Independence achieved every goal except one

Posted: August 28, 2011

When the Independence started preparing for their second season in March, their mantra was "unfinished business."

The Independence wanted to get back to the title tilt and finish the job. Last year, they lost to FC Gold Pride, 4-0, in the Women's Professional Soccer championship game.

A blue-collar type team with no international stars, Indy worked their way through 18 regular-season games and one playoff match to advance to the championship clash on Saturday in Rochester, N.Y., against the Western New York Flash.

Unfortunately for the Independence, they'll have to repeat that mantra next year. The Flash and Independence tied, 1-1, but Western New York made all five of its shootout penalty kicks while Indy missed its final chance. It was the first time all year that the Independence (12-5-3) found themselves in a PK situation.

"We practiced PKs for [the last] three weeks," Independence coach Paul Riley said. "We thought one of the games would come down to it."

Canadian star Christine Sinclair scored for the Flash, whose attack was handled skillfully by the Independence defense. However, Western New York's defense was no less stellar, allowing only Amy Rodriguez's goal in the 87th minute to tie the score.

"Our team fought back from down, 1-0, and I thought we had countless chances after that," Rodriguez said. "I had countless chances myself. It makes you want to kick yourself. You can't get those moments back."

Riley himself has been a big reason for the team's success. Named WPS coach of the year for the second consecutive season, he rebuilt the team with an eye on the World Cup, which would drain the top talent from each squad.

So he brought in new blood, including talented forward Tasha Kai, who'd lost her passion for the game, and inspired her. He also signed Spanish forward-midfielder Veronica Boquete and gave her plenty of playing time.

Kai led the team in goals scored with 10, which tied Brazilian star Marta for second place in the league. Boquete was second in team scoring with five goals and was named the WPS player of the year.

Indy didn't win the regular-season or WPS crown; however, the team got to the big dance again, developed chemistry with more than a half-dozen new players in the starting lineup, gained fans, won more games than last year, and scored more goals.

Riley also got Kia McNeill and Leigh Ann Robinson from the Atlanta Beat to shore up the defense in front of Nicole Barnhart, the goalie who shut out Indy in last year's championship game.

In the title game, McNeill, Nikki Krzysik, Estelle Johnson, and Robinson allowed Sinclair to slip by for a score, but kept Marta and Alex Morgan off the board.

McNeill said the defense kept Flash attackers in front of them, for the most part, in order to control the flow. She praised Riley.

"It comes down to Paul's work ethic, his belief in us and the Independence, and his attention to details," McNeill said.

"Everybody is happy here. Everybody wants to come back and make another run at it."

Among those who want to come back is Riley, whose two-year contract with the team is up.

"I expect to be back," said Riley, who added that he will sit down with team owner David Halstead soon.


Contact staff writer Bill Iezzi at 856-779-3826 or biezzi@phillynews.com.

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