I wrote a really great article last night in which I looked at every player on both the Flash and the Spirit and talked about how the matchups would determine the winner on Sunday. There was a nice paragraph or two about how these teams are real teams—totally committed to unselfish play. I compared the midfields, looking at the strengths of each (they're both very, very good).
But when I saved it, Chrome crashed and immediately closed. I stared at the screen in disbelief. And then I went to bed.
So, it's gone forever. There is no browser cache to recover, no no screenshot available to simply re-type. And I'm not going to attempt to re-do what I did last night. The truth is, there is one main factor that will determine tonight's winner: team speed.
The Spirit have some speed, especially up top. And anyone watching their last match can attest to the speed of the allegedly slow and defensive-minded Ali Krieger who ran down Steph McCaffrey as the Red Star forward pushed down the sideline. But the Spirit don't depend on speed, and their game isn't speed-based. I think it may cost them a trophy today.
Western New York Flash
Because I cover the Breakers in person, I get to see the Flash more often than any other opponent. They're stupid fast. All of them. It's unfair. And when they start making subs, the entering player is sometimes even faster than the departing player. Defenses can counter speed by pressing, but that only works until the pressing team gets tired. Plus, the Flash have some of the best distribution play you'll see, so they'll just make you chase the ball and wear you out faster. Or draw you up field to press and send someone streaking past you who will collect a nice pass behind your back line and punish you.
Also, they're not just fast. This is a team stacked with TOUGH players, TALL players, TALENTED players. Tough, Tall and Talented. They'll get every header. They'll collect passes that would be out of reach of shorter-legged players. They'll explode through a seam to collect a pass that shorter opponents wouldn't attempt, but that Sammy Mewis can loop around a player because of her leg span (think "wing span" but for legs). And because they're all about the team, they'll pass to the open player instead of looking for a star. Up top, they're all stars. Williams and McDonald combined for 21 goals in the regular season, with a Golden Boot, MVP and USWNT call-up for Lynn Williams as gravy.
All of this adds up to an NWSL Championship in my estimation. The Flash are too fast and too talented to be stopped, and I don't think the atmosphere in Houston will compare to what they faced in Providence Park last week. I expect some opening jitters, but I think they'll settle down and play their fast brand of football, putting the Spirit on the back foot early and often. No extra time should be required to crown this year's champions.