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NWSL Championship notebook: When Riley coached Crystal Dunn

Like most Long Island soccer players, Crystal Dunn once played for Paul Riley. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

Like most Long Island soccer players, Crystal Dunn once played for Paul Riley. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

Like most Long Island soccer players, Crystal Dunn once played for Paul Riley. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

Here are the latest news and notes from NWSL Championship week.

when paul riley coached crystal dunn

Among the many interwoven connections between the teams battling for the NWSL Championship on Sunday is that Paul Riley once coached a young Crystal Dunn. As one of the most respected youth coaches on Long Island there are not many female players to have come out of the area without crossing paths with Riley.

“She was in our club for probably six years,” Riley said. He admitted that at the time he did not see Dunn evolving into the player she is today.

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“No I didn’t. Crystal has done amazing. I’m so proud of her. The one thing we try to do in our club is to make them love the game. If they love the game then they’ll go on and play more and do more and want more. (Dunn’s) whole how she made it to where she’s got is because she loves the game. People say the only reason she’s a good soccer player is because she’s so athletic. That’s absolutely not true. She loves the game. She puts a lot into the game and you can see massive improvement. When she was a kid she couldn’t use the left foot like she can today, she couldn’t receive the ball like she does today.”

Sunday it will be up to Riley to try and slow down Dunn and the Spirit attack.

when riley and gabarra sparred in WPS

Jim Gabarra and Paul Riley have been coaching against each other since 2009 covering multiple leagues and multiple teams for each.

“We’ve had a lot of great games together over the years me and Jimmy,” Riley said. “Constant is probably a good word for (Gabarra teams.) They’re steady, professional, good possession team, good technically. I respect him a lot he’s a great coach.”

“They’ll be prepared,” Gabarra said of what to expect from a Riley squad. “They’ll have a very solid game plan and they’ll execute it,” a more succinct Gabarra said.

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Sunday will be the first final between the veterans of the women’s game, but they did have one memorable playoff tussle. It was September 19, 2010—a scorching hot day in Philadelphia. Riley’s Independence and Gabarra’s Washington Freedom battled through 120 intense minutes of scoreless soccer. Only a series of remarkable saves by Ashlyn Harris kept it scoreless until finally the Independence got one off that Harris could not handle.

“Good old Amy Rodriguez,” Riley recalled.

“I was devastated,” Gabarra said. “I was close to the sack, as close as I’ve ever been. We managed to pull it together to get in the playoffs. We had a very talented team. The way the overtime was going I wanted it to go to penalties because I thought Ashlyn easily would have won in penalties. And then literally the last kick of the game to give up a goal was really heartbreaking.”

The Independence went to Boston for a midweek Super Semifinal that again required extra time to win. It left them spent for the final the following weekend, a 4-0 loss to FC Gold Pride. Gabarra avoided the sack but wound up leaving the Freedom on his own terms. He left in the nick of time. Before the year was out Dan Borislow purchased the team and turned them into magicJack. The Washington Freedom never played another game.

d’angelo’s wrist odyssey

Assuming the Flash start their usual lineup on Sunday, four of the 11 will be first round picks from 2015. A fifth draft pick from that season will also start the match. Sabrina D’Angelo was the 21st player and second goalkeeper selected. If she gets the win on Sunday she will have an NWSL Championship to go next to her Olympic bronze medal that she won with Canada. But it nearly came unraveled on May 21 before a Flash match against Sky Blue FC.

“I was coming across the goal for a save, it was a cutback, and the girl just drilled it from the six-yard box and my wrist just got caught in my body,” D’Angelo recalled. She wound up with a broken wrist which she played through that night before undergoing surgery.

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“No,” she said when asked about whether she considered skipping the match. “Once my adrenaline was going there was no stopping. I said let’s just tape it up and we’ll deal with it after.”

Fortunately for the D’Angelo the Flash raced out to a 4-0 lead, taking some of the pressure off. “I remember in the second half I threw at a ball and was like, ‘Oh my goodness that hurt.’”

Only D’Angelo and Flash trainers knew she had been injured, a fact confirmed by McCall Zerboni who was sitting next to the 23-year old keeper as she spoke. “We kept it on the DL.”

Rehab went smoothly enough that D’Angelo went to Brazil as Steph Labbe’s backup. She admits to feeling some pain during her one appearance, a win over Zimbabwe, but said she has felt great since returning to the Flash and taking back the number one keeper position.

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