Flash look to rebound as Wambach makes home debut

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Wambach, Kerr propel Flash to first NWSL victory

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

Even though it was postponed for four days, Abby Wambach’s Western New York Flash home debut was sterling.

First-half goals from Wambach—her first in the NWSL—and 2012 WPSL-Elite leading scorer Adriana buoyed Aaran Lines’ team to a 2-1 win over Sky Blue FC in front of a reported 2,127 at Sahlen’s Stadium.

“I thought we came out hungry and came out aggressive,” Flash head coach Aaran Lines said, “which was very important since you didn’t see that in previous games. It was our best first half of the season and best [overall] half of the season.”

19-year-old Australian starlet Samantha Kerr contributed to both goals—although she was only awarded one official assist—furthering her torrid start to the NWSL season and dazzling her old international coach, current U.S. women’s coach Tom Sermanni, who made the trip to Rochester to catch the match.

For the second straight home game, the Flash struck within the game’s first 10 minutes, as midfielder Veronica Perez clipped a long pass over the top of Sky Blue defender Caitlin Foord, allowing Kerr to run into acres of space behind the visitors’ defense.

Waiting patiently for her attacking teammates to burst into the box, Kerr slid a pass on the ground to Adriana Martin Santamaria at the top of the six-yard-box, and the Spanish international coolly slotted the ball inside Brittany Cameron’s near post.

“I got behind the defender, cut in and waited on the delivery until we had someone there to score,” Kerr explained, “and I saw AD making a run in there so I just kind of passed it into her and she finished.”

The clinical “take it to the end line and cross” marker seemed to fuel the Flash even more in Sky Blue’s defensive half, as the three-time reigning champs doubled their lead in the 20th minute.

Breaking down the left side again, Kerr swung in an out-swinging cross with her left-foot in Wambach’s direction, but Sky Blue FC center defender Christie Rampone, a U.S. Women’s National Team regular, whiffed on the clearance, nicking the ball ever so slightly to Wambach stationed just behind her, and Abby let the ball bounce once, shielded off an onrushing defender and pounded her side-volley into the ground and under a diving Cameron.

“I’m happy with the way we created opportunities tonight, we scored two wonderful goals, and it was entertaining for the people who came out tonight,” Lines concluded. “And the Flash won.”

“I have something to prove every time I’m playing in Rochester,” Wambach added after the game. “I don’t know if it’s because my family is up in the suites enjoying themselves, but all of Rochester expects me to step up and be their darling. I’m fine with that role, that expectation because it continually challenges me and pushes me for the entire 90 minutes. I’m expected to score goals and I’m expected to lead.”

Even though her home debut was pushed back a few days—she was held out of Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Boston as a post-concussion precautionary measure—Wambach’s homecoming satisfied the dedicated fans who came out to a midweek match in a city that also simultaneously hosted a do-or-die Rochester Amerks AHL playoff game.

“No effects from the concussion,” Wambach said, “and I really do feel so thankful that I’m playing for the WNY Flash, and our doctor who did a fellowship with a neuropsychologist, one of the best in the entire country, so we definitely had a lot of people—a lot of eyes and a lot of hands involved in the process.”

Sure, the eventual game-winner was an unexpected gift from a usually sure-footed defender, but in a season where few bounces have benefited the Flash, Kerr thought her club was due for a moment of fortune.

“We thought as a team we were quite unlucky in some of the results, as goals were getting scored against us late,” said Kerr, who’s coincidentally international teammates with Sky Blue’s Foord, the defender that Kerr beat with regularity.

“[The match-up] is fun, but It’s also not very fun when your teammate beats you or I beat her—we kind of get a little awkward about it after the game and don’t talk about it,” Kerr said with a hint of a smile.

Sky Blue clawed back just before the half, swinging the game’s momentum in the 44th minute. Danesha Adams passed through a gap in the center of the Flash defense, and O’Hara sprinted onto the through-ball before trying to touch it around the charging Franch.

The rookie keeper touched the ball away from O’Hara, who followed the loose ball, turned her back to goal, then sent a square pass to Sophie Schmidt stationed 14 yards from goal. The Canadian international placed her first-time shot inside Franch’s near post—the sprawling goalie narrowly missed getting a finger to the ball.

Often a goal in the dying moments of a half can wholly reverse the direction of a game, but Lines’ club regrouped in the locker room and roared out of the gate again, creating two scoring chances before 10 minutes had elapsed.

Flash captain McCall Zerboni stormed in on a tackle, generating an odd-man rush 25 yards from the Sky Blue goal. Seeing a small window at Cameron’s near post, Zerboni bent a shot that was barely pushed aside by her former teammate—the linesman did not agree with pleas from Flash attackers that Cameron had pushed the ball over the end-line.

Zerboni played creator on the next foray forward, smoothly facilitating a give-and-go with Kerr down the left flank, sending the Australian into another deep 1 v. 1 situation against a help defender. Kerr sent a hip-level cross in again—it was bungled by Wambach, but Veronica Perez knifed in and flicked her first touch toward Cameron, forcing an alert save.

As the match pressed toward its conclusion, however, Sky Blue FC brought on more offensive pressure in substitute forward Monica Ocampo (replaced Kendall Johnson in 67’), whose pace and movement opened up space for the visitors.

The Flash’s back four stood tall—with a little aerial assistance from Wambach in defending Sky Blue’s eight corner kicks—and several players stepped in for vital challenges in the game’s final third.

A three-woman wall blocked an O’Hara free kick from 20 yards away. Steady Angela Salem dispossessed Manya Makoski at a crucial juncture. Alex Sahlen, Brittany Taylor, Zerboni and Estelle Johnson deflected shots away from danger by any means possible, a scenario that impressed Wambach.

“I think desperation was what this team was all about it in the last 15 minutes—it wasn’t pretty,” the U.S. second-leading goal scorer admitted. “People were taking balls to their faces, players were blocking shots with whatever body parts they could, and there was one sequence where it was ‘blocked shot, blocked shot, AD makes a save,’ and right then I knew that we had something, that we’d crossed over a threshold into a believing mentality.

“It’s nice to know my team can manage a lead over 45 minutes,” Lines added. “Psychologically that’s very important for us.”

The Flash hope that Wednesday’s result, which vaults them to a three-way tie for third in the National Women’s Soccer League table, attracts a bigger crowd to May 11’s home match against FC Kansas City.

“These three points will hopefully do something not only for this team and its confidence, but also for the confidence of our fans,” Wambach noted. “People want to go see a winning team, and that’s our job as players to continually perform so we win games and can get as many people in those stands as possible.”

“I came home to play in front of my crowd, and I want to show off this town.”

TAGGED: aaran lines, abby wambach, kelley o'hara, nwsl, samantha kerr, sky blue fc, sophie schmidt, western new york flash, wny flash, women's soccer

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