Val Henderson's state of the Independence
With the luxury of a bye to the semifinals in this year's WPS playoffs, my Philadelphia Independence teammates and I were able to watch the first-round game rather than compete in it. So this Wednesday night, a bunch of us got together for a little dinner party with chefs Laura Del Rio and Veronica Boquete (masters of Spanish cuisine) to enjoy good food and company and size up our opponents -- either magicJack or the Breakers.
Over pan tumaca and tortilla Española (look them up), we yelled at the TV, hoping for red cards and overtime, an exhausting game at the least. And although a lightning delay didn't force the game to be played one day closer to the super semi, we did see a hard-fought match, the result of which brings magicJack to us this Saturday at 4 p.m. at PPL Park.
Twitter has been blowing up with speculation as to who will advance to the WPS final to face the Flash, with many asking who has the more dangerous attack -- Marta, Christine Sinclair, Alex Morgan and Caroline Seger, or Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe, Sarah Huffman and Lisa De Vanna?Excuse me, people, but why was there no Option C: the Independence? Tasha Kai, Amy Rodriguez, Danesha Adams and Boquete? Philly is certainly not looking to step out of magicJack's way and wish them well to the final.
No, instead we've been preparing, just as we always do (a little more intensely perhaps) for the next game. "The biggest game of the season thus far" as our coach names every game, but this time it's undeniably true.
Prior to the quarterfinal, there wasn't a lot we could do in terms of opponent preparation. We continued to work on ourselves. But since finding out who we'll face, we can pick apart specific game tapes and make the necessary adjustments to give ourselves the best chance possible of getting to the final.
In practice, we stay serious, knowing we can't afford to ease off the gas when competitive and fiery sessions have been our source of success all year. The media days, extra appearances and interviews, all staged to fill this weekend's stands, go to the wayside once we get on the field and start going.
At the same time, however, we can't afford to take ourselves too seriously. This week Tasha Kai -- who always takes her chances with the video game claw machine at our training facility -- won a little toy princess crown, complete with jewels and earrings.
Not to waste an opportunity, we staged a pre-practice ceremony to crown Princess Vero, WPS Player of the Year. Crowned and bedazzled, Vero was escorted down the steps of our facility, where she met a cheering crowd of supporters (our team) and waved and curtsied, just as a princess should. (Our coach, Paul Riley, just named the 2011 WPS Coach of the Year, just got the standard ice-water attack from behind.)
So as we close in on the opening whistle, we do our best to control our emotions, be disciplined and do all the extra little things that will keep our minds and bodies prepared for the big game, and that always includes having a little laugh.
Hopefully, we'll still be laughing Saturday evening and looking forward to the next "biggest game of the season."