Any questions that remained (and this writer raised several in previous articles) about the chemistry between Marta and her new team, WNY Flash, and about the reception the Flash would receive at home, were settled at the Flash's home opener yesterday in Sahlen's Stadium.
Before anything more is said, this writer needs to eat some Sahlen's hot-dog crow.
After only managing a tepid tie with Atlanta in Atlanta last week, on Marta's debut with the club, I suggested the insertion of the Brazilian superstar was a detriment to team chemistry. Without Marta, the Flash made a powerful statement the previous week soundly defeating a much better Boston Breakers squad.
It appeared that Marta would be no help to the already stacked roster, and perhaps would be an energy drain.
As the Flash took the pitch in their home side red kits, the club dominated from whistle to whistle, and while she did not score, Marta was the engine behind the dominant performance. Her speed down the left flank was superhuman.
She kept the Flash on the offensive end of the pitch nearly all match, as evidenced by the fact that Atlanta made only two shots on goal in the match. It took them 80 minutes to get the second shot.
The scoring was provided by Canadian international Christine Sinclair (twice) and by rookie standout Alex Morgan for a final score of 3-0, and the first clean sheet of the season for Flash keeper Ashlyn Harris.
All evening long, the Flash moved in waves toward the opposing goal, punching the ball past the front line in order for WNY's front line, with their superior speed, to outrun Atlanta defenders and take shot after shot on the Beat's goal box.
The first goal came in the 23rd minute as Marta fired a hard shot directly at Atlanta keeper, Allison Lipsher, who was able to bat the ball straight out but not out of danger. Sinclair kicked the rebound back at Lipsher, who batted it away again—this time up high, as Sinclair came back and headed the ball hard down into the goal.
SInclair also accounted for the second score in the 53rd minute, this time assisted by Marta, Marta on a typical (for the day) attack, Marta sent the ball through to Sinclair, who toe tapped the shot past Lipsher’s left shoulder for Sinclair's WPS leading fourth goal of the season.
The Flash moved as a single, fine-tuned supersonic machine throughout the match—a tribute to rookie Coach Aran LInes, in his ability to coordinate this much talent, creating the necessary chemistry to maximize output after only three matches with no significant pre-season testing.
But how the club would play together was not the only source of questions posed. The bigger question was, would they throw a world-class soccer match and no one come?
Despite concerns about the team's operations being based in Buffalo while playing in Rochester, an enthusiastic and respectable (for market size) crowd of nearly 2,200 filled more than half of the seating in the lower section of the newly named Sahlen's Stadium.
As critical as this writer has been of team owner Joe Sahlen's decision to play matches in Rochester, after visiting the four year old soccer only stadium in downtown Rochester, it is easy to see how Mr. Sahlen was seduced.
The venue is extremely well-appointed, modern and comfortable. The larger, second level is not visible from the seating on the primary side of the building, so one gets the impression of being in a more intimate house of 5,000 seats or so.
Our concerns about the venue being too large are thus unfounded.
The only remaining concern is that by playing all its matches in Rochester the club is missing out on developing any significant fan base in its Buffalo home. For Buffalo fans, that is a significant concern.
No doubt there is a sense of betrayal by fans who were initially promised that at least some home games would be played in Buffalo, when the team first announced its launch.
There is no question that any venue that could have been used in Buffalo would pale in comparison to the Rochester venue. I found myself wishing a small soccer only stadium similar to the lower section of Sahlen's Stadium could be built in the downtown or waterfront of Buffalo.
Perhaps, if WPS survives beyond the year and Buffalo's waterfront development begins to develop some momentum, perhaps such a venue can be built.
In the meantime, as much as this writer hates to admit it, the newly minted Sahlen's Stadium seems to be the best place to house the the club that is beginning to live up to its billing as the world's best women's soccer club.