Photo: Mike Long
Vero Boquete scored the only goal in the Philadelphia Independence 1–0 win over Atlanta on Sunday night. It was her third game winning goal in the last four games, and with it the Independence secured at least a second place finish in WPS. A season high, 4,000 people were on hand as Philadelphia welcomed the bottom team in WPS to Widener University
The match was the first at home for the Independence’s USWNT players Lori Lindsey, Amy Rodriguez and Nicole Barnhart since the end of the Women’s World Cup. All three started, with Lindsey actually making her first start of the season. While Barnhart looked sharp in keeping her second clean sheet, Lindsey and Rodriguez still look out of sync with their teammates after missing two months of WPS action to be with the USWNT. Lindsey especially looked out of step in the center of the park, struggling to find room between Jen Buczkowski and Vero Boquete.
“She destroyed her confidence”
When I asked Paul Riley about the state of Amy Rodriguez, he was very candid, saying “Do you want me to tell you what it really is? She [USWNT coach Pia Sundhage] destroyed her confidence. When you take a player out who I thought was doing pretty well in the World Cup and don’t player her, I think she’s lost a lot of confidence. She’s playing like a midfielder now…I told her, every day this week, you’re coming in front of goal with me and we’re gonna get at it…She [Sundhage] destroyed her mentally. They all look destroyed, the national team players.”
Subs turn it on in the second half
An uneven first half saw Atlanta hold a decent amount of possession without creating many chances. Lori Chalupny managed the best chance of the half when she battled for a ball in the Philadelphia box and withstood a challenge from Kia McNeill to get an open look at Barnhart’s goal. But the keeper was up to to the task, making herself big and parrying the shot from eight yards.
Lindsey was subbed at the break, giving way to Laura del Rio, who was a more natural fit into the line up moving into the left side of the midfield. The move, along with was what a seemingly stern half time talk from Paul Riley, seemed to spur the Independence straight from the start. Riley said afterward, “I thought del Rio comes into the game and changes things for us tonight. All of a sudden, Vera becomes more dangerous. I was happy with the second half. The first half, we just weren’t good enough.”
Tina DiMartino pushed a shot wide left when in on goal at 48 minutes and Boquete hit one off the outside of the post five minutes later. Tasha Kai headed an Amy Rodriguez cross that was well saved by the very impressive Allison Whitworth on 56 minutes.
It was in the 62nd minute when the breakthrough finally came. Boquete raced onto a long ball over the top and had her initial shot saved by Whitworth. But the rebound bounced straight back to the Spaniard and she was able to punch the ball out of the air into the back of the net.
The barrage continued to come from the Independence with Boquete, substitute Lianne Sanderson and Tasha Kai all failing to convert on chances as the half wore on. Chalupny had the best chance to equalize on 76 minutes when she was again denied by Barnhart at her near post.
At least second place and PPL Park
The win guarantees Philadelphia at least second place finish in WPS with two games remaining. They currently sit three points ahead of Western New York on 33 points, but WNY has two games in hand. The Independence are guaranteed a chance to host one playoff game, whether it is either the Super Semifinal or the Championship game. And the news came out this week that whichever game it is, it will be played at PPL Park, home of the Philadelphia Union.
Widener University’s Quick Stadium is hardly an ideal host for a professional soccer team. The turf field is narrow and contains lines for football, lacrosse, field hockey and soccer while the pitch at PPL Park is a beautiful soccer specific grass field. Shortcomings aside, the Independence have played eight games at Widener with one home game remaining and are comfortable on their home turf going 6-1-1 so far this season.
Talking to Riley after the match, he wasn’t so sure that PPL was the best field for his team. “It worries me a little bit…playing against Western New York on a big field, they could carve you up. MagicJack if they end up coming to us could be a difficult fixture on a big field.” Of other potential opponents in either game, Sky Blue also plays on a decent sized pitch at Rutgers University, while Boston plays on a turf field similar to Philadelphia’s.
Nicole Barnhart – 8
Good game from Barnhart. Did well to keep out two difficult Lori Chalupny shots and managed her defense well.
Danesha Adams – 7
Not a bad outing from the make shift outside back. Did well to jump into the offense but her defense was possibly a little suspect at times. Though you have to forgive some of that with a striker playing on the back line.
Nikki Krzysik – 7
A mediocre first half was followed up by a solid second half. Her distribution from the back was nonexistent in the first half but in the second she found much better passes and started the attack well.
Kia McNeil – 6
Usually physically dominant, McNeill lost out on a few valuable challenges tonight, namely to Chalupny, who was a threat all night.
Leigh Ann Robinson – 7
Good game for Robinson on the outside. Did well to get involved going forward, which is not always her strong suit, and was stout in the back all evening. The Independence will need more games like this one from Robinson to compete for the championship.
Jen Buczkowski – 7
Another player that cleaned up her game after the break. Missed out on a few challenges and misfired on a few passes early on, but found her game in the second half, moving the ball through the midfield and stifling Atlanta attacks.
Christina DiMartino – 7
Seemed aimless in the first half and could not connect with her teammates but found better passes in the second half. Should have scored when in on goal. She needs to finish her chances better when they come.
Lori Lindsey – 5
Looks tired, unconfident, and out of sync with the rest of the team. Struggled to find room in the center of the park that is usually populated by Buczkowski and Boquete.
Vero Boquete – 9
The best player on the pitch for Philadelphia. While she struggled to find space in the first half, she was on her game in the second with darting runs, clever through balls and, most importantly, the only goal of the match.
Tasha Kai – 6
Not the best we’ve seen of Kai this season. Hard to tell if the lack of chemistry between her and Rodriguez is her fault or not, but there was definitely something lacking on Sunday night. Had two good chances in the second half to find a goal and couldn’t convert.
Amy Rodriguez – 5
Needs to find her confidence. She failed to make many runs behind the defense all match. Constantly found herself checking to the ball in the midfield and in the wide positions. The Independence need her facing up defenders, running at them and behind them to get chances in front of goal—none of which she looks like she wants to do right now.
Laura del Rio – 8
A spark off the bench at half time. Did well to find the ball out on the left. Combined well with Boquete and DiMartino. Was instrumental in the better possession time in the second half.
Lianne Sanderson – 7
A quality 30 minutes for Sanderson. Was dangerous on the ball facing up defenders. Had a magnificent first touch to get herself a good goal scoring opportunity late in the game that Whitworth saved.
Estelle Johnson – n/a
Came on with a few minutes to play to sure things up in the back.