She Saved Three: Three Thoughts on the Western New York Flash Championship

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The Second Coming

In the first part of this decade we saw the raise of a young forward who had speed, grit and something indescribable about her. I don’t quite remember what I thought the first time I saw Alex Morgan play, but I imagine it was something like what I felt watching Lynn Williams’ performance in the post-season this year. Granted, the National and NWSL stages are wildly different in terms of size and impact, but with her play this year Williams has proven that talent is not confined to just the largest platforms.

Watching Lynn Williams play was magnificent. Only her second year in the NWSL, and already she plays as if she was made for the sport, as if she was created to play the kind of soccer that comes with the pressure of being the league’s tops scorer. The pressure?  It doesn’t even seem to register. 

Did she have moments of quiet, long stretches of minutes when she was not the focus of play? Yes, almost all players have those moments in games. And even more in a game situation where both sides played 120+ minutes in their semifinal matches just days before. 

Throughout the 2016 season, Williams and her teammate Jess McDonald formed what might be one of the greatest forward partnerships a player or team could wish for.  Between them, their stats include 21 goals and 12 assists during their 1650 minutes of play (out of a possible 1800). What they were able to do together might be go down in NWSL history as one of the best pairings of all-time, joining the ranks of Holiday/Rodriguez and Fishlock/Little, if, of course, they can keep this up for another season.

I will forward to see what she does when the USWNT jersey is on her back.

A Narrative of Loss

One of the points that members of the Western New York Flash returned to repeatedly over the championship weekend was the fact that their season had initially been discounted by the media.

Paul Riley was frank and amused by it, calling out media reps for it during the pre-game press conference on Saturday. In the post-game press conference, MVP Sabrina D’Angelo noted that the team had adopted that narrative as a sort of inspiration for their season, the chance that they would be able to write their own story because of it. And one Flash player reportedly laughed after the game, saying “They said we’d be ninth!” while celebrating their win.

Being the underdog, and the freedom it gave the Flash in determining their own story, might be why the Western New York Flash won this game. The power that comes from being united together behind a narrative of powerlessness imposed upon them from an outside source might have inspired Lynn Williams to put just a little more reach on her jump when she put the game tying header past Wys in the last seconds of stoppage time. Maybe there is magic in everyone doubting and you and, in believing against all odds you can climb the mountain with a boulder on your back.

Maybe the magic is in hearing the odds being stacked against you, and deciding not to listen.

She Saved Three

I’ve been thinking about the NWSL final for almost a week and that is what I come back to time after time: Sabrina D’Angelo saved three penalty kicks.

And not only did she save three penalty kicks, but she saved two penalty kicks taken by seasoned national team level players Ali Krieger and Diana Matheson. The third against Tori Huster, an NWSL veteran.

This might be one of the greatest penalty kick performances of a goalkeeper at the club level in living memory. She didn’t benefit from players just missing their penalty kicks while she stood in goal. 

She saved them.

It’s said that you depend on your goalkeeper to save one penalty kick and all your players to hit theirs. But Sunday night, D’Angelo did more than anyone could have ever hoped to depend on her for.

And for her performance? She was awarded the 2016 NWSL Championship MVP trophy.

Which, to much amusement, she dropped as she headed into the press conference with Riley and Flash captain Abby Erceg.

But when it counted? When her hands had to be rock solid?

She saved three.