The Philadelphia Independence’s heroic playoff run came to an end on Sunday when they lost the WPS Championship game to the regular season champions and heavily favored FC Gold Pride.
“For 90 minutes it was the best game we played all year,” said FC Gold Pride’s Christine Sinclair. “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.”
The Gold Pride dominated play throughout the match and were up 2–0 at the end of the first half, a half in which the Independence had little opportunity to score.
“As a coach you’ve got two choices,” said Independence coach Paul Riley. “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.”
While league MVP and four-time reining World Player of the Year Marta showed how dangerous she was in the eighth minute by slipping through the Philadelphia defense, it was Sinclair, the finest women’s player Canada has ever produced, who opened up the scoring in the 16th minute. After a frenetic flurry of activity in front of the Independence net in which Val Henderson made two saves on Marta and defender Nikki Krzysik cleared the ball off of the line, Sinclair pounced on the ball in front of the net at the six yard line to slot home the first goal.
Rookie defender Kandace Wilson used her speed to make it 2–0 in the 26th minute when she ran onto a through ball from Marta and to beat her defender with a terrific near post shot.
The second half began with the Gold Pride looking for the coup de grace with a series of chances that culminated with Marta finding an open Sinclair for her second goal of the game in the 52nd minute.
“I thought at 2-nil at halftime, I didn’t think it was the end of the world,” said Independence coach Paul Riley. “I thought we could still come back, but the third goal kind of killed us, and after that, they just completely took over the game.”
Danesha Adams had a chace to score a consolation goal for the Independence in the 78th minute but fired wide.
Marta finally added a goal to her two assists in the waning moments of stoppage time.
The lead up in the playoffs to the championship game surely took a toll on the Independence: an extra time playoff win last Sunday, followed by an extra time win on a Thursday, then followed by a seven-hour flight to Northern California on Friday and the Championship game on Sunday.
“The playoff system got the better of us,” team captain Lori Lindsey said. “Usually, I think we bring a lot of pizzazz and excitement to the game, and we just couldn’t bring it today.”
But it is also true that the better team won. The Independence had lost its three regular season meetings with the Gold Pride by the total score of 9–2. While Philadelphia may not have had much gas left in the tank for the Championship game they also knew who deserved to win.
“Obviously, the better team won on the day, there’s no question about that,” Riley said. “They were quicker, sharper, better on the ball. We couldn’t contain their forwards, couldn’t get a grip on the midfield, and, to be honest, on the day the best team won.”
As Riley correctly pointed out, the playoff system is “unfair to the players…you can’t expect players at this level, of the highest caliber, to come and play three games in seven days and fly cross country.”
He was also right when he added, “We probably could have laid off a week, and they still would have beaten us—who knows.”
Four Independence players will now report for training for the USWNT upcoming two-game series against China and preparations for the 2011 Women’s World Cup qualifiers.