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Independence advances on Rodriguez’ 120th minute tally

Posted on 20 September 2010 by lbarker

It wasn’t Golden Goal, but Amy Rodriguez’ game winner on Saturday afternoon came so late into overtime, it might as well have been. The Philadelphia Independence striker broke a 0-0 deadlock between the Independence and the Washington Freedom at 119 minutes and 37 seconds, sending the game’s only goal past Freedom ‘keeper Ashlyn Harris with less than a minute remaining in overtime.

The Independence had ended the regular season on a four game losing streak, letting second place and a bye into the Semi-Final slip away over the final weeks of the season. Good form had kept the Indys near the top of the table all season long, and even without results through the final matches, the Philly side was able to hold on to third place and the right to host a playoff game. The Washington Freedom had snuck into the playoffs as the four seed, thanks to a few late game heroics of their own – an 88th minute tally from Abby Wambach in their last match of the regular season secured the final postseason berth for Washington. The Freedom traveled to John A. Farrell Stadium in West Chester, PA as the only WPS team to appear in the playoffs in both 2009 and 2010. One hundred and twenty minutes later, they’d leave as the only WPS team to lose a playoff game in both 2009 and 2010. With the win the expansion Independence become the first-ever WPS team to win a home playoff game.

With the victory, the third place Independence will travel to Boston to take on the second place Breakers on Thursday night in the Super Semi-Final. For the Washington Freedom, the loss marks their second straight first round exit from the WPS playoffs – the Freedom lost 2-1 to eventual champions Sky Blue FC in the first round in 2009.

The Independence had the advantage early, with the Freedom trying to settle in to the narrow, turf field that the Indys call home. In the seventh minute Philadelphia’s Lianne Sanderson played a ball through to Holmfridur Magnusdottir. Rookie Freedom ‘keeper Ashlyn Harris came off her line to cut off the angle and was able to make a save on the Iceland International’s shot. it would be the first of many for Harris, who was peppered with 24 shots, nine of them on goal, from the home team (the Freedom on the other hand, managed just six shots, with a grand total of zero on goal through 120 minutes).

Harris, who became the Freedom’s number one ‘keeper late in the season after Erin McLeod went down a knee injury, was again forced to come up big for the Freedom in the 26th minute. The rookie ‘keeper was one-on-one with Sanderson and dove to block the Independence striker’s attempt. “I think Ashlyn was the MVP of this whole game,” said Freedom striker Abby Wambach. “I don’t feel like one player really stood out for me as much as she did. For a goalkeeper, you ask her to make one or two saves a game to keep you into it, but Ashlyn did far more than that.”

As the half wore on the Freedom, playing with 5 in the midfield and US International Wambach as the lone striker, began to control possession through the midfield, but were continually stymied by the Independence back line. Nikki Krzysik and Allison Falk were a particular source of frustration for Wambach, limiting the All-Star striker’s chances. “If they played like that all season we’d be playing at home for the final. They were dynamite tonight,” said Independence Head Coach Paul Riley. “Val did a great job in net, and I think Falky and particularly Nikki Krzysik I thought were very, very good. You got a rookie in right back, she came in again for Mittsy today and I thought she did tremendous in right back and the Icelandic– Frida’s a crazy-woman.”

The home side had one final opportunity as time ticked down on the first frame. In the 38th minute Sanderson played the ball across to Amy Rodriguez, but her shot sailed over the bar and both teams headed to the locker rooms deadlocked at zero.

The Freedom made one change to start the second half – bringing on forward Lene Mykjaland in place of defender Rebecca Moros – with hopes of sparking something offensively. Unfortunately for the DC side, it was the Independence who got the first good chance of the half, coming in the 51st minute. After a scramble in the Freedom box, the ball was sent back to Jen Buczkowski, who fired a hard shot from 25 yards out that sailed just over the crossbar.

Three minutes later, the Freedom defense broke down again, and again both teams scrambled to gain possession in front of the Freedom goal. French International Sonia Bompastor got the Freedom out of trouble, clearing the ball off the line to keep things level. The Independence kept the pressure on and in the 56th minute Tina DiMartino found Amy Rodriguez who took a shot that Harris stopped point-blank. Seconds later Rodriguez appeared to have netted the go-ahead goal, but her tally was called back after referee Jose Carlos Rivero signaled that she’d handled the ball.

In the 59th minute, the Freedom took their turn on the attack. The Independence turned over the ball near midfield and Sarah Huffman dribbled up the sideline before crossing the ball towards an onrushing Wambach. Wambach slid into Huffman’s cross, but was met by her defender before she was able to get a clean shot off. The Independence countered a few minutes later. In the 62nd Rodriguez ran onto a ball played over the Freedom back line, but was unable to control it, sending her shot over the crossbar. The back and forth continued, with Wambach and Mykjaland stringing together a series of passes inside the Independence box before Philly ‘keeper Val Henderson came out to challenge Wambach, forcing her 65th minute shot wide.

The final ten minutes saw three golden “how did that not go in!?” opportunities for the Independence. First in the 80th minute Lori Lindsey rocketed a hard shot that had ‘upper 90’ written all over it. Harris made a spectacular leaping one-handed save to keep Lindsey’s chance out of the back of the net and then made an equally impressive kick-save on Rodriguez, who had gained the ball on the rebound and fired on goal. Two minutes later Danesha Adams took a shot on goal that had Harris beat, but Bompastor was again there to clear the ball off the line. The third of the golden opportunities came in the 88th minute when Lindsey was again stopped by Harris. Rodriguez once again collected the rebound and rang her shot off the post – that rebound went towards goal, but Anita Asante got a foot to it before the ball was able to cross the line. “We had so many chances in that game. I can’t even tell you. I felt like I had a curse on me. And we kept pressing. Each halftime and timeout we kinda went over to the sidelines and Paul kept telling me ‘keep going. I don’t care if you miss ten in a row, just keep shooting, keep shooting,'” said Rodriguez.

Minutes later the whistle sounded to end the first 90 minutes, but because it was a playoff game a winner had to be decided – and so to overtime it went.

The pace through each of the two 15 minute overtime periods was considerably slower and both teams struggled to find quality chances. In the 96th minute Mykjaland dribbled in on goal but got tangled up with Krzysik, allowing Henderson to come out for the ball. In the 110th minute Rodriguez took a shot that rolled across the goal, but Harris was able to recover and make the stop.

The match, which was already the first overtime game in WPS history, looked destined to also be the first decided by penalty kicks. Inside the final minute of overtime the Freedom’s Nikki Marshall turned the ball over, starting a sequence that would be the game’s last. Marshall stumbled over the ball and it was collected by DiMartino who played the ball through the Freedom defense to Rodriguez. A-Rod had been on a hot streak through the middle of the season, at one point nearly catching FC Gold Pride’s Marta for the WPS Golden Boot, but had been absent from the score sheet as of late – and for 119 minutes it looked like that trend was going to continue. But in the 120th minute Rodriguez collected DiMartino’s pass, took a touch, and fired a near post shot past Harris. Less than a minute later her go-ahead goal became the game winner, sending the Independence through the to Semi-Final. “Great ball in behind the back line and I remember feeling like the defender was in front of me and last minute I kinda swooped in front of her and I was able to get a touch on the ball and saw the ‘keeper and decided to shoot near post,” said Rodriguez, describing her goal. “And I was so happy because the entire game I felt like I was continually shooting and nothing was going my way, nothing was going in. And also to see the clock, the 120th minute, knowing there’s no time left, it was perfect for us. We were really excited.” Paul Riley never lost confidence in his star striker. “I told her before overtime, I said ‘you’re not coming out. I’m not taking you off and you’re gonna miss. The best strikers in the world miss chance after chance after chance after chance. You gotta keep going, you’re gonna get another couple, just stick with it.’ Thank god she mis-kicked the last one ’cause she was going far post and it went near post. I think that probably summed up her day. Great strikers keep at it and she did a great job,” said Riley when asked about Rodriguez’ performance.

The Freedom meanwhile, will now join the Atlanta Beat, Chicago Red Stars and Sky Blue FC in the offseason. “They gave it everything they had and they did their best and that’s all you can ask for. Sometimes you get bounces in this game, sometimes you don’t. Certainly it’s a cruel game at times,” remarked Freedom Head Coach Jim Gabarra. Abby Wambach acknowledged that the loss was frustrating, but overall was proud of her team. “I kept telling everyone ‘please, just get me the ball inside the box and I will score.’ It just couldn’t– one thing would happen. The surface– I just really feel the surface played so much into it. Credit to Philadelphia who kept with it, I think outplayed us in the second half and both of the overtimes,” said Wambach. “I think that maybe the better team won today. We did play our hearts out, we tried a different system in the second half. I think a broader perspective, in the bigger picture, from day one, we’ve become a better team. So in the long run I’m pretty proud of my players,” said Wambach. “Sad to not be in it, but proud of us for being able to last throughout an entire game, overtime, and trying to win there at the end. But A-Rod thought differently.”

Washington and Philadelphia are two clubs that could not be more different – the Freedom, with a history dating back to the WUSA days, were a team made of a solid core of returning players from 2009 mixed in with a few new additions. The Independence on the other hand, a brand new expansion side constructed mostly with WPS’s spare-parts. A place for a fresh start for those who had struggled elsewhere; were underused, under-appreciated and ultimately let go or left unprotected by their former clubs; displaced by teams folding. On Saturday in West Chester it was Paul Riley’s band of second-chancers coming out on top. “We’re one of those teams like Sky Blue were last year. Nobody anticipated us being here. I’m sure Boston doesn’t want to play us, I’m sure they’d rather play Washington,” said Riley after the match. Amy Rodriguez added, “I think tonight changed everything. I think tonight we really saw how we can keep continuing to fight and how we can battle and all the way to the 120th minute. And that gives us confidence.”

FUN FACTS:
Independence Coach Paul Riley was selected as the WPS Coach of the Year, beating out FC Gold Pride’s Albertin Montoya, Boston’s Tony DiCicco and Washington’s Jim Gabarra for the honor… Just two players in the WPS playoffs had a chance to become two-time champions, Philly’s Jen Buczkowski and Washington’s Anita Asante, who both spent 2009 with Sky Blue FC. With the Freedom eliminated, Buczkowski becomes the only player with the chance to win a second title…Washington Freedom and former US National Team goalkeeper Briana Scurry announced her retirement from professional soccer last week. Scurry was placed on the season-ending injury list earlier in the year due to concussion related issues, but had said that injury was not the reason for her retirement. The veteran ‘keeper was recognized at halftime and briefly addressed the crowd…Riley said that his decision to sub in Heather Mitts late in the second overtime was a strategic move in case the match went to penalty kicks. Mitts had missed the last few games due to injury… With the win philadelphia becomes the first home team to win a WPS playoff game. In 2009 Sky Blue FC won all three games on the road… Lori Lindsey and Joanna Lohman, who wasn’t rostered for the match, spent 2009 with the Freedom. Lindsey was picked up by the Independence after being left unprotected by DC in the expansion draft and Lohman signed as a free agent…Amy Rodriguez and Heather Mitts will face their former team on Thursday – both spent 2009 with the Breakers. Rodriguez, who was the number one draft pick in 2009, struggled in Boston, scoring just one goal. After the season she was traded to Philly in exchange for two draft picks (which Boston used on Lauren Cheney and Alyssa Naeher). Mitts signed with the Independence as a free agent… US National Team Coach Pia Sundhage was in attendance and watched the game from the press box. The USWNT starts camp tomorrow in Atlanta ahead of two friendlies with China…Philadelphia Union Forward Sebastian LeToux was on hand for the coin toss.

MATCH FACTS:
Philadelphia Independence (11-10-4) vs. Washington Freedom (8-10-7)
Sunday, September 19, 2010 β€” John A. Farrell Stadium
FINAL – (ET)

SCORING SUMMARY:
Team 1 2 ET F
PHI: 0 0 1 1
WSH: 0 0 0 0

PHI: Amy Rodriguez 1 (Tina DiMartino) 120′

PHILADELPHIA INDEPENDENCE β€” Estelle Johnson, Nikki Krzysik, Allison Falk, Holmfridur Magnusdottir (Heather Mitts, 116′), Caroline Seger (Kelly Henderson, 108′), Lori Lindsey, Jen Buczkowski, Tina DiMartino, Amy Rodriguez, Lianne Sanderson (Danesha Adams, 78′), Val Henderson

Substitutes Not Used: Sara Larsson, Sarah Senty, Lyndsey Patterson, Robyn Jones

WASHINGTON FREEDOM β€” Ashlyn Harris, Cat Whitehill, Nikki Marshall, Becky Sauerbrunn, Rebecca Moros (Lene Mykjaland, 46′), Sonia Bompastor, Allie Long, Brittany Bock (Homare Sawa, 65′), Anita Asante, Abby Wambach, Sarah Huffman (Brittany Klein, 111′)

Substitutes Not Used: Christie Welsh, Beverly Goebel, Kristi Eveland, Meagan McCray

TEAM STATS:
PHI WSH

Shots 24 6
Shots on Goal 9 0
Fouls 12 12
Offsides 3 4
Corner Kicks 7 2
Saves 0 6

MISCONDUCT SUMMARY:
PHI: Holmfridur Magnusdottir (Caution) 55’

Referee: Jose Carlos Rivero
Referee Assistants: Matthew Kreitzer, Colin Arblaster
4th Official: Daniel Fitzgerald
Attendance: 2, 378

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