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Sunday, September 26, 2010

FC Gold Pride Wins WPS Cup Final Over Philadelphia by Rob Penner

A guest post by Rob Penner for World Football Commentaries.
Images courtesy of Rob Penner and Women's Professional Soccer.
Women's Professional Soccer

FC Gold Pride Cruise to WPS Championship with 4-0 Victory
over Philadelphia Independence

HAYWARD, CA (September 26, 2010) – Just as they lorded over the league during a dominant regular season, FC Gold Pride asserted themselves as the best team in WPS with a 4-0 defeat of the Philadelphia Independence to win the WPS Championship in front of a boisterous near sell-out crowd of 5,228 at Pioneer Stadium on Sunday. The host Pride showed no ill-effects from having not played a league match in 15 days and the weary Independence finally lost their legs and eventually their resolve on a day when they have little to no meaningful possession, whatsoever.

The WPS 2010 Champions, FC Gold Pride.

Such was the thorough nature of FC Gold Pride’s domination that when it was over, many were questioning whether last year’s cellar dwellers had turned themselves into the best club team in the relatively brief history of women’s soccer. Meanwhile, the loss brought an end to Philadelphia's tremendous playoff run that saw the team win two emotional one-goal games.

“For 90 minutes it was the best game we played all year,” said Christine Sinclair, who finished two easy chances in front of goal. “And we knew coming into the game that they were most likely going to be a little tired after playing two games and traveling a bunch. It was just a matter of meeting their intensity the first 20 minutes of the game.

Gold Pride not only met the Independence’s intensity, they overwhelmed it, immediately settling into a possession rhythm that had the visitors on their heels early.

“As a coach you’ve got two choices,” Paul Riley said of running his team out for a third match in seven days—the first two of which went extra time. “You freshen your lineup up and go with a little bit less of the players that got you there. Or you go with the players who got you there. That’s what I decided to do and 20 minutes into the game I was second guessing myself I’ll tell you that.”

It seemed only a matter of time before they put one in the net. It finally arrived in the 17th minute when Sinclair found the net open at the end of a frantic sequence in front of and involving Val Henderson.

Shannon Boxx sent in the initial cross that Marta was able to bring down at the far post. Henderson squared up and made two top-notch saves on Marta. Next up was Tiffeny Milbrett, and her shot eluded Henderson only to be cleared off the line by Nikki Krzysik. Camille Abily took a fourth shot, and Henderson got that one as well. The fifth time was the charm for Sinclair, who raced to the Gold Pride bench where the reserves tossed their green and orange pinnies high to the sky.

In the 29th, Kandace Wilson made a run to the center of the park where she laid it off to Marta and motioned to space on the right side where she wanted the ball back. It appeared that Allison Falk had superior position, but the smaller Wilson stuck with it and blasted a shot that beat Henderson to make it 2-0.

“I guess it’s a bit of miscommunication. Falk and I expected different things from each other there,” Henderson said. “I was expecting her to clear it. She was expecting me to come out.”

Riley said he thought Falk “19 times in 20” would have cleared it.

Wilson, who had not scored since a stint in Europe three years ago, agreed that Falk had early position on the play.

“But I came around her and I don’t think she expected me to. I just stuck my left foot out and tried to put as much pressure on her as I could. I actually didn’t think I was going to get the ball with my left foot, but I guess the harder I try the outcome comes.”

Riley said he still had hope coming out of halftime that his team could turn it around, but that hope was short lived. In the 53rdd minute, Marta—who was named MVP—calmly dribbled the ball into the box and drew a slew of players out left and then laid off a simple pass to Sinclair who was rushing the far post to help the Canadian international become the first two-goal scorer in a WPS final.

“That third goal was the backbreaker,” Riley said.

The rest of the game was little more than Gold Pride continuing to dominate on the ball while the Independence waited out the inevitable. On the hour, Lianne Sanderson was able to sneak behind the defense, but the Gold pride back four quickly caught up and the ensuing cross was cleared off the back post by Ali Riley. A later chance in the 78th from substitute and Super Semifinal heroine Danesha Adams went wanting hopelessly high.

Gold Pride tried to get Marta on the scoreboard which they finally did a minute into stoppage time when Wilson returned the favor with a well-placed cross that Marta volleyed home with her famous left foot.

The celebration started one minute before the final goal though when Brittany Cameron schemed to throw the Gatorade bucket on head coach Albertin Montoya.

“I thought my heart was going to stop, it was so cold,” Montoya said.

As for the Independence, Saturday’s tough talk about having one more game left in their legs was nowhere to be found in the aftermath of what was a disappointing finish to a fine debut season.

“The playoff system got the better of us,” captain Lori Lindsey said. “Usually we bring a lot of pizzazz and excitement to the game and we just couldn’t bring it today.”

WPS Commissioner Recognized at Halftime

WPS Commissioner Tonya Antonucci, who led the drive to have a women’s professional soccer league return in the U.S. from its earliest stages through to the launch of WPS in March 2009, handed over the top position at the league to incoming WPS CEO Anne-Marie Eileraas in a pre-game ceremony Sunday. Then at halftime, Antonucci was recognized by FC Gold Pride owner Brian NeSmith on behalf of the WPS Board of Governors.

“I want to take all of you back to this very same month seven years ago in September 2003. Some of you might even be too young to remember, but that was the time when it was announced that the Women’s United Soccer Association – WUSA – was shutting down its league,” said NeSmith as he addressed the crowd. “Few people ever thought women’s soccer would return in this country – but over the next five years one woman’s vision, one woman’s passion and one woman’s hard work brought back women’s professional soccer from the ground up and helped launch this league in March 2009. Commissioner Tonya Antonucci will be stepping down from her formal role after this year’s WPS Championship, but she will not be stepping down from the pedestal on which all of us who love this game have placed her for doing everything that she did to launch women’s professional soccer once again in this country. I’d like to ask everyone to stand and give a huge round of applause as we recognize the contributions, dedication and hard work of WPS Commissioner Tonya Antonucci. A sincere thanks from all of us on this special day.

Citi Sportswoman of the Year Talks about Environmental Awareness

Citi Sportswoman of the Year, Natalie Spilger of the Chicago Red Stars, was presented her award at halftime by Citi’s Garvin Lee. She then addressed the crowd about the importance of every individual doing what they can to promote environmental protection and energy conservation, giving fans five of her top tips to conserve energy and protect our planet.

“There so many little things you can do every day,” she said in front of the capacity crowd. “Adjust your thermostat in the seasons. And drink tap water in reusable metal bottles instead of plastic. It’s somet of the easiest things you can do.”

Spilger started the non-profit www.Greenlaces.org and has been recognized by the U.N. and in her home cities of Chicago and San Diego for her work.

Post-Match Player Quotes

Albertin Montoya, FC Gold Pride Head Coach

"I thought it was an excellent performance by us. We went out there and stuck to our game plan. We were worried it might become a more physical battle but we were able to stretch them out and use our outside backs, which resulted in our first two goals. We've been waiting all year to put out a performance like that. We created a lot of opportunities, which made us dangerous and our back four were technically sound the entire game."

Did the fact that Philadelphia looked tired diminish the dominance they showed?

“Not at all because we worked so hard all season long to get to this point and that’s the advantage of finishing first. That’s why you play 24 games in a season to get to this point. I think some players mentioned that it doesn’t really matter whether you finish first or fourth. It does. We knew when we went into it that we might be at a little bit of an advantage. That’s why we worked all season long to finish first so we would have that advantage. Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way last year for L.A. But it doesn’t diminish anything because we were the best team for 24 games of the season.”

Marta, FC Gold Pride Forward

"I thought we did everything we were supposed to do. Our training prepared us and made us play the way we did today and this kind of outcome was the one we hoped to get and expected [from our work]."

Christine Sinclair, FC Gold Pride

"For 90 minutes, it was the best game we've played all year and we knew coming in to the game that they [Philadelphia] were most likely going to be a little tired after playing two games and traveling, and it was just a matter of meeting their intensity in the first 20 minutes of the game and we were able to do that and it kind of deflated them."

Kandace Wilson, FC Gold Pride

"I've been saying all the season that I've been waiting for the championship game to score and I got one today and got an assist. Marta helped me get that goal and I owed her and help her get a goal herself. I ran in front of the crowd and my parents and family were seated all the way at the end so I had to run all the way to the end to celebrate with them. My first goal was to stay healthy and to finish out a whole season and to be WPS Champions, it's a complete turnaround and it feels so good. I learned a lot last year, on and off the field, just by observing.”

Paul Riley, Philadelphia Independence Head Coach

“Obviously the better team won today, there's no doubt about that. They were quicker, sharper, better on the ball. We couldn't contain their forwards or their midfield. And to be honest they were the best team today. We didn't have a lot fuel left in the tank.”

“Going down two nil at halftime, I didn't think it was the end of the world, but that third goal kind of killed us. After that they just took over the game. They won the league by 23 points and they've beaten us four times, so what else could you say?”

“A-Rod looked tired, the midfield looked tired and then as a coach you have two choices. You freshen your lineup up and go with a little bit less of the players that got you there. Or you go with the players who got you there. That’s what I decided to do and 20 minutes into the game I was second guessing myself I’ll tell you that.”

Lori Lindsey, Philadelphia Independence Midfielder

"I think the better team won today and I think the playoff system got the better of us. We went to two overtime games in less than week and flew cross-country to be here today. Usually, I think we bring a lot of pizzazz and excitement to the game and we just couldn't bring it today.”

About the Author

Rob Penner is the Director of Communications for Women's Professional Soccer.

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