records. There were plans for expansion, perhaps a Western division. There was great cause for optimism for women's professional soccer (both in capital and lowercase letters). 

But in just a few months, we discovered how fragile the league was.

Its gains, though significant, were insufficient to buffer the league against one renegade owner and a nuisance lawsuit. Within days of the league's 2012 draft, Women's Professional Soccer, the league, was no more, leaving the state of women's professional soccer in the United States in doubt. 

After the smoke cleared, the remnants of WPS took refuge in what until this year had been a pro-am league, more amateur than pro, which would take on the feel of part refugee camp and part graveyard for the undead.

 

The Women's Premier Soccer League (WPSL) formed the "Elite" League for the Western New York Flash and the Boston Breakers, the only franchises that emerged from WPS intact, along with the Chicago Red Stars, who had folded WPS operations the previous year and joined WPSL severely downgraded.

The New York Fury, a WPSL team that was dramatically upgraded with the core (including the coach) of last year's WPS runners-up, the Philadelphia Independence, also joined WPSL Elite. The new league was rounded out with four other WPSL clubs who were the most competitive.

It must seem like a boon to players and fans of the old WPSL to have their league emerge as the country's best league by default, but for fans, and certainly for players from WPS, it is nothing if not surreal.

For the Flash, the venue is the same—Sahlen's Stadium—but the lack of superstars and the lack of fans in the seats as well as blatantly downgraded programming during the game makes one feel trapped between two realities, two points in time, as if straddling parallel universes.

Perhaps it is this sense of being so far out of synch that spooked the champions without a league.

After a decisive win against FC Indiana at home before a meager crowd of 1,100, the Flash went winless in their next three games to the New York Fury (aka Philadelphia Independence) (0-1), Boston (2-3) and Fury again (0-0) before finally getting on track with a win over the New England Mutiny (3-1). 

 

Enter the Flash and the undefeated, league-leading Chicago Red Stars (5-0) at Sahlen's Stadium Wednesday night.

Chicago came to Rochester with quite a story.

Unable to meet WPS financial criteria to remain in the league for the 2011 season, the Red Stars relegated themselves to WPSL. After only a year, what was left of WPS came down to meet them.

On paper, Chicago, with only five players with WPS experience, two of which were back-benchers, was no better than fourth on the WPSL Elite preseason power chart. 

The Flash, obviously a far cry talent-wise from the star-laden team of a year ago, still claim 15 players who had played or been drafted in WPS.

The Flash—along with Boston, fielding a strong WPS-level roster—and New York, who as previously mentioned was also heavily staffed with WPS vets, looked to have a more-or-less equal shot at the championship of this new ad-hoc league.

But here they were: unbeaten Chicago, only scored upon once in five matches, and the Flash, with a record of 2-2-1. Chicago had already beaten both the Fury and the Breakers handily. 

So the stage was set.

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But almost from the first kick, the Flash dominated. By observation, it seemed that at least three-quarters of the action was on the Chicago end.

The Flash had the bulk of the shots on goal. But for the first 28 minutes, Chicago was able to beat the home team back thanks to a solid back line and staunch goaltending by Jamie Forbes.  

 

Then in the 29th minute, Jamaican international Omolyn Davis sent a cross into the box past Forbes. Katy Frierson, Flash rookie from Auburn, had the follow-up and put the ball in the back of the net—only the second goal scored on Chicago this season.

Before the match was over, Western New York had tripled the previous penetration of Chicago's goal box. In the 70th minute, Spanish international Adriana put one through on an assist from team captain McCall Zerboni.

Four minutes later Davis complemented her previous assist with a goal on a feed from defender Alex Sahlen. Frierson flicked a ball wide while defender Sahlen, who had made a forward run, crossed the ball to Davis, who volleyed it in.

The ball bounced back out and Davis continued to try to head it in, not knowing that the ball had crossed the line on her first shot. Davis fell to the pitch when the ref announced a goal, and Zerboni rushed to Davis to celebrate.

There was the sense that the Red Stars had come back to earth, and that perhaps the Flash had become airborne. 

The turnaround is even more impressive given the fact that the Flash's defense is decimated by injury (first-string keeper Brittany Cameron, broken jaw, Portugese international Kim Brandao, broken ankle), and much of their offensive star power was either in Norway with the U.S. under-23 squad (rookie stars Toni Pressley and Stephanie Ochs) or training with the U.S. Olympic team (Meghan Klingenberg and Lori Lindsey).

WNY Flash Coach Aaran Lines said he had a conversation with Davis earlier this week about how she needed to be more productive in the final third. 

 

“She played fantastic,” Lines said, “I’m happy for her.”

After the game, Coach Lines was asked to explain the team's ups and downs thus far. His reply could be summed up simply as chemistry. "It took the team a while to coalesce, get comfortable with themselves and each other and feel like a team," he said.

The next game for the Flash takes place at Carroll Field, in Gambrills, MD, on Saturday, June 16, at 2 p.m. ET versus the ASA Chesapeake Charge.

The WNY Flash are now 3-2-1, with 10 points, in fourth place on the table. With the loss, Chicago slips to a half-game behind Boston, which leads the league with 18 points.

Read John Howell's series beginning with Part One, "How Major League Women's Soccer Can Work in the US." 

John Howell is an Analysts for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.

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