Paul Riley is nothing if not honest. So following last week’s gut-wrenching semifinal loss to the Western New York Flash, the New York Fury head coach was extremely candid with his team.
“I told them just like I did in Philly (Independence, WPS) last year, ‘this team will never play together again. So I hoped you enjoyed it.’”
No sports team ever comes back the following season entirely intact, but in this case the reasoning goes deeper than just the simple team tweaking. As the Fury and their seven WPSL Elite comrades concluded their seasons at various stages over the last two weeks, they were dismissed into another winter of uncertainty for women’s pro soccer in the United States.
The 2012 Fury came together quickly, a late replacement team in a late replacement league that sprung up abruptly after WPS shut down in early February. Not originally one of the eight WPSL Elite teams, the Fury decided to make a go of it after Aztec MA pulled out.
Riley was able to convince a number of his Independence players to make the jump to the Fury. The entire starting back line from the 2011 championship match — Estelle Johnson, Kia McNeill, Nikki Krzysik, and Leigh Ann Robinson — was on the Fury roster, and all but Johnson started the semifinal match against the Flash. The fourth starter, Brittany Taylor, started for two seasons at Sky Blue FC.
Allie Long and Sinead Farrelly (another former Independence player) came in to anchor the midfield. The DiMartino sisters, who grew up a stone’s throw from Hofstra University where the Fury played their home matches, also jumped on board (Tina left the club midway through the season). The glut of former WPS players made the Fury an instant success despite forming late and being challenged at forward throughout the season.
“We’re not fit,” Riley kept saying early in the season.
“We can’t finish,” he said at other times.
Merritt Mathias and Megahn Lenczyk had their moments, but too often the Fury were a midfield heavy side that rarely made decisive final passes into dangerous areas. The coach mixed and match every way he knew how — McNeill even ran up top a bit — but scoring remained an issue. Casey Nogueira was ushered in for the regular season finale and playoffs but had little impact.
In that last regular season match against the Red Stars, Riley briefly tried moving Long up higher on the field to make better use of her creativity. He quickly abandoned the concept.
“We tried it, but she just fell right out of the game,” he said after the match.
The road to the playoffs was not particularly difficult for any of the four semifinalists. The structure of WPSL Elite practically guaranteed there would be four good teams and four bottom feeders. It played out exactly that way. The New England Mutiny were the best of the also-rans, working out a draw against the Flash and defeating the Breakers, but even combined with a forfeit victory over Chicago the Mutiny missed the playoffs by eight points.
When the playoffs came the Fury got an early goal from Long and rode a 1-0 lead for nearly 70 minutes until a pair of sloppy defensive plays led to two quick goals and a 2-1 semifinal loss.
“It’s a tough loss,” Riley said. “I thought for (75) minutes it was our best performance of the season and then we just lost our way. We made two catastrophic defensive mistakes.”
There were many times during the season when Riley seemed displeased with his team’s effort, sometimes hinting that the drop from WPS to WPSL Elite for many of them caused a lack of motivation. But he said they all trained hard and were dedicated to what they were doing.
“I’ve got nothing bad to say about them. They dug in. It’s tough coming from WPS and sometimes playing stadiums that aren’t so suitable.
“It wasn’t our time to win it.”
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