Expansion team Philadelphia Independence will host the Washington Freedom in West Chester, Pa. Sunday, September 19 in the first round of the 2010 WPS Playoffs presented by MedImmune.
Freedom, the only team in WPS history to make back-to-back playoff appearances, went through an 11-game winless streak during much of the summer before turning their season around by defeating Independence at home in Boyds, Md. Their record after the winless streak was 4-1-2.
Independence, in the meantime, are coming off from a four-game losing streak, but they've won seven of their 12 home games, two of which were victories over the Freedom. The narrow turf field in West Chester appears to be a big factor, which was why the Freedom have been training on the Maryland SoccerPlex's turf field the past couple of days.
"We have been practicing on turf," said Freedom goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris. "The ball's different, it's faster, it bounces a bit differently. So it's important to have a feel for that type of surface."
"We've been working on possessions in a small area because their field is the smallest field we will face," said Freedom team captain Cat Whitehill. "But I don't think it's any stroke of luck that the top three teams are from turf fields. And I think that there's a little bit of an advantage to that. So we've been working on the turf up here to try and equalize our advantage a little bit."
The record between the two neighboring teams is 2-2-0. Each has a U.S. Women's National Team (U.S. WNT) star forward—Abby Wambach for the Freedom and Amy Rodriguez for the Independence.
Wambach's 88th-minute goal last weekend was her 13th for the season, just surpassing Rodriguez to earn second place in the league's leading goal scorers.
Rodriguez flourished this year with the expansion team, scoring 12 goals to last year's one with the Boston Breakers. She was named WPS Player of the Week three times this season, while U.S. WNT strike partner Wambach earned the title twice.
Each also has two tired Europeans coming in. Freedom's French midfielder Sonia Bompastor and Norwegian striker Lene Mykjaland helped their respective national teams last Wednesday to qualify for the 2011 Women's World Cup (WWC) in Germany.
Then on Thursday, Independence's Swedish midfielder Caroline Seger and Swedish defender Sara Larsson played the full 90 minutes with their national team to defeat Denmark and also earn a spot in the WWC.
"That I'm worried about," said Independence head coach and 2010 WPS Coach of the Year Paul Riley when asked about the tired legs coming in. "But you know what, it's a Cup final. And I would think Seger wants to play. Knowing Seger, she wants to play. And I would think Sara Larsson too. She has asked for the clips to be sent to her.
"We've been sending clips of Washington players this week, we've been doing match analysis to send them out, so she can watch them. Just because they were in Sweden or Denmark doesn't mean they weren't focused on what we're doing."
Whoever wins in this game will have travel up to Boston and play against the Boston Breakers on Thursday night for the semifinal game. The winner from that game will then have to catch a flight to the Bay Area to play against regular season champion FC Gold Pride for the title three days later.
"It's the playoffs man. There are three games to win a championship," said Riley. "We gotta do three things we haven't done yet: beat Boston, beat Gold Pride, and win three games straight.
"And it starts with Washington."
Find out which team will emerge victorious and advance to the semifinal round. Tune in to FSN at 2:30 PM ET, or catch the webcast on womensprosoccer.com.
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