The Western New York Flash have not lost since one week after Independence Day. It took a grueling two-week road trip for them to get in sync this season, but boy, have they gotten in sync.
Since July 11, the Flash are 4-0-3. They have accrued 15 of a possible 21 points since starting the year 6-4-5.
The Flash, led by goal-scoring forwards Abby Wambach (11 goals) and Carli Lloyd (eight), are the No. 1 seed as the National Women’s Soccer League playoffs get under way today. WNY, which leads the league in goals (36) and goals allowed (20), is shooting for its fourth championship in four years. The club’s quest will commence in the semifinals versus Sky Blue FC (10-6-6) at Sahlen’s Stadium in Rochester.
Head coach Aaran Lines led the team to three titles from 2010-12.
“I think from Day One, when you come to the Western New York Flash, I think the message is pretty clear that we want to contend for a championship every year,” Lines said. “And then you back that message up with preparing your team to succeed and it starts in training; it starts in the preparation during preseason and how we manage players and the mentality that we create here.
“It’s a winning mentality, from the front office through to the coaching staff. It’s important that everyone’s on board. Our players see that. Our players buy into it.”
The winning mentality has certainly been evident of late. The Flash (10-4-8) won their final regular season game, 2-1, over the Boston Breakers last Saturday to squeak past FC Kansas City and Portland Thorns FC for first place. All three teams finished with 38 points, but the Flash held the tiebreaker. They’ll play fourth-seeded Sky Blue while Kansas City and Portland square off in the 2-3 matchup.
WNY has a 3-1-0 record against Sky Blue this season and has earned 3-0 shutouts in the past two meetings.
“We know their positionings up top, what their strengths are, a couple of their weaknesses,” said rookie goalkeeper Adrianna Franch. “At the end of the day, it’s about what we do.”
Franch, who leads the NWSL with 98 saves and has seven shutouts, said she has been fortunate to play with veterans like Wambach, the all-time leading scorer in women’s soccer history, in her first season.
“It’s an eye-opener,” Franch said. “The different levels, different views of the game. When you come in here as a rookie, you just try to be a sponge and soak it all in, and that’s what I’ve been doing.”
Brittany Taylor, one of WNY’s top defenders, played for Sky Blue from 2010-11. She and Franch both said it’s camaraderie that has helped this Flash team improve so dramatically since struggling early in the season.
“I think just pulling together as a team and hard work and dedication to what we’re doing and buying into a goal,” Taylor said. “Sometimes we might not have been the best team on the field, but we were able to pull together and get that extra goal to be able to get a point out of it, where I think that some other teams might not have been able to be in that situation.
“So when we have to get stuck into battles or put our backs against the wall, we’ve banded together and fought to get anything and everything out of what we could.”
Lines, the head coach, has been with the organization since it was the Buffalo Flash in 2009. As a player, the now-36-year-old was a midfielder on New Zealand’s national team. As a coach, he has taken his team to titles in the W-League (2010), Women’s Professional Soccer League (2011) and the Women’s Premier Soccer League Elite (2012). The Flash have played this season in the newly formed, eight-team National Women’s Soccer League.
He said the organization has been so successful year in and year out because the Flash recruit for character.
“Sometimes you put groups together, and obviously when you’re signing players, you try and have dialogue with them,” Lines said. “And then you get feedback on character. Quality is very important. Quality of player is very important, but it’s also important that it’s matched up with character right next to it.
“I know this group has got both quality on the field and character and a real desire to want to prove a point.”
The Flash will start their postseason quest to prove a point at 8 p.m. Fans who don’t make the trip to Rochester can watch the game on Fox Sports 2.