With a left-footed shot that hugged the back of the net in the last minute of the second 15-minute overtime, Amy Rodriguez not only earned a playoff victory for the Philadelphia Independence but now brings the fight to Tony DiCicco and his Boston Breakers for a second-round playoff match.
This is the same Boston Breakers team who chose Rodriguez as the top overall pick in the 2009 WPS draft. The same Boston Breakers team who publicly pointed out that she lacked confidence, reduced her playing time, and blamed her for their woes in 2009. The same Boston Breakers team who traded her to a newly formed franchise called the Philadelphia Independence for the second pick in the 2010 WPS draft, in which they chose Lauren Cheney.
Yes, it is that same Boston Breakers team that will face an energized Rodriguez in what will no doubt be one of the best performances she will ever deliver. We now know, win or lose, she will leave everything on the field.
For that matter, the same can be said of the entire Independence players. They put on an outstanding show in a first-round playoff game against the Washington Freedom. It is hard to single out one player who stood out because they all contributed to the win.
Estelle Johnson's relentless defense and offense, Allison Falk's persistence in marking Abby Wambach like a shadow, Tina DiMartino's outstanding technical and tactical plays, Danesha Adam's energy coming off of the bench, Lori Lindsey's dominance in the midfield, Magnusdottir's' unyielding mentality, and the offensive support provided to Rodriguez by the back line and midfield allowed the Independence to claim this win.
The Washington Freedom, on the other hand, took to their routine approach of using Abby Wambach as a target forward.
This direct brand of soccer—trying to find your superstar target forward—no longer works at the highest level of the game. Soccer has evolved and opposing teams have learned how to shut out teams that rely on a one-man army. So the Freedom losing this game is no surprise at all.
In fact, if anyone other than Ashlyn Harris had been in goal, the Freedom would have lost the game much sooner in regulation time.
Kudos to Harris for keeping the Freedom in the game until the 120th minute. She fended off several offensive attempts by the Independence. Bordering on scrambling and relying on sheer luck, the Freedom avoided giving up some early goals.
With this win behind them, the Independence should rest well and regroup. The WPS 2010 Coach of the Year Paul Riley is no doubt drawing up the game plan for the 23 September 2010 game against the Boston Breakers.
Look what he has done with Lori Lindsey and Joanna Lohman, two former Washington Freedom players. He took these lesser-known players and turned them into workhorses for his team. He played his players consistently and kept faith in them. They, in turn, rewarded him by elevating their games.
Dare I say they all found their fourth gears in this playoff match?
Especially Tina DiMartino, who was beat up and ready to drop but still found a way to serve the ball to Rodriguez for a game winner.
Rodriguez was the third leading scorer in the league (13 goals so far) and tied for fourth place in assists (six). She was the player of the week three times. Lori Lindsey, Danesha Adams, and Caroline Seger were also chosen as player of the week during the season—a remarkable achievement.
Come game day, Tony DiCicco will look to Lauren Cheney and Kelly Smith, both outstanding players. But Cheney's performance this season pales compared to what Rodriguez has achieved for the Independence. Rodriguez has always been a fighter. But this season she became a leader, one who has led her team to the playoffs and now two games shy of the championship. Go Independence !!