(Photo: Michael Long)
Editor’s note: At the end of the 2010 season, we posted a series of “Raves” about our favorite Philadelphia players. They need not be the team’s best players, but they’re guys and gals we like. Over the next two weeks, we continue the series again with some of the PSP writers’ and contributors’ favorite players of 2011.
“She’s the unheralded hero. No one talks about her. But she’s the one that’s on the team sheet first every week. It’s Buczkowski in the middle of the midfield and then we build the team around her.”
—Independence coach Paul Riley after Philly had just knocked off a star-studded magicJack team in the WPS Super Semifinal at PPL Park.
There was no shortage of players from the Independence that I could have written a rave for this season. Veronica Boquete was the MVP of Women’s Professional Soccer and had a fantastic season scoring big goals and pulling the strings in the Philadelphia attack. Sinead Farrelly was a Rookie of the Year candidate whose two-way play was beyond impressive for a first year player. Tasha Kai scored 11 goals, seemingly resurrecting her career after a few frustrating seasons playing in New Jersey.
But it was Buczkowski playing all but 36 of 1830 possible minutes in 20 games this season. It was Buczkowski shutting down passing lanes in the center of the park. It was Buczkowski making a sliding challenge on any player trying to drive down the gut of the Independence with the ball. And if any opponent did breach the Independence midfield to run at the back line, it was Buczkowski sprinting back to recover and, if necessary, even grab a jersey or commit a foul.
There are not a lot of sexy stats to repeat. Buzz had no goals and no assists this season. And it’s even hard to think of a single game where she really stood out. But that’s just it. It was the consistency. The reliability. Really, Buczkowski is a perfect example of what Paul Riley’s Independence are all about. A gritty, technically sound player that has made a career of winning soccer games.
Whether it was playing alongside Farrelly or Joanna Lohman in a 4–2–3–1 or at the bottom of the diamond in a 4–4–2, Buczkowski knew her role. Farrelly put in a solid shift in the WPS Final, constantly harassing the ball carrier in the Western New York midfield. But it was Buczkowski protecting the back four by shutting down almost every possibly passing lane into the feet of Marta or Christine Sinclair or Alex Morgan.
With an aging Shannon Boxx and an underperforming Lori Lindsey in the defensive central midfield for the USWNT, only Pia Sundhage knows why Buczkowski is passed over time after time for national team duty. But the national team’s loss is our gain as Philadelphia sports fans, because we got to see Buczkowski stick around while the national team was busy with the World Cup last season and will while they are busy preparing for the Olympics this season.
Hopefully the WPS survives to see 2012 and the Independence can continue to build support for women’s soccer in the area. It’s well worth a trip down to Widener University to see the team. While you’re there, look for No. 4 quietly being the best player on the pitch.