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Professional Aug 20, 2011

WPS final set, has Borislow’s magicJack played their last professional game?

By Chris Hummer

The Philadelphia Independence scored a goal right after halftime, and then added another late to down magicJack in the WPS super semifinal today at PPL Park in suburban Philadelphia. The quality goals by Tasha Kai and Amy Rodriguez put the second year club through to the league championship match next Saturday, where they will now face regular season champion Western New York Flash – who have been lying in wait for their opponent since the end of the regular season.

With the Philadelphia win, WPS executives and marketers must be feeling mixed emotions. On one hand, the team with the most U.S. National Team stars is out, so the ticket draw in Abby Wambach’s hometown of Rochester, NY will not be as strong. On the other hand, the three-ring circus that has been magicJack owner “Dan Borislow verses the world” may finally be over and out of the spotlight.

Unfortunately, the WPS era itself could very well be over as well, as several sponsorship contracts are set to expire after this season, and it’s no secret to insiders that some teams are in financial trouble. While the post World Cup attendance bump has bred some optimism, it remains to be seen if it’s enough to entice new owners on the gamble that team USA does well in the 2012 Olympics. The attendance, media exposure, and entertainment value of Saturday’s final (4 pm on FOX Sports Net) may be the final shot and convincing some new women’s soccer philanthropists to join the three-year-old league.

Whatever the future holds for the league itself, the Philadelphia Independence and Western New York Flash will at least be in the spotlight for one more week, and will have their chance to prove the league belongs on the professional sports landscape. And it couldn’t happen to two more deserving outfits, as they finished in the top two spots during the regular season, and play some of the best women’s soccer in the world when they’re “on” their games.

Philadelphia certainly executed the better game today in what was called the Super Semifinal. They stuck with two-time WPS Coach of the Year Paul Riley’s tactical plan, and their attacking players finished key chances when they needed them. magicJack on the other hand relentlessly tried to shove the ball down the left flank through Megan Rapinoe, relying on her beating defenders or finding Wambach’s head. Despite the differences, neither team had much creativity or composure in the final third, choosing to try their luck crossing, shooting from distance, or dribbling instead of combining and showing the patience to create higher quality chances from nearer or inside the box.

The match did not lack for some level of excitement however, with both sides generating a lot of shots at a fairly high pace of play – albeit too direct much of the time. And the two goals themselves were quite brilliant individual displays of creativity and precision.

Kai notched the eventual game winner barely a minute into the second half when she pounced on a poor clearance, threw a brilliant dummy to fool team captain Christie Rampone, then calmly clipped a left-footer around the remaining defender and goalkeeper for the 16-yard goal. Rapinoe could have easily eliminated the trouble, but never saw Kai bearing down from behind as the poor clearance flew her way. Instead, she was left flat-footed and could only watch as the tattooed Hawiian blew by her with the ball and worked her own magic.

Rapinoe and magicJack came back fighting however, with the now famous bleach blonde winger seeing most of the ball. The Floridian’s spent far more time in Philly’s end then Philly did in theirs, but despite peppering the area with crosses and Nicole Barnhart’s goal with shots, Wambach and her charges could not find the equalizer.

With hope continuing to build for the visitors, hosts Philly ended matters in he 81st minute when Rodriguez got behind the defense down the center-left channel on the end of a perfect Danesha Adams ball. She took a touch, then brilliantly glided the ball over charging goalkeeper Jill Loyden and just under the bar for the 2-0 lead. Game over.

Two impact players, two great goals.

If Rodriguez involves more teammates instead of constantly trying to dribble against the world, and Kai keeps her head in the game and works harder off the ball, the dynamic pair could lead their team to the promised land against Marta and her Flash teammates next week.
Other Notes

Better TV Image?
It was great to see this match played at the beautiful PPL Park, home of Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union. Only thing that would have made it better might have been limiting seating to the TV side so it looked more full. Those 5,410 announced fans would have filled up most of what the TV camera revealed for 90% of the match action.

World-Class Soccer?
Not sure I agree with the league press release just out describing the match as “a world class match” and “championships quality play”, but that opening paragraph was likely written before the match even started. For me, it was actually quite frustrating soccer to watch, with no concerted effort by either team to hold possession, and neither making very good individual or tactical team decisions based on the game score/time left.

Happy it’s Over?
You have to feel for the magicJack players, but at the same time some must be glad the Borislow experience is most likely over. The amateurism displayed by this guy was worse than watching high school bickering over a stolen girlfriend/boyfriend. No matter how successful you are in business, it doesn’t mean you’re always right. Nevertheless, Borislow has likely done irreparable harm to the league’s image, no matter how strong his basis for objecting to some of the league’s rules may be.

Un-Professional Professional Team?
Player/coach Abby Wambach did her best, but there is no way worrying about substitutes and tactics helped her focus on what she does best – scoring goals. Paul Riley would likely out-coach anyone they stood up next to him anyway, but watching Wambach running to the bench today during stoppages to pass off coaching instructions reminded me of many a Sunday league games with every-man-for-himself on playing time decisions.

Borislow Own an Iron?
Speaking of bad image, what was up with those magicJack uniforms? Looked like they rode in the hamper all the way from Florida without being washed after Wednesday’s win over Boston.
Match Report

Philadelphia Independence vs. magicJack
Saturday, August 20, 2011 — PPL Park
FINAL

SCORING SUMMARY:
Team 1 2 F
PHI: 0 2 2
MJ: 0 0 0

PHI: Tasha Kai 1 (Unassisted) 46′
PHI: Amy Rodriguez 1 (Danesha Adams) 81′

PHILADELPHIA INDEPENDENCE — Nicole Barnhart, Leigh Ann Robinson, Nikki Krzysik, Kia McNeill, Estelle Johnson, Jen Buczkowski, Tina DiMartino (Joanna Lohman, 56′), Sinead Farrelly, Veronica Boquete, Tasha Kai (Danesha Adams, 63′), Amy Rodriguez (Laura del Rio, 85′)

Substitutes Not Used: Lori Lindsey, Val Henderson, Gina DiMartino, Lianne Sanderson

MAGICJACK — Jillian Loyden, Marian Dalmy, Christie Rampone, Lydia Vandenbergh (Ella Masar, 72′), Becky Sauerbrunn, Shannon Boxx, Sophie Schmidt, Megan Rapinoe, Sarah Huffman (Nikki Washington, 86′), Abby Wambach, Christen Press (Lisa De Vanna, 46′)

Substitutes Not Used: Karina LeBlanc, Tina Ellertson, Omolyn Davis

TEAM STATS:
PHI MJ

Shots 20 17
Shots on Goal 13 9
Fouls 3 6
Offsides 3 6
Corner Kicks 2 10
Saves 8 11

MISCONDUCT SUMMARY:
MJ: Christie Rampone (Caution) 12′
MJ: Abby Wambach (Caution) 86′

Referee: Ted Unkel
Referee Assistants: Marlene Duffy, Ross Kleinstuber
4th Official: Katja Koroleva
Attendance: 5,410