LONDON (AP) – Entering the 2011 season, not a lot was expected from the Philadelphia Independence and coach Paul Riley. It's safe to say, that after Saturday's 2-0 Women's Professional Soccer Super Semifinal win over magicJack in front of 5,410 at PPL Park in Chester, everyone was way off.
Philadelphia's most consistent offensive player, Tasha Kai, erased the deadlock when she scored a nifty goal in the 46th minute. The Independence attacker that has struggled the most all year, Amy Rodriguez, got out of her funk, sealing the victory in the 81st minute with a fancy goal of her own. In the net, Nicole Barnhart was on top of her game, stopping an assortment of threats to end magicJack's run and help propel her club to the final.
Tasha Kai, right, celebrates her opening goal with Kia McNeill (Photo: ISI Photos|Women's Professional Soccer)
It was a pretty even match throughout the first half, with both sides threatening the opposition's goal. Philadelphia came out strong in the second half, and just 28 seconds into the second, Kai put her side on top. MagicJack's poor attempted clearance allowed Kai to gain possession at the edge of the box. After lining up her shot, Kai deked US Women's National Team captain Christie Rampone, opened up her left foot, and perfectly placed a shot past Loyden and into the far post side netting.
Danesha Adams and Rodriguez teamed up for a quick strike goal to secure the victory in the 81st after it appeared the Independence were happy to pack it in and gun for a 1-0. Adams muscled magicJack off the ball near midfield and, when she obtained full possession, slid a pass in the open to Rodriguez. Slumping all year, Rodriguez looked like she was in her 2010 form, placing a beautifully chipped shot over Loyden and into the net for a 2-nil lead.
Philadelphia was able to hold onto that lead for the final 10 minutes, advancing to the WPS Championship for the second consecutive year (Aug. 27, at Western New York Flash). The Independence also were recognized on an individual level, with Riley being named WPS Coach of the Year for the second year in a row, and Nikki Kzysik and Veronica Boquete were awarded Sportswomen of the Year and MVP of the league, respectively.
Early in the match, neither team was assertive. Even the game's first chance, in the fifth minute, was a quiet one. Boquete had a go from just outside the 18 with her left foot. MagicJack keeper Jillian Loyden didn't move, assuming it was buzzing wide, though Boquete's shot grazed the post.
It wasn't until the 24th minute when something of truly note happened, with Philadelphia's Kia McNeil and magicJack's Abby Wambach colliding at the top of the Independence box going for a 50-50 ball. McNeil won the ball and Wambach rammed into her moments later, drawing a foul in the process. (McNeil left the field momentarily before returning.)
MagicJack didn't look like the same squad that dominated matches to end the season. Whether it was a masterful defensive game plan by Philadelphia or tired legs (playing two games a week since July 20), magicJack just wasn't the same team. Their first real opportunity of the match came didn't come until the 31st minute when Rookie of the Year Christen Press ripped a shot from long range that forced Barnhart to punch over the bar.
And was magicJack struggled, Philadelphia started to threaten, with Kai having the most suspenseful of chances in the 34th minute. A ball through the right channel led to a footrace between the Philadelphia attacker and Loyden, whose run to the ball wasn't timed well. Kai beat her to the ball and lofted her shot over the magicJack keeper and toward the empty goal. Her shot, however, didn't dip enough and went high.
Amy Rodriguez's late goal sealed Philadelphia's Saturday victory. (Photo: ISI Photos|Women's Professional Soccer)
MagicJack player-coach Wambach did her best to put her team on her shoulders after her team fell behind, taking on five Independence defenders in the box in the 49th minute. The US international settled a cross and hit a shot that was blocked; the rebound came back to her, allowing her to rip another shot on goal, one that Barnhart punched over the bar.
After the 60th minute, Philadelphia began to put eight (sometimes nine) players behind the ball, allowing magicJack to knock the ball around and methodically work their way up the pitch. In the 66th minute, Wambach again threatened to equalize. Lydia Vandenbergh sent a driven ball into the center of the box, aiming for Wambach's head. The resulting header was on frame though Barnhart again got a piece of it, tipping it off the bar.
Philadelphia advances to their second WPS Final in as many years, against going on the road to try and claim a title. Last year, the Independence last in California to FC Gold Pride. This Saturday, Philadelphia will try to redeem that loss, traveling to Rochester, NY, to face regular season champion Western New York Flash.
The league final will air live at 4 p.m. ET on FOX Sports Net, with FOX Soccer to air a replay of the final on Sunday at 6 p.m. ET.