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WPS Extra Time: Shaping up for another runaway regular season champ

Giovanni Albanese Extra Time

Is there any stopping this “expansion” Western New York Flash club? Short answer: No. And really, anyone looking to find a conceivable reason as to who will supplant them from their first-place standing heading into June would be hard pressed to do so.

Last weekend, WNY hosted magicJack in a battle of Women’s Professional Soccer’s top two clubs. Entering the match, magicJack — in a strictly on-the-field analysis — was making its way through the league with ease. And while the Flash was having an easy time thus far, as well, you wouldn’t have expected the 3-0 triumph over a club that puts the United States Women’s National Team keeper Hope Solo in its nets, as well as the scoring machine Abby Wambach at striker. (Don’t forget another national teamers Shannon Boxx and Becky Sauerbrunn, as well as quality players Nikki Marshall, Tina Ellertson and Ella Masar.)

And it seems like, in addition to the consistent threat of Christine Sinclair and Marta, there is someone new stepping up each win. WNY has gone 5-0-1 in the young season, only tying Atlanta on the road, 2-2, in their second match — Marta’s first.

Week 1, in a 2-1 win over the Boston Breakers, rookies Gemma Davison and Alex Morgan helped out with a goal and assist, respectively; Week 3, in a rematch against the Beat, the Flash won 3-0 at home and the back line of Whitney Engen, Ali Riley, McCall Zerboni and Candace Chapman didn’t allow Atlanta to get on track as they did the week prior; Week 4, another three-goal performance in a 3-1 win over Sky Blue FC, it was the rookie Morgan again, factoring in the first and third goals, notching a goal and assist; Week 5, a high-scoring 3-2 win vs. Boston at home, Zerboni stepped up from her usual defensive-minded approach to net a brace and add an assist; and Week 6, the Flash — in another three-goal match — Ashlyn Harris kept the strong magicJack offense off the board with seven stops.

WNY is doing it from all over. Just when you thought they’d be losing the most when the World Cup rolls around at the end of June, maybe not.

And when you see some of the stats, it gets scarier. They are not only scoring a lot, they aren’t allowing much at all. In their six matches, they’ve allowed six goals. Only magicJack, who has played four matches, has allowed fewer (4). Western New York’s goal-differential is remarkable, scoring 10 more than they’ve allowed (16-6). Philadelphia is the next closest in differential with a plus-two.

If Sahlen’s Stadium continues to seat anywhere near the figure they did over the weekend (8,076), the home-field advantage will be the greatest in the league, and for the greatest team in the league that doesn’t need the added adrenalin rush.

I guess the real question should be: Can the Marta effect play that big a difference? So far the answer is a resounding yes.

Things to look for this week

Is there a chance attendance can keep going up? Over 8,000  in attendance to see a field in Rochester, N.Y., with Marta, Abby Wambach and Hope Solo; over six thousand to view the always exciting Boston-Philadelphia rivalry; and just under three thousand to watch Atlanta and Sky Blue FC. Not bad at all. This weekend is highlighted by Philadelphia and Western New York down in Chester, Penn, Sunday on Fox Soccer. Atlanta heads to Florida to take on magicJack in front of … maybe 1,000 fans at FAU Soccer Field on Saturday. Also on Saturday, Boston will head to Piscataway, N.J., and vie for a road win over Sky Blue FC.

Power Rankings

1. Western New York Flash

2. Philadelphia Independence

3. Boston Breakers

4. Sky Blue FC

5. Atlanta Beat

6. magicJack (who is really struggling after the league’s slap on the wrist)

Player of the Week

Ashlyn Harris — similar to Nicole Barnhart last season — is flying under the radar as Western New York Flash cruise through the early going of their inaugural season. In six matches, Harris has allowed six goals and recorded two clean sheets. That included a 3-0 win over the weekend against magicJack. Impressive. And player of the week worthy.

Quote of the Week

“For a rookie, she’s played like a veteran. I can’t ask more of her.” That coming from Boston Breakers coach Tony DiCicco of his rookie standout Keelin Winters. Winters headed a ball at goal that Barnhart made a tough save, and Lauren Cheney finished it up to secure a 1-1 draw with Philadelphia.


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