Saturday's championship between WPS regular season champions Western NY Flash (13-2-3) and the Philadelphia Independence (11-4-3), the two best teams in Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) is automatically the best championship match in the WPS' young history.
The record-breaking crowd for a WPS championship match of 10,461 who witnessed Saturday's epic match at the Sahlen’s Stadium enjoyably endured 120 minutes of regular and extra time to see the two best teams in the WPS regular season go into a shootout where Western NY Flash was able to win 5-4 over the Independence.
While a low-scoring championship match may not appear appealing, if you follow baseball then you understand the beauty of a pitcher's duel.
What made this championship match memorable was that both teams were evenly matched, both offensively and defensively.
For the Flash, their roster had the WPS Year End award winners Ashlyn Harris (US Coast Guard Goalkeeper of the Year), Whitney Engen (Defender of the Year) and Marta (WPS Golden Boot). Complimenting the Flash award winners were captain Caroline Seger, Christine Sinclair, Beverly Goebel and Yael Averbuch.
The Independence also had their share of award winners and nationally recognized players in the form of league MVP Veronica Boquete, US National Team players Amy Rodriguez, Nicole Barnhard and Lori Lindsay as well as two-time Coach of the Year Paul Riley.
Despite a well-played first half that was comically interrupted when a squirrel made it's presence and ran around the pitch for a few minutes, both teams weren't able to capitalize on their scoring opportunities. The first half was a chess match where both teams played good team defense and smart goalkeeping that kept everything level in the first half.
In the second half, both teams came out aggressive as both teams advanced the ball and had no reservation in playing smart but tenacious defense. It wasn't until the 64th minute when the Flash was able to force a turnover where Flash defender Candace Chapman blasted a perfect pass to Christine Sinclair who in return gave the Flash a 1-0 lead when her left footed shot past Philadelphia goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart.
With two minutes left in regulation, it appeared the Flash were on their way to becoming the 2011 WPS champions, the Independence was able to level the match at one all when Amy Rodriguez scored of a rebound from Danesha Adams shot that had ricocheted off the post, driving the ball into the back of the net.
It was in the shootout where those in attendance and watching from television/online witnessed one dream become a reality for Western NY while it tragically became a nightmare for Philadelphia.
Marta, Sinclair, McCall Zerboni, Caroline Seger and Yael Averbuch converted their penalty kicks for Western NY.
For Philadelphia, Lianne Sanderson, Adams, Leigh Ann Robinson, Veronica Boquete converted their first four shots. After the Flash converted their fifth straight penalty kick, it all came down to Laura del Rio who needed to convert her penalty kick in order to the Independence's chances of winning the WPS championship alive.
With Philadelphia's hopes riding on Laura del Rio, she took her shot and it was beautifully blocked by Ashlyn Harris who's well-timed play clinched the championship for her Western New York Flash.
While this is a tough loss for Philadelphia, they have nothing to be ashamed because everyone who in attendance or watching the game on television, knew that they played their hearts out against an evenly matched Flash team.
Christine Sinclair was honored as the WPS championship MVP and she joined her Flash teammate, five-time FIFA Player of the Year Marta, as one of the seven players who last year were part of now defunct FC Gold Pride to win back to back WPS championships.
Now with the season over and the surge in attendance, the 2012 WPS season should be exciting to watch.
About Women's Professional Soccer (WPS)
WPS is the highest level women’s professional soccer league in North America. Formed in September 2007 as the result of the efforts of the Women’s Soccer Initiative, Inc., WPS, began play on March 29, 2009.
Committed teams for the 2011 season are the Atlanta Beat, Boston Breakers, Philadelphia Independence, Sky Blue FC (NJ/NY), magicJack and the Western New York Flash. WPS continues to explore additional potential franchises for 2012 and beyond.
To follow the WPS, please go to: www.womensprosoccer.com.
Cesar Diaz covers soccer for LatinoSports.com. He also writes for 5 Points Press and USSoccerPlayers.com; your source for American soccer news brought to you by members of the U.S. National Team. Easily accessible, you may reach Cesar at firstname.lastname@example.org and at Twitter at @CoveringSoccer.