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Yet again, Rochester, N.Y., finds itself hosting an important women’s soccer match

WNY Flash midfielder and captain McCall Zerboni has been critical to the team's success the last three years. (Photo copyright Meg Linehan for The Equalizer)

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – The corner of Broad St. and Smith St. in a largely forgotten area just west of downtown isn’t a much desired location.

The streets are generally empty unless a there’s a baseball or soccer game that night, and those stadiums are on the cusp of a neighborhood that is among those typically not suggested for a Sunday stroll.

But at the corner of Broad and Smith is Sahlen’s Stadium, which has in some short order become the place where important women’s soccer matches are played.

This is where the 2011 WPS Championship was played. This is the city that practically shutdown for the return of Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan and the U.S. women upon their return from the 2011 World Cup. And it’s where Wambach score her 100th international goal for the U.S., in front of her hometown crowd in 2009.

Sahlen’s is an unassuming park – open-ended behind one goal, no roof and plenty of bleacher seats. It lacks the bells and whistles of more appealing stadiums in bigger markets, a fitting home for the Western New York Flash.

Aiming for their fourth championship in four seasons – in a fourth different league – the Flash have  quickly become viewed as the standard of success.

“One thing they’ve done here is that every player that comes in here, they know that unless it’s a title, the season isn’t a success,” said Jeff DiVeronica, Flash beat writer for the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. “That’s the culture they’ve created.”

Aaran Lines has been coach of the team since it began play in 2009, leading the team to each of those three titles. “It makes us very proud of what we’ve accomplished here in recent history, the last three years,” Lines said.

Continuity has been part of the success, although Alex Sahlen is the only player to have been a part of each championship. Zerboni is in her third title game with the Flash.

“I think that we have a staple here at this club,” said captain McCall Zerboni, who has been with the team since 2011. “We have a philosophy and a system that we stick by, no matter what league we’re in or what season it is or who is on our team.”

It’s fitting that Rochester, self-proclaimed “Soccer Town USA” after a string of success in past decades with the NASL’s Lancers and the USL’s Rhinos, plays host to Portland, dubbed “Soccer City USA,” one of the main attention-grabbers in today’s soccer culture.

MLS’ Timbers draw arguably the most passionate support in the league, alongside Pacific Northwest neighbors Seattle Sounders FC. And the Rose City lived up to the hype for the Thorns, too, averaging a women’s domestic club soccer record 13,320 fans per game this season.

The Thorns’ home opener crowd of 16,479 that showed on April 21 was a watershed moment for women’s soccer. But for all the flashy numbers and unmatched support at JELD-WEN Field, the Thorns are still new to the WoSo world. The Flash want to keep hold of their dominance. And doing so would keep Rochester at the center of women’s soccer success.

“We’ve earned that,” Zerboni said. “We work hard as women’s players to get the attention and the support that we need. Fortunately we are in a great area where people have caught onto that and realized the greatness that they have in their backyard and they’ve really supported us. That’s another reason why our club has been so successful; that 12th man behind us has been so successful for us. It’s still a work in progress being a women’s soccer player – it will always be – but we’re still pioneers and we’re trying to make this work.”

As of Friday afternoon, 8,500 tickets had been sold for the final.


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