The Philadelphia Independence appeared to have nine lives in Saturday’s WPS championship final against the Western New York Flash
First, Independence forward Amy Rodriguez tied the score in the 88th minute. Then Western New York’s Beverly Goebel hit the crossbar at the end of regulation. Then Independence goalie Nicole Barnhart made a fantastic diving save at the end of the second overtime session.
But the Independence finally ran out of lives. Their championship hopes were extinguished for good by Flash goalie Ashlyn Harris’ diving stop of Laura del Rio’s penalty kick, the only penalty kick stopped by either goalie, to secure the Women’s Pro Soccer League (WPS) championship for the Flash.
This marks the second straight season that the Independence lost in the championship game. Last year they were drubbed, 4-0, but the since-disbanded FC Gold Pride. The Independence came closer this season, finishing regulation and two overtime periods tied at 1-1 before losing in penalty kicks, 5-4.
The Flash, with many of the Pride’s key players, finished the WPS regular season in first place. But the Flash knew they were in for a battle Sunday because the visiting Independence, who finished second, handed the Flash their only two regular-season defeats.
The Independence gave the Flash all they could handle. In fact, the Independence had more scoring chances during regulation, most of them by Rodriguez. But, in the end, the outcome was determined by penalty kicks.
Goalies Barnhart and Harris came close to stopping several of the early shots. The Flash started off with the co-leading scorers in WPS, Marta and Christine Sinclair. Barnhart, the starting goalie for FC Gold Pride last season, guessed correctly on both shots by her former teammates, getting a hand on Marta’s shot, but was unable to prevent either shot from reaching the net.
By contrast, Harris had no chance on Lianne Sanderson’s clever tap down the middle and Danesha Adams’ blast into the top right corner. After McCall Zerboni put the Flash ahead again, Harris nearly stopped Leigh Ann Robinson’s shot with a dive to her left. She got a hand on Robinson’s shot, but the ball bounced once and went across the goal line to even the penalty kicks at 3-3.
Caroline Seger, who spent last season with the Independence, connected into a wide-open right side to put the Flash ahead, 4-3. Harris guessed correctly again on the Independence’s next attempt, but WPS MVP Veronica Boquete drilled a perfect shot into the lower left corner.
Yael Averbuch, who, like Zerboni, entered the game during the overtime periods, put the Flash ahead 5-4.
Harris, who had come close to stopping the previous two shots, finally had her instincts pay off. She once again moved in the proper direction, but this time she got two hands on del Rio’s shot, punching it away with both hands to win the championship for the Flash.
The Flash appeared destined to win the game in regulation despite being bottled up for nearly the entire first half by the Independence’s excellent defense. Kia McNeill, in particular, had a strong game on the Independence’s back line.
The Flash finally broke through on Sinclair’s goal during the 64th minutes. The Independence committed a turnover at midfield. The Flash’s Candace Chapman jumped on the loose ball and sent a nicely timed pass to Sinclair, who ripped a left-footed shot just inside the right post to give the Flash a 1-0 lead.
The Independence, however, weren’t going to go away without a fight. Rodriguez, who had a terrific scoring chance in the 54th minute but veered too wide while eluding a charging Harris and never got a shot off, wasn’t going to be denied later in the second half.
Adams, who entered the game 15 minutes earlier, hit the right post with her shot. Rodriguez pounced on the rebound and beat Harris from a wide angle on the right side to tie the game in the 88th minute.
Rodriguez had another good scoring chance during the first overtime period, but tipped a terrific feed from Boquete just wide.
The Independence seemed to catch a break 2:20 into the second overtime when Goebel received her second yellow card, forcing the Flash to play with just 10 players. But the Flash actually had the better scoring chances the rest of the period. McNeill barely beat Sinclair to a ball in the penalty area, breaking up a dangerous play. Then, in the final minutes of overtime, Zerboni’s header off a corner kick appeared ticketed for just inside the left post, but Barnhart dived to her right and reached out, barely knocking the potential game-winner wide of the net.
The Independence had one final opportunity, with del Rio making a run, then turning and beautifully setting up Rodriguez for an open shot. But Rodriguez’s blasted the shot wide, leaving the championship in the hands of the goalies and the players taking the penalty kicks.
Harris made the decisive save on the 10th penalty kick to boost the Flash to the championship, leaving the Independence to once again say, “same time, next year” … only with a different outcome.