Independence's Riley named WPS coach of the year

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Heather Mitts and the Independence start the playoffs Sunday at West Chester University. (Clem Murray / Staff File Photo)

Paul Riley of the Independence was named Women's Professional Soccer coach of the year on Thursday, but he would trade that award for an extended postseason run.

The Independence (10-10-4) finished as the No. 3 seed and will host the No. 4 Washington Freedom (8-9-7) in Sunday's opening round playoff game at 2:30 p.m. at West Chester University.

The winner will face the No. 2-seeded Boston Breakers away on Thursday, with the winner of that game visiting top-seeded FC Gold Pride of Northern California in the Sept. 26 championship.

"It's a great honor, but it's more important we win Sunday," Riley said of the coaching award. "The players have been fantastic, and we have built a good culture."

The Independence are not entering the postseason with momentum. They dropped their final four regular season matches.

"Nothing has changed, and we have been passionate in practice, and we still believe in ourselves," Riley said. "Plus, I think we're a different team at home."

The Independence certainly are different against Washington. The teams split their four regular season games, each winning two games on their home field.

Riley said he would start Val Henderson in goal Sunday. Henderson played 10 games and had a 5-5 record and 1.50 goals against average. Karina LeBlanc played 14 games and had a 5-5-4 record and a 1.50 goals against average.

LeBlanc has been away competing for Canada, which lost a 5-0 friendly on Wednesday to Germany. "KK [LeBlanc's nickname] hasn't been here at practice, and we feel it's best for this game to have Val in goal," Riley said.

A key to stopping Washington is to contain forward Abby Wambach, who had 13 goals and eight assists.

Both teams will be at full strength, with players from both squads returning in time from national-team commitments.

 


Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225 or mnarducci@phillynews.com.