BARCELONA – In their expansion year of 2010, the Philadelphia Independence surprised many by even making it to the Womens Professional Soccer playoffs. Under the tutelage of WPS Coach of the Year Paul Riley - and vigorous two-a-day training sessions all year long - the Independence finished in third place, winning a pair of playoff matches before falling in the WPS Championship to FC Gold Pride.
Year two of the Independence has been even better. With Riley capturing another Coach of the Year award, his Independence took second place in the regular season and will host the WPS Super Semifinal Saturday afternoon hoping to confirm a spot in the WPS Championship next week at the expansion Western New York Flash. A year ago, Philly hosted the Washington Freedom, needing extra time to advance into that year's WPS Super Semifinal. There they outlasted the Boston Breakers, again in extra time, with all those miles catching up with them by the time they reached California to face FC Gold Pride. Philly lost the game, illustrating how difficult is it to navigate the playoffs from the first post season round (though Sky Blue miraculously did so the year before). That lesson my flip to serve Philadelphia this season, as it's magicJack, their Saturday opponent, that's seen their odometers turn. The Boca Raton-based side have been playing two games per week since July 20 and, although it hasnt nipped them in the bud just yet, their legs have to be turning into a gel-like substance as we speak. MagicJack disposed of Boston with relative ease on Wednesday night with a 3-1 thumping in Florida. Even with all the games piling up on the schedule, the Abby Wambach-led club (Wambach had a brace) has been playing its best football. At one point at the beginning of this gruesome stretch of matches, magicJack was on the outside-looking-in on the playoffs. When the season ended, they were nine points in the clear of fourth place. If magicJack wants to continue that run, theyll need to continue to ride the surge of Wambach. In the past six matches, Wambach has seven tallies. In addition, Christen Press, Megan Rapinoe and Sarah Huffman must continue playing key supporting roles to threaten Philly keeper Nicole Barnharts goal. That task will be tough, Barnhart is one of the leagues top keepers and a WPS champion, claiming the title last year with Gold Pride.
Philadelphia had two of its most convincing wins of the season against magicJack, the resulting coming in consecutive weeks: toppling the Florida club 6-0 on June 18, and beating them 3-1 on June 25. However, in the first and last meetings between the two (when all internationals were on the field), magicJack got the better of Philadelphia with a 2-1 win on May 1 and a 2-1 triumph to close the season out Aug. 14. Wambach, MagicJacks player-coach, did the team a favor by resting herself, Rapinoe, and starting keeper Jillian Loyden against Philly. So while the club hasnt had much reprieve, those three vets have. (Philadelphia rested its top scorer Tasha Kai in that season finale as well.) Philadelphia ended its season winning three out of four, but Amy Rodriguez has been slumping her way down the stretch, a span that started with the World Cup, where she wasnt used properly, according to Riley. Despite the loss to magicJack last week, one positive sign was Rodriguez seeing the ball hit the back of the net. It was Rodriguezs first goal since the opening game of the season. Meanwhile, Kai has struggled. While the World Cup was going on, Kai was solidifying herself as the teams go-to offensive threat. Since the World Cup, however, she hasnt produced as much, only putting home one goal (she has nine on the season). Shell be needed if Philly intends to advance. One player that they know theyll get production from is WPS MVP Vero Boquete. In 11 games played, Boquete has scored five times, four of which were game winners, and set up another four. Her stats arent indicative of her play, though, as shes constantly creating for her teammates. With Boquete setting things up, if Rodriguez and Kai get out of their slumps, Philadelphia could win this one in a big way. Thats a big if, however, with the threats magicJack have and the fact that they come into this match hitting on all cylinders. Either way you slice it, this is shaping up to be a classic battle, and you can view it on FOX Sports Net Saturday afternoon, kicking off from PPL Park in Philadelphia at 4 p.m. ET.