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Sahlen does what she can to contribute

Alex Sahlen is the daughter of the owner, the wife of the head coach, the president of the team. Sahlen is connected with the Western New York Flash in every imaginable way. At the home opener, she even presented gift baskets to her teammates to welcome them to their new home.

But Sahlen is a competitor. She identifies herself as a player first. When Sahlen helped put together the Flash, she knew she was undermining her own position. The more top talent they signed, the smaller her role would be. It wasn't easy to accept, but there was a larger goal -- assembling a rare collection of women's soccer players who would give this area a team to remember.

The Flash became a "Dream Team," losing twice on its way to the WPS regular-season title. On Saturday afternoon, they'll attempt to complete the dream when they host the Philadelphia Independence in the championship game at Sahlen's Stadium in Rochester.

Sahlen, 29, isn't likely to play. She has appeared in only two games this season, when the Flash were shorthanded during the World Cup. A year ago, she was a mainstay on The Flash's W-League champs.

Now she sits. She's not alone. The Flash roster is dotted with players who could be regulars on other teams, but have accepted lesser roles.

"You always put the team above your own personal interests," said Sahlen, who played at Iroquois High and Niagara University. "That's being part of a team. We're role models for the youth and girls in the area. At some point, you learn that if the team is successful, everyone is successful.

"I've only been in this situation once before in my life. It's been hard, but you have to be honest with yourself and respect the coaching staff's decisions. I want what's best for the organization. If that means I'm not playing, that's what has to be done."

Getting the coach's ear isn't a problem. Sahlen is married to coach Aaran Lines. Joe Sahlen, her father, owns the team. There are no favors. Try finding someone who works harder.

Alex helped get apartments for her teammates. She arranged flights, worked on news releases, ordered uniforms. She probably made coffee, too.

"I always feel responsible for everything that happens here," she said. "It shouldn't really be like that, I always feel like I have to make sure everything is OK and the girls are happy."

Sahlen trained especially hard for the season, knowing she would be playing with some of the world's best, like Christine Sinclair, Alex Morgan and Marta. The outside back was among the top five on the team in fitness testing. Then, in a preseason game against a men's team, an opponent's elbow broke her rib.

"That was one of the biggest setbacks I'v ever had," Sahlen said, "because it was so hard sitting on the sideline. It was already going to be an uphill battle for me to even get on the field. On top of that, I lost everything, because I was out for two months. I lost all my fitness. I couldn't touch a ball for six weeks."

When you're hurt, it's hard to feel part of a team. But as soon as she was able, Sahlen resumed working out with a passion. She trains with Lines every day. It's common for her to stay after practice for an hour and work out. Presumably, her teammates notice. How can the stars slack off when a reserve sets such a standard?

"She is such a great leader," said midfielder McCall Zerboni. "She never complains. And that's a tough role for her, having those connections in our office. She's handling a lot of roles right now, and she handles them like a complete professional."

There are bigger things than playing time and glory and stats. Maybe that's why the Flash have such rare chemistry, because so many players were willing to sacrifice and take on smaller roles for the overall good.

That will make it all the sweeter if the Flash win Saturday. It's hard to say where women's pro soccer is headed. But some day, when the sport is thriving and Sahlen is retired and coaching somewhere, she can look back with on this season as one where she showed what it truly means to be a teammate.

email: jsullivan@buffnews.com