Analysis and Game Recap by John Wingspread Howell
This is my third season covering the Western New York Flash, and the third league in which they’ve played during my coverage. The vibe at Sahlen’s Stadium was definitely major league this time, a little more even than during their WPS season and definitely more than their NPSL ELite season last year.
Fans want to feel like they are in a major league setting. They need the ambiance to match the level of play on the field. Otherwise, there is something lacking i the experience. When the Flash joined WPS, they chose to pay Marta nearly a half million dollars but still scrimped on the programs. Their game day programs were high school quality. Embarrassing.
They were forced to have a decent website because WPS had a single web system that every team had to buy into. Team management resented that, but the rule saved them from themselves at least where the website was concerned.
This year, ironically, the programs and team guide were printed on much better paper. The website is high school. But at least the experience in the stadium matched the major league quality on the pitch. With the exception that there were two names mispellied in the program.
Like the WPS season and unlike last season, there was a lot of food in the press box. Not surprisingly, the main entree was Sahlen’s Hot Dogs. No complaints there. Last season the press was lucky to find water bottles in the fridge.
The crowd arrived early. Judging by the activity on the grounds and the number of cars in the lot when I arrived, about 45 minutes early, it looked like there would be a good crowd. The announced attendance of 4,065 would be on the low end for NWSL openers, but near the top of attendance figures for the current week.
They were hoping for 5,000 but when it was reported that favorite daughter and international star Abby Wambach would not dress, due to residual concussive symptoms from the previous match, no doubt a lot of people stayed home. Tonight’s crowd would have have been above average for WPS in the final season, but with Kansas City and Portland running up numbers from 6,000 to 16,000 in the new league, 4,000 for an opener seems rather paltry.
That brings up another issue that faces the Flash. The team really doesn’t have a large fan base. Wambach has a large fan base. In WPS, Flash attendance was double to quadruple the local average when Wambach visited with her former team, magicJack. Mercifully, US Soccer allocated her to Western New York so her hometown fans could come out and cheer for the local team in the process. So that is Wambach’s mission here, it seems. Not just to help win a fourth championship in a fourth league in consecutive years, but equally important, or perhaps even more important over the long term, is to bond the team with the community in a way that transcends their loyalty to Wambach.
Assuming attendance was close to 3,000 Saturday night’s game would be third of four in attendance for the league this weekend, where the range was a low of 2,855 in Chicago, to a high of 4800 in DC.
The Flash could have used Wambach Saturday night. They could have used Carli Lloyd also. Both the club’s USWNT allocations were sitting out the match due to injury, while two of Boston’s three US internationals were busy creating scores for the Breakers.
In the end, Boston prevailed 2-1, with both the visitors’ goals coming from Heather O’Reilly on assists from Sydney Leroux. The winning goal came in the 83rd minute. Up until then the match had all the indications it would end in a draw.
Both teams had their moments of dominating play. Both had a few decent chances. Both had brilliant defensive plays. Neither did anything very creative on offense.
The Flash scored first, in the 7th minute, despite Boston’s domination in possession up until then, on a nice lead pass from Australian international Samantha Kerr to Laura Heyboer who sent a hard driving shot through the fingers of Boston keeper, Mexican international Cecilia Santiago.
Other than on that play, Santiago had the better of Flash keeper Adrianna Franch. The rookie starter was caught off her line several times during the match and paid dearly twice, especially in the second goal allowed.
And so, Boston’s Breakers broke the Flash’s home opener in a new league, keeping Western New York in the bottom of the NWSL table with a mere one point, at 0-2-1.
After two weeks of draws in the fledgling NWSL, some separation has begun to develop in the league. All matches this weekend have ended in a decision, with FC Kansas City, Sky Blue FC, Boston and Portland winning their respective matches.
Portland and Sky Blue have begun to emerge as the clubs to beat. Portland leads the league with seven points, Sky Blue is on their heels with six. Western New York is in a three way tie for last with Chicago and Seattle.
The Flash have managed to be competitive in their first three matches. Their total goal differential in the three outings is -2. Head Coach Aaran Lines’ teams have started slow throughout his history with the club, so despite already being six points out of first place, panic is premature.
Still there is some cause for concern already. The offense has not been very creative, even with Wambach on the field. When she has played there is the sense that she’s trying too hard to carry the club. When she hasn’t played the club is clearly outgunned.
Once Carli Lloyd is cleared to play, Wambach will have more help from the midfield, which should make a real difference. While the Flash may not be able to finish in first, the prospects of finishing at least fourth and making the playoffs seems very realistic. Once in the playoffs, the triple champion Flash would still be the team to beat.
John Wingspread Howell is a novelist, freelance writer, columnist and blogger. He has covered the top division of professional women’s soccer in the United States since the inception of WPS in 2009. He writes about Buffalo sports, underdog sports, and women’s sports for various online publications including Queen City Sports.
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