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

Jeff Kassouf July 31, 2011 3

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.

  • Greg

    The stadium debate is an interesting one because both venues have positives and negatives.

    As for teams, WNY (or should I say Alex Morgan and co.) is clearly the squad most guaranteed to draw great attendance figures at home OR away. And of course WNY vs magicJack at Sahlen’s would be the crown jewel of finals for many reasons. Being the draw that they are, having WNY finish second might open up the possibility of two “massively” attended matches(mJ@WNY, WNY@Phi), whereas WNY finishing first would only set up one (?@WNY). mJ could possibly bring out the crowds though. If so, mJ@SBNY, mJ@WNY, WNY@Phi might be the most attended combo (or mJ@Bos, mJ@Phi, mJ@WNY). Tough one to predict though.

    As for the stadiums themselves, while PPL would look nice – and it would surely be a nice thing to witness a title match on natural grass instead of Fieldturf (not to mention no lacrosse, football, or field hockey lines!) – Sahlen’s would be more intimate and atmospheric and in all likelihood more comfortable in terms of climate (the prospect of thousands of empty seats at PPL is a concerning one, regardless of how many thousands would be filled). However, unlike Rochester/Buffalo/Toronto(?), Philly has the potential to draw from across a heavily populated region(VA, DC, MD, southern PA), and one starving for women’s soccer after recently having its own WPS franchise taken from them (hmm, maybe that’s not a plus afterall…). Fascinating stuff.

  • I would disagree that WNY is the top draw – except for Alex Morgan, MagicJack has most of the “name” WNT players. They don’t draw more at home only because they don’t do any publicity and they can’t fit that many fans in, anyway.

    On another note, would Veronica Boquete qualify for Rookie of the Year? Yes, she was in WPS last year, but – so far as I can tell – only for 180 minutes. Certainly she should be considered for a couple of post-season awards. Philly would be down in the middle of the standings without her.

  • newsouth

    MJ is the draw. Look at WNY attendance without an Abby game. Best draw is MJ finishing third, and knocking off Philly than going to Sahlen. You can probably guranteed with MJ’s roster 10k plus in a MLS stadium in Philly. Morgan alone is not doing to draw like Hope, Abby, Rapione, etc. It’s also important that MJ beats WNY at home this upcoming game. That’s an even bigger build. Hope Magicdan is letting Abby and Rampone get the straight. Walked through Boston.