NWSL: Young stars on display in Sunday's final

Fans will get a peak at what might be the future of the U.S. women's national team when the Washington Spirit faces the Western New York Flash in the NWSL final Sunday at Houston's BBVA Compass Stadium. The Flash, which lost in the final three years ago, is loaded with young talent, led by three players called up to the U.S. women's national team, while the Spirit features U.S. Olympians Ali Krieger and Crystal Dunn.

WNY FLASH. The Flash went the NWSL final in 2013, the league's first year, when it lost to Portland, failing in a bid for an unprecedented four straight league titles in four different leagues. That's right, the Flash had won championships in the W-League, WPS and WPSL Elite.

The only projected starter from the team of three years ago is McCall Zerboni, who played on the W-League and WPSL Elite Flash teams and returned to the Rochester-based team after playing for Portland in 2015 and Boston for the first part of 2016.

The 2013 Flash included such stars as hometown hero Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd. Since taking over as technical director in late 2014, Charlie Naimo, the architect of the old Pali Blues, the great South California program, has been rebuilding the Flash with young talent. Coach Paul Riley is expected to start seven players ages 23 or younger.

The breakout star is former Pepperdine star Lynn Williams, who was named the NWSL MVP after leading the league with 11 goals and five assists. The Flash had four of the top seven picks in the 2015 College Draft and all are starters: Abby Dahlkemper and Samantha Mewis, both out of UCLA, Williams and Jaelene Hinkle, who attended Texas Tech.

Williams, Dahlkemper and Mewis, an alternate on the 2016 U.S. Olympic team, will join the USA for a pair of matches against Switzerland after the NWSL final, while Hinkle was in the national team last fall and into this summer.

The Flash will be without Riley, who was ejected in the thrilling 4-3 overtime win at Shield winner Portland in the semifinals and is suspended for the final.

WNY Flash Probable Lineup:
DEFENDERS:
PLAYER (COUNTRY, AGE)
Abby Dahlkemper (USA, 23)
Abby Erceg (New Zealand, 26)
Alanna Kennedy (Australia, 21)
Jaelene Hinkle (USA, 23)
MIDFIELDERS:
PLAYER (COUNTRY, AGE)
Elizabeth Eddy (USA, 25)
Samantha Mewis (USA, 23)
McCall Zerboni (USA, 29)
FORWARDS:
PLAYER (COUNTRY, AGE)
Lynn Williams (USA, 23)
Jessica McDonald (USA, 28)
r-Makenzy Doniak (USA, 22)
GOALKEEPER:
PLAYER (COUNTRY, AGE)
Sabrina D'Angelo (Canada, 23)
r=rookie.



WASHINGTON. After losing in the semifinals in 2014 and 2015 under Mark Parsons, the Spirit finally cleared the first hurdle of the playoffs with a 2-1 overtime win over Chicago.

The Spirit led much of the last part of the regular season before conceding the 2015 Shield to the Thorns on the final day of the season. Krieger scored the first goal and Nigerian Francisca Ordega scored in the 111th minute.

Dunn, the 2015 NWSL MVP with 15 goals, only managed two goals in 13 games in 2016 as she made the U.S. Olympic team after missing out on the 2015 Women's World Cup team. But the Spirit got enough scoring from other players -- Argentine Estefania Banini with five goals, Diana Matheson, Joanna Lohman and Katie Stengel with four -- to compensate for the drop in Dunn's production.

The Spirit took the six of seven games in July and August to take the lead only to relinquish it to the Thorns after losing its last two games of the regular season.

Like the Flash, the Spirit is coached by a women's pro soccer veteran in Jim Gabarra, who returned home after three seasons at Sky Blue FC. He coached the old Washington Freedom in WUSA, the W-League and WPS, winning a WUSA championship with a team that featured Mia Hamm and Wambach in 2003.

Washington Probable Lineup:
DEFENDERS:
PLAYER (COUNTRY, AGE)
Whitney Church (USA, 23)
Caprice Dydasco (USA, 23)
Shelina Zadorsky (Canada, 23)
Ali Krieger (USA, 32)
MIDFIELDERS:
PLAYER (COUNTRY, AGE)
Tori Huster (USA, 27)
Christine Nairn (USA, 26)
Joanna Lohman (USA, 34)
Estefania Banini (Argentina, 26)
FORWARDS:
PLAYER (COUNTRY, AGE)
Crystal Dunn (USA, 24)
Francisca Ordega (Nigeria, 23)
GOALKEEPER:
PLAYER (COUNTRY, AGE)
Kelsey Wys (USA, 25)
r=rookie.

1 comment about "NWSL: Young stars on display in Sunday's final".
  1. Patrick O'Reilly, October 7, 2016 at 12:30 p.m.

    HELP: is game on tv? What time + station. Thanks

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