Riley: 'Gutsy' win sums up Flash's season

ISI Photos-Brad Smith

Few expected Western New York to even make the playoffs, but the Flash kept fightin -- this year and on Sunday.

HOUSTON – Paul Riley didn’t think his team was the better of the two at BBVA Compass Stadium on Sunday, but it didn’t matter. His Western New York Flash beat the Washington Spirit, 3-2 in a penalty-kick shootout after scoring a dramatic equalizer in the 124th minute.

It was ugly, to some degree, and players and coaches from both sides all seemed to agree after the match that Washington was the better team. None of that matters to the Flash.

“It was just a gutsy performance,” Riley said. “I think that game probably summed up the season for us.”

Though he deflected the topic, there was some extra gratification for Riley, who won his first professional women’s championship after coming so close twice in Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) with the Philadelphia Independence. His last trip to a final was in 2011, when his Philadelphia team lost its second straight final. That year, he was on the wrong end of a penalty-kick shootout. The winner? A star-studded Western New York Flash.

Riley was able to draw some similarities between this Flash team and his Philadelphia teams of 2010 and 2011. Those Philadelphia teams were blue-collar underdogs, just like this new-look Flash squad.

“They reminded me a lot of that first Philly group, the youthfulness of them, and also the fact that everyone did write them off,” he said. “We (Western New York) didn’t have a great season last year, so I think it was an easier situation to come in. I went to Portland when they had just won the championship and they wanted to get better. They had just won the championship. So, I think it’s always tough to go into a place after you’ve won a championship.”

Sunday’s win continued that blue collar, chip-on-the-shoulder mentality with which the Flash have operated all season. The team was widely expected to be one of the worst in the league after two straight seventh-place finishes. Even Riley and his staff thought the team would need another year or two to truly reach its peak.

But Western New York scraped its way into the playoffs and then battled to a 4-3 extra-time victory over the Portland Thorns in last week’s semifinals. Sunday’s final required a little more dirty work, and the “get out of jail free card” – as captain Abby Erceg called it – from league MVP and Golden Boot winner Lynn Williams in the final seconds of open play.

“It just feels like this encompasses the entire season,” Riley said. “It’s been a great process and a great journey and we just kept plugging along. Every time teams wrote us off, we came back … it’s just good. It’s just an amazing feeling for the troops.”

He continued: “We didn’t play our best performance, but I think they’re young. Their legs got heavy early in the game and they weren’t able to play better, but I think having tasted it, hopefully they’ll want more. Hats off to them; they were awesome.”