ROCHESTER, N.Y. — When Aaran Lines goes about selecting players for the Flash the first thing he asks them is if they want to win a championship. There are few players who would say no when posed with that question, but in Lines’s case he has managed to find the right mix of players three years in a row. If the Flash beat the Thorns in Saturday night’s NWSL Championship it will make four consecutive titles. The catch? The Flash have played in a different league each of the last four seasons.
“It started with 2010. 2010 paved the way to professional football for us,” said Lines, now in his 5th season coaching the Flash.
They were the Buffalo Flash then, a mostly unknown team in its second season that was playing in the shadows of WPS. But ownership wanted in the light and they put together a bid to join WPS. An initial plan to split their home schedule between Buffalo and Rochester was scrapped in favor of settling in at Sahlen’s Stadium, freshly renamed for the club’s main sponsor, Sahlen Packing Company.
“We try to do everything with quality and professionalism,” Alex Sahlen said. Sahlen is the team president, the daughter of owner Joe Sahlen, and was the starting right back until an injury ended her season July 31. “That was important to us from day one that we were going to run the organization very professionally and have the best quality of everything.”
The newly named Western New York Flash wasted little time adding the best quality of players. Between November 2010 and January 2011 they convinced Marta to remain in the U.S., signed Christine Sinclair, and drafted Alex Morgan. The result was a fabulous club that won the regular season championship and edged the Philadelphia Independence on penalties to win what turned out to be the final WPS championship.
“2011 was an incredible memory with a great team,” Liness aid. “It was an unbelievable experience. I still remember walking out here seeing 10,000 people, 12,000 people, whatever it was (10,461) coming out to support us against a very good Philly team.”
The next stop was joining the hastily thrown together WPSL Elite, a mix of WPS holdover clubs and amateur sides with high ambitions.
“Obviously it was really disappointing with WPS folding but we wanted to keep the brand alive so we went into that,” Sahlen said.
The Flash won that league also, again taking the final at Sahlen’s Stadium, again on penalties, this time after being rescued by a 96th minute equalizer. Lines is guarded when he addresses the media but there is a modicum of pride that comes to the surface when he discusses his 2012 club.
“We thought we were going into WPS and ended up with WPSL Elite. You all know the scenario. We didn’t have the best roster but were able to get through that semifinal team against a very good Paul Riley coched New York Fury. We made our way into the championship game and actually Chicago put on their best performance of the season that day against us. Late in the game we kind of found our way in it and won it on PKs.
“For me personally that was a big one because I was expected to win in 2011 with what I was given. 2012 those expectations weren’t necessarily there and it was a lot of coaching.”
The NWSL represented an opportunity for the Flash to move back to the top flight. It was one they jumped at. And here they are; back at Sahlen’s Stadium where the club needs just one more victory to add another level to what has already been a unique run. The good news is that, in the short run at least, NWSL is not going anywhere. The Flash will be back in 2014 and there will not be a fifth different league for them to join.
Lines said the current team compares more to last year than 2011 in terms of expectation.
“From our history I think people had us on the radar and expected us to be in the mix,” he said. “But what this team has accomplished has been incredible. To go through a 22 game season and only lose four games against the caliber of opponent we have faced just shows the grit, determination, and togetherness of a special team to make it to this point.”
All part of the Flash’s commitment to quality and professionalism.
“That’s what we strive for on and off the field,” Sahlen said, “and I that’s what’s led us here today I think.”
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