Last summer I travelled to Washington, D.C. to watch Washington Spirit play Chicago Red Stars in the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL), this year unfortunately my dates in America did not coincide with a Spirit home game and instead gave the opportunity to get to another NWSL side - Western New York Flash.
WNY Flash are a club formed in 2008, originally named Buffalo Flash. In 2011 the Flash joined the Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) league and became Western New York Flash. The club won the league title in their first and only WPS season, as the league would fold in early 2012.
The remaining WPS clubs formed a league of their own after the collapse - the Women's Premier Soccer League Elite. Once again the Flash were crowned league champions, playing just one season in the WPSL Elite.
In fact, WNY Flash had won the league title in each of their previous 3 seasons, having also lifted the trophy in the W-League in 2010 - a familiar face to Liverpool supporters, Gemma Davison, helping them to an unbeaten campaign.
The club has further ties to Liverpool Ladies through USA international Whitney Engen, who signed to the club initially in 2011 - picking up the title of WPS defender of the year. Engen signed for Liverpool the following winter and, as with her year at the Flash, won the league title with the Reds before departing for Tyreso FF in the Sweden.
In 2013, WNY Flash joined 7 other clubs in forming the National Women's Soccer League. A league formed by the U.S. Soccer Federation, each side would be assigned players from the USWNT along with players from Canada and Mexico. Each team has 3 spots for international players and their rosters are completed by domestic players from the United States.
Flash would end the 2013 season top of the league, picking up the NWSL shield. However following the regular season end, the top 4 sides compete in the play offs for the league championship with Flash falling to a 2-0 defeat to Portland Thorns in the final.
The following season the league was expanded to 9 teams, Flash came 7th, 7 points adrift of the play off spots after 12 defeats during the season. With 42 goals scored they had scored more than 5 out of the 6 teams above them and finished on a +4 goal difference.
Before the 2015 campaign, Whitney Engen returned to the club after being traded with Carli Lloyd by Houston Dash, Sydney Leroux also moved east, traded by her club Seattle Reign for Abby Wambach.
Other notable former players include Marta, Ashlyn Harris, Christine Sinclair and Alex Morgan.
Unlike the FA Women's Super League, the NWSL has continued throughout the Women's World Cup, meaning that teams have been without their national team players; each side losing a number of players and perhaps slightly skewing the league's results so far.
Prior to the home game with Seattle on Friday 3rd July, WNY Flash had played 9 games - 4 wins, 4 defeats and 1 draw putting them mid-table with games in hand over the teams above them in the league.
The opening 5 games seen the most damage; back-to-back defeats on the West Coast to Seattle Reign and Portland to start the season, conceding 6 goals and scoring just once - through Jordan Angeli.
Flash's opening home game against Boston Breakers recorded a 3-1 victory, Whitney Engen and Sydney Leroux both featuring for the first and only time at Sahlen's Stadium this season - this being the final club game for them before joining up with the US Women's Soccer Team. Leroux was on the scoresheet to tie up the result following earlier goals from Samantha Mewis and Becky Edwards.
The win was followed by a double header with FC Kansas City, the two teams playing eachother home and away within the space of a week. Kansas beat the Flash 1-0 in Rochester before playing out a goalless draw at home days later.
The next 4 games began to establish a better run of form for the upstate New Yorkers, battling Washington Spirit to a 3-2 win - after Spirit had twice come from behind to equalise - Lynn Williams, Sam Mewis and Jasmyne Spencer with the goals and rookie goalkeeper Robyn Horner drafted in to replace the injured Sabrina D'Angelo and the suspended Chantel Jones.
Jones returned in the next game, a 3-1 win over the as-yet unbeaten Chicago Red Stars, saving a late penalty on her first league start for the club. Sam Mewis scored her 3rd goal of the season to open the scoring, assisted by new signing Elizabeth Eddy who would also score the Flash's second goal. Jamia Field's netted the third and final goal.
The upturn in fortunes on the pitch was also reflected in the stands, with crowds of 2,110 and 2,514 recorded at the Washington and Chicago game respectively. These numbers followed earlier season crowds of 1,873 and 1,802.
Back on the road WNY fell to a 2-0 defeat at Houston Dash, before beating Boston Breakers 2-0 for their first away win of the season with goals from Lynn Williams and Elizabeth Eddy.
Staying in New York City, without access to a car, the only reasonable way of getting to the game was via train. A 15-hour round trip, 7 and a half hours there, 7 and a half hours back. I will never complain about getting the train to Widnes for Liverpool's home matches again!
The team play their football in Rochester, at the 13,000+ capacity Sahlen's Stadium. All-time USA leading goal scorer Abby Wambach hails from Rochester and, having played for her hometown club, the path leading into the concourse of the stadium is named after her - Wambach Way.
2,377 fans were in the stands - the highest home attendance of the season yet - possibly a knock-on effect from the USWNT success in reaching the World Cup final, which was to be played 2 days later, piquing interest.
As you enter the stadium, you're handed a free programme and greeted by the club mascot - named Striker! They have a tent where you can buy the team shirt, t shirts, scarves, footballs and USA merchandise - and even print the shirts, if you want a player name, there and then for you.
The Flash's opponents on the day were former Arsenal coach Laura Harvey's Seattle Reign side, the 2014 regular NWSL champions who famously went the entire season unbeaten before being defeated 2-0 by FC Kansas City in the Championship final. Reign boast Kim Little and Jessica Fishlock, Stephanie Cox and Keelin Winters amongst their ranks and had already beaten the Flash 5-1 earlier in the season.
Seattle lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, Haley Kopmeyer in goal with Lauren Barnes and former Notts County defender Rachel Corsie the central defenders ahead of her, Stephanie Cox at left-back and Kendall Fletcher on the right. Keelin Winters partnered Mariah Noguieria in midfield, with Kim Little playing behind forward Beverley Yanez - Jessica Fishlock to their right and Danielle Foxhoven to their left.
WNY Flash seemingly lined up 4-1-4-1, Chantel Jones between the posts and the back four in front of her composed of, from left to right, Jaelene Hinkle, Brittany Taylor, Abby Dahlkemper and Elizabeth Eddy. Ashley Nick occupied the space between the back four and the midfield four, which had Amanda Frisbie on the left, Jasmyne Spencer on the right and Becky Edwards and Samantha Mewis in the middle. Lynn Williams playing as the lone striker.
The opening five minutes presented Reign with the opportunity to take a hold of the game, the front four were passing the ball well but unable to break down the home side's defence. Harvey's side like to pass the ball out from the back, their first move of the game saw Mariah Nogueira attempt to carry the ball forward from deep in her own half. Flash intercepted and mounted an attack of their own, which was thwarted by Keelin Winters.
Kim Little pulls all the strings in Seattle's attack, receiving the ball with her back to goal on the 3rd minute, turning to make a short pass to Jess Fishlock the ball back in field to Winters, Winters just as quickly sending the ball back out to the left wing to Stephanie Cox. The fast move let down by the final cross, low into the box and easily collected by centre-back Abby Dahlkemper.
The Flash's stand out player, particularly in the first half, was Samantha Mewis; quick to close players down, good control on the ball when under pressure and covering a fair amount of the pitch - her early pass out to Lynn Williams was converted for a corner, from which Jaelene Hinkle sent Flash's first shot of the game wide of the post.
Hinkle's strike was the first of 9 chances for the Flash in the first 45 minutes, as they earned 5 corners in total. The first on target after Jasmyne Spencer's cross headed towards Williams was cleared for a corner - Little's attempts to clear blocked by Brittany Taylor who powered the ball back forward for Dahlkemper to get her head on it, Haley Kopmeyer in the Reign goal in a good position to catch the header.
Amanda Frisbie seen her effort go over the crossbar, Becky Edward's header was well-saved and Brittany Taylor shooting wide of the post.
Up at the other end of the pitch, the visitors just couldn't find the breakthrough; Beverley Yanez was twice denied, first Chantel Jones producing a good save after Yanez had gotten on the end of a Little free kick, then the no.17 was intercepted on a run into the box by the brilliant Hinkle.
Flash's best period of the first half started with a quick counter attack, Jones had been quick off her line to claim a long ball and even quicker to distribute up the pitch for Lynn Williams. Williams sprinted to the opposition area, holding Little off, but her attempt to square the ball out wide was blocked.
Somehow WNY had failed to convert one of their many chances in the first half and the sides went in at the break goalless.
Out for the second half, the game continued much the way of the first, with Flash dominating. Hinkle almost picked out Spencer with a ball over the top - Lauren Barnes heading away. Spencer then held Reign's Steph Cox off to pass infield to Becky Edwards, Edwards turned and tried to play the ball forward yet towards Williams. Although the pass did not reach it's intended target, seconds later Williams beat the Seattle back line but couldn't convert her shot.
Flash were left rueing their missed chances after conceding a penalty in the 53rd minute. Kim Little with a through ball played in front of Jess Fishlock, who picked it up at the edge of the area and was adjudged by the referee to have been fouled by Dahlkemper. Little stepped up to take the spot kick, sending Jones the wrong way to put Seattle in the lead (at this point, the Flash PA system began to play Shania Twain's 'That Don't Impress Me Much' - you don't get that in Widnes!).
Undeterred Flash continued to press forward, Spencer teeing up Edwards for a shot which went wide, Mewis seeing a shot saved and Eddy and Spencer almost combining to set up Edwards for a header.
Both teams made a number of substitutions in the second-half; for Seattle, Danielle Foxhaven, Beverley Yanez and Mariah Noguieria made way for Kiersten Dallstream, Elli Reed and Amber Brooks while WNY subbed on Ajara Nchout Njoya and Kristen Hamilton for Amanda Frisbie and Ashley Nick.
Flash finally got the goal their performance deserved, Elizabeth Eddy fantastically beating her marker in the box to cut the ball back up for Lynn Williams to smash the ball past Kopmeyer - the pair had combined in the previous home game against Chicago Red Stars and even though Eddy was playing further back, managed to combine again to create the equaliser. Eddy signed for Flash just 2 months previously and looks to be a versatile, promising addition.
The game would finish all square, the home team recording 20 shots to their visitors paltry 1 and almost giving the biggest crowd of their season a grand stand finish on the 90th minute when Williams' strike was tipped over the crossbar. From the corner, Jess Fishlock headed away initially, Williams sending it back in for Brittany Taylor to attempt a backheel at the edge of the 6-yard box - Kopmeyer was wise to her actions and saved at close range.
Overall the game itself was thoroughly enjoyable - disappointing that Flash didn't walk away with all 3 points! The team now head across country to face Seattle at their ground, before a run of 3 home games against Sky Blue FC, Houston Dash and Portland Thorns - games which should see the return of Engen and Leroux. Hopefully the side can start converting their chances and finish in the play off spots, I'd like to finish this blog by wishing the team and staff the best of luck for the rest of their season!