Five things to know about the WPS final
For the first time in the three-year history of Women's Professional Soccer, the No. 1 seed will meet the No. 2 seed in the final.
The top-seeded Western New York Flash will host the Philadelphia Independence on Saturday at 4 p.m. at Sahlen's Stadium in Rochester, N.Y.
Last year, Philadelphia won a first-round game at home as the third seed and then upset the second-seeded Boston Breakers to reach the final, where the Independence lost to No. 1 seed FC Gold Pride.
In 2009, fourth-seeded Sky Blue FC fought through the unique WPS stepladder system, ousting the third-, second- and top-seeded teams (at their home fields) to take the title.
Here are five storylines to watch for the WPS final:
1. Battle of the single names
The WPS player of the year is Philadelphia's Veronica Boquete, but most people around the league these days simply call her "Vero."
The Spanish playmaker has had a rapid rise in 16 months. Last year, she played with a previous incarnation of the Flash in the mostly amateur W-League, winning the league title, then moved to the Chicago Red Stars for the last few games of the WPS season. Not content to stop there, she moved to Spain's Espanyol to play that team's fall and spring seasons.
Vero debuted for Philadelphia on June 4, and the Independence are 10-1-1 with her in the lineup. Though Boquete usually lines up in the midfield and can set up teammates' chances, she's also a potent goal scorer.
Like Vero, Flash superstar Marta can create chances or put them away. She earned her one-name moniker the old-fashioned way: She's Brazilian.
The five-time FIFA World Player of the Year also had an argument for WPS player-of-the-year honors, returning from the World Cup to push Western New York into first place and the right to play in and host the final.
Marta has played every minute of the first two WPS finals, losing with Los Angeles in 2009 and winning with FC Gold Pride last year.
2. Been there, done that
Marta isn't the only three-timer in the final. Defensive midfielder Jen Buczkowski of the Independence has faced off against Marta in every minute of the finals, winning with Sky Blue and losing with Philadelphia last year. She returns for this final along with Val Henderson and Allison Falk. Henderson and Falk each is looking for her first win in the final in three tries, though neither is expected to play Saturday.
Counting Henderson and Falk, 10 of the 14 players who saw action for Philadelphia in the 2010 final are still on the Independence roster. Joanna Lohman, who missed last year's final with an ankle injury, should be ready Saturday.
Forward Tasha Kai is new to the Independence this season but won the 2009 title with Sky Blue, passing to Heather O'Reilly for the lone goal.
Western New York is an expansion team but collected seven players from last year's champion, the now-defunct FC Gold Pride -- including Marta, Canadian forward Christine Sinclair and New Zealand defender Ali Riley.
Three more Flash players started along with Marta in the 2009 game: Yael Averbuch with Sky Blue, and Brittany Bock and McCall Zerboni with Los Angeles.
And the Flash picked up one player from last year's Independence side, spark-plug Swedish midfielder Caroline Seger.
3. De-fense! (clap-clap), De-fense! (clap-clap)
The finalists are the two stingiest teams in the league, each allowing just one goal per game.
The Flash have the league's goalkeeper of the year (Ashlyn Harris) and defender of the year (Whitney Engen), each of whom received strong consideration for the U.S. World Cup roster. Two Flash defenders made the trip to the Cup: Canadian Candace Chapman and last year's WPS rookie of the year, Riley.
Philadelphia's defense has fewer awards and fewer World Cup players, though goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart was with the U.S. team in Germany this summer. But it's an experienced group, anchored by captain Nikki Krzysik, who played every minute along with Buczkowski.
4. Of-fense! (clap-clap), Of-fense! (clap-clap)
The finalists also are the two highest-scoring teams in the league. The Flash led the league with 40 goals, while the Independence scored 31.
Marta claimed the league's Golden Boot award as top scorer with a late surge to get to 10 goals in 14 games. Sinclair also scored 10 goals, but Marta earned the boot because she played one fewer game.
Kai led the Independence with nine goals. Boquete had five goals and four assists.
5. Rude visitors
The spoils of regular-season victory are byes in the playoffs and home-field advantage. Each team had a strong home record of 7-1-1.
But in this series, that record might not matter. Each team inflicted the other's sole home loss.
Western New York was missing a handful of players when the teams met June 12 in Rochester, but Marta and Riley had not yet departed for World Cup duty. Philadelphia also was missing its World Cup players, but Henderson posted a shutout in place of Barnhart.
Independence forward Danesha Adams scored in the 90th minute for the lone goal in a game that featured more fouls -- 15 per team -- than either team usually commits.
The teams met only once with all of their World Cup players available, on May 29 in Philadelphia. Megan Rapinoe, later traded to magicJack, gave Philadelphia a 1-0 lead, but the Flash answered quickly with two goals and held on for the win. But even in this game, Philadelphia wasn't at full strength -- Boquete had not yet arrived from Spain.
Neither team was near full strength for their final meeting of the season on July 9 in Philadelphia. The Independence, who had fewer players occupied with the World Cup and didn't rely on them most of the season, took a 2-1 victory.