IN THE WORLD of Women's Professional Soccer, she's unavoidable.
Her name is Marta, the modern day Mia Hamm who is a legend in her native Brazil, and in the tiny microcosm that is the WPS, she's the showstopper who doesn't come cheap. Tomorrow when the Independence, an enigma in itself this season, travel to upstate New York to take on Marta and the Western New York Flash (4 p.m., CSN) it will be revenge for a club against a player who captured her third WPS title at Philadelphia's expense last season with the now-defunct FC Gold Pride. Marta celebrated her first league championship with the Los Angeles Sol in 2007, another team that when belly-up after winning the title.
In a league that has been struggling to stay afloat since its inception, it has been tough for some teams to manage Marta and her $500,000 price tag - a salary that reportedly is 20 times the league average.
"Marta is a special player but so are [Independence forwards] Natasha Kai and Amy Rodriguez," Independence coach Paul Riley said. "We will play Marta tight and physical but more importantly we will cut off distribution to her. Hopefully that will force Marta to go in the midfield searching for the ball. The further we get her away from the goal the better. Our defense needs to have their best game of the season and I would not want it to be any other way."
In the case of the Independence, a back-to-back WPS championship berth speaks volumes for a club that started the early part of the 2011 campaign near the bottom of the six-team table.
Through a collective team effort, the Indy somehow has managed to rebound this season, despite the loss of three vital starters (Rodriguez, midfielder Lori Lindsey and goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart) during the FIFA Women's World Cup in Germany. Philadelphia finished second with 36 points, securing an automatic trip to the WPS Super Semifinal.
In the semifinal, the Independence dispatched Abby Wambach - hero for the U.S. women's national team in Germany - and magicJack SC (formerly the Washington Freedom, now based out of Florida), 2-0, setting the stage for tomorrow night's finale. The Independence are 2-1 against the Flash this season.
"Our goal was to be in the WPS Championship game when we set out in March and now we are here," Riley said. "We are totally focused on playing our best 90 minutes of football of the season."