Ashlyn Harris was looking for a bit of redemption, and she earned it in championship fashion.
With less than three minutes left in regulation, the Western New York Flash were looking to ride a 1-0 lead straight to the title. However, Harris made a poor play that led to the Philadelphia Independence tying the game and forcing overtime.
Harris made up for the gaffe after two scoreless overtime periods when her stop on Laura del Rio, the fifth and final shooter for Philly during penalty kicks, enabled the Flash to clinch the Women's Professional Soccer championship in their first season in the league. Western New York, the regular-season champ, captured the playoff title, 5-4 via penalty kicks, in front of 10,461 at Sahlen's Stadium on Saturday.
"That goal would have haunted me for sure," Harris said of the regulation goal. "And we were tired. For those players to put away the PKs they did against that good of a goalkeeper [Philadelphia's Nicole Barnhart] says a lot. Everyone was focused. Everyone was confident walking up there. We're happy and we're proud of each other.
"I credit my teammates. I can't put this game completely on me. I'm so proud of my team. Every single person. Not just the 11 players who started. The full, entire group, collectively we won this. It wasn't an individual effort. That's what team sports are all about. That's what winning championships is about. It's all about being together and enjoying this moment."
After an uneventful first half, the Flash started to take control of the pace of the game. Christine Sinclair finally broke the scoreless tie in the 64th minute when she took a ball from Candace Chapman, streaked toward the net and buried the shot with her left foot inside the right goal post.
The Flash seemed to be in control, but a lapse from Harris and a nice finish by Amy Rodriguez tied the game. Philadelphia's Danesha Adams took a shot which hit the near goal post, and Harris failed to control the rebound. Rodriguez followed up with a shot and goal, knotting the game, 1-1, in the 87th minute.
Good scoring chances were available for the Flash in the final three minutes of regulation and three minutes of extra time, including Beverly Goebel's shot hitting the crossbar in the 89th minute, but the game went into two mandatory 15-minute overtime periods.
In the second overtime, Goebel picked up her second yellow card, sending her to the bench and forcing the Flash to finish with 10 players.
The Flash had a chance to win in the 120th minute on perfect placement on a corner kick from McCall Zerboni and a great header by Caroline Seger, but Barnhart came up with a huge save to preserve the tie and send the game into penalty kicks.
"We practiced PKs for 10 days leading in but obviously this is a different stage," Flash coach Aaran Lines said. "You want to make sure your players are comfortable. Obviously the soccer gods were on our side a little bit because it's PKs."
The soccer gods and experience helped the Flash on those penalty kicks. Three of the five players taking PKs for the Flash -- Marta, Sinclair, Seger -- played in the World Cup.
Marta, Sinclair, Zerboni, Seger and Yael Averbuch all scored for the Flash on their penalty kicks. The Independence connected on their first four shots, but Harris moved to her left and stopped the fifth shot by del Rio to give the Flash the title and earn herself some redemption.
"We've been working on PKs for the last little while knowing that the championship could come down to it," said Sinclair, who took home Championship Game MVP honors. "I don't think any of us wanted to see it come down to penalty shots. But we were saying the whole time when we were putting them in the back of the net that Ashlyn was going to save one for us. And she came up huge for us on that last one."
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The crowd of 10,461 was the largest for a WPS final. In 2009, the championship game drew 7,218 while last year's final drew 5,228. In the first half, a squirrel found its way onto the pitch and was running in circles in the goal box in front of Philadelphia keeper Barnhart. Security eventually moved the squirrel off the field but the animal's antics added eight minutes of extra time to the opening half. This was Philadelphia's second straight appearance in the WPS final and second straight year as runner-up.