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Analysis

Philly, WNY continue to jockey for top spot, right to host final

First place in WPS continues to be a case of ‘anything you can do, I can do better.’ The Western New York Flash defeated Sky Blue FC 4-1 to tie the Philadelphia Independence on top of the WPS  table for all of about 23 hours. Philly responded on Sunday with a 1-0 victory over the Atlanta Beat thanks to a 62nd minute from Veronica Boquete.

Boquete has been on fire since coming to the Independence mid-season. She has five goals and four assists in just nine games with the Independence. Boquete has been the spark to this Philly team, whose highly technical midfield duo of Boquete and Tina DiMartino is completely unappreciated in a league with far bigger stars.

With the victory, Philadelphia (10-3-3, 33 pts) is once again alone atop the table but with two games in hand on the WNY Flash (9-2-3, 30 pts.). So Western New York controls its own fate in this heated race. Philadelphia won two of the three regular season meetings, meaning it owns the tie-breaker between the two teams.

That sparks an interesting debate: Would Rochester or Philadelphia be a better host for the WPS final on August 27?

Sahlen’s Stadium proved that it can be a gem for WPS on July 20 when 15,404 fans turned up for the homecoming of Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan and company. But Rochester still hasn’t proven that it will support WPS in numbers anywhere close to that without Wambach playing on the opposing team.

Philadelphia’s home, Leslie C. Quick Jr. Stadium on the campus of Widener University, is the least aesthetically pleasing surface in WPS. It isn’t just a football turf. It’s a small, overcrowded field with a blue endzone on each side that fills up a good portion of the 18-yard-box.

But wait. In a moment of sheer brilliance (and utter necessity) from the Independence organization, Philadelphia will play its playoff game at PPL Park, home of Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union.

PPL Park presents Philadelphia with a proper grass pitch in a state of the art soccer specific stadium. That’s a win for Philadelphia, WPS and Fox, which will broadcast the First Round game on Fox Soccer and the Super Semifinal and Championship on Fox Sports Net. The Independence organization believes that it could potentially put about 7,000 or 8,000 fans into PPL Park for a playoff game, which would be a very respectable playoff crowd.

Really, it’s the soccer specific turf in Rochester vs. the soccer specific grass in Philadelphia. The only distinguishing factor would be whether or not magicJack finds its way to the final. If that somehow happens, WPS will surely hope for another Wambach homecoming in Rochester. But in what is shaping up to be a great race, the host of the championship probably will not be determined until the final weekend of the regular season.

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