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Sports Then and Now

Western New York Flash Make Successful WPS Debut

Posted on April 18, 2011 by John Wingspread Howell

Women’s Professional Soccer’s newest team came away from their season opener with a decisive win over Boston’s Breakers in front of more than 4,000 fans in Harvard Stadium.

Despite the fact that Boston opened their season a week ago in Atlanta, roundly defeating the Beat by 4-1, and despite the fact that the expansion Western New York Flash was playing their first real game without their star striker, the new girls on the block dominated every aspect of the match, eventually winning 2-1.

Their play wasn’t always pretty and despite some chances, it took them 64 minutes to score their first goal, but considering their headliner, Brazilian phenom, Marta, was unable to join her team mates due to delays in processing immigration paperwork, and considering the fact that this new team had no preseason contests against professional clubs at any level, they did well by themselves.

The Boston Breakers (1-1-0) were unable to come back from a two-goal deficit Sunday night in their first home game of the season. In fact, the score doesn’t really tell the story. Boston was kept off the scoreboard until well into stoppage time. After Flash keeper Ashlyn Harris made an acrobatic stop, The Breakers’ Kelly Smith tapped the rebound into the box, seconds before the final whistle.

It was understandable, given their lack of experience together, that it took Western New York a while to fine tune their  attack. Never-the-less they had some good opportunities before finally breaking through.

Early in the match, Ali Riley came down the left side and sent a sharp cross into the box, but Boston keeper Alyssa Naeher was right there to pick it off. Two minutes later, Naeher got some help from defender Stephanie Cox to keep the Flash off the scoreboard. Flash midfielder and Swedish international Caroline Seger took it in behind Naeher, who came out for the challenge. Seger tried pushing the ball into the open net,.but Cox came out of nowhere, slid along the goal line and cleared Seger’s shot from danger.

The Flash continued applying pressure, and in the 8th minute, forward Alex Morgan, the No.1 overall pick in the 2011 WPS Draft, ripped a shot on goal, but Naeher came up with a diving save.

Momentum shifted briefly to the Breakers in the 10th minute. Kelly Smith played a great through ball to Kelley O’Hara, overlapping on Smith’s right. The pass went right to O’Hara’s feet as she came streaking into the box, but her shot hit the side of the net.

Just past the 20-minute mark momentum swung back the Flash’s way. Christine Sinclair sent a cross toward rookie  Alex Morgan but once again, a heads-up move by Cox saved the goal.

After controlling the run of play in the early part of the second half, the Flash capitalized on their momentum, and in the 64th minute, scored their first goal in their WPS franchise history. Morgan placed a cross right to Sinclair’s feet and the Canadian international smashed it past Naeher to put the Flash ahead, 1-0.

English international Gemma Davison made it a 2-0 game in stoppage time. Her low, driven shot from the right side of the box beat Naeher far post.

After the game, Boston Coach Tony DiCicco, told reporters, “It was one of those games where whoever scored the first goal was going to be tough to beat. They got in on a counter attack. Alex Morgan did a good job of winning the ball and found Sinclair, and Sinclair knows what to do in front of goal. I was proud of the way our players played. I thought we had a good energy the whole game. I liked the way we responded when we went down, 1-0. I think if we go out with that type of mentality every game, we’ll get better and hopefully we’ll get some results.”

Flash Head Coach Aran Lines commented, “Good start to the season. We played a little too deep in the first half, and they came at us. I thought we had the better opportunities. We created more. We went out second half and totally dominated and deservedly won the game. We played a three front with a lot of flexibility. It doesn’t matter who’s vacating one of the three positions. The players have that freedom in this system. We had two quality finishes. It could’ve been more.”

Commenting on her professional debut, flash rookie forward Alex Morgan said, “I think that I did pretty well. I think I had some good passes and gave Sinc a pretty good assist. I haven’t been able to practice with the Flash for more than a week, week and a half, but I think we’ve done some good things this past week, preparing for this first game. The (U.S. Women’s National Team) schedule’s going to get a bit crazier in the next month or two.”

The result puts Western New York at 1-0, and leaves Boston at 1-1-0.

The Flash answered most of the questions about their ability to hit the pitch running. They seemed to improve their passing and effectiveness as the game progressed. Being able to dominate as they did without their star striker, the club seems poised to fulfill expectations that they will be the team to beat in WPS this season.

It’s still three weeks away from the Flash’s home opener in Rochester. Most of the rest of the questions about the club’s prospects will be answered then, by the size and makeup of the crowd coming out to see them play in Sahlen Stadium.

The Flash play next weekend in Atlanta versus the Beat.

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