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WPS All-Stars top Umea 4-2 in playoff format that could stick

The inaugural Women’s Professional Soccer All-Star Game kicked off in successful fashion Sunday with the WPS All-Stars downing Swedish powerhouse Umea IK 4-2 in Saint Louis.

Christine Sinclair led the way with two goals and Marta and Kristine Lilly tallied the other two that led the collection of the world’s best players to victory.Umea IK opened the scoring in just the 3rd minute when Madelaine Edlund finished a through ball from Mami Yamaguchi. Then, in the 18th minute, Sofia Jackobsson gave the visitors a shocking 2-0 lead early on.

The lead would not last long though.Boston’s Kristine Lilly scored off an assist from Los Angeles’ Marta in the 24th minute to cut the lead in half, and Marta’s 41st minute goal leveled the game just before halftime.

Then, FC Gold Pride’s Christine Sinclair – who came on as a halftime substitute – took over the game. She scored in the 47th and 50th minutes to put the WPS All-Stars ahead, and the team never looked back.With a high-scoring, entertaining game completed, the next question for the league is where to go with the All-Star game in the coming years.  Major League Soccer has created a spectacular annual event by pitting its top 18 players against one of the world’s best clubs ever since the tradition began in 2003 when the MLS All-Stars took on (and defeated) Chivas de Guadalajara at the Home Depot Center.

After a successful first try in front of 4,115 fans at the Anheuser-Busch Soccer Park in Fenton, MO, WPS definitely has something to build off of in the coming years.With an obvious absence of many German players in the league, it would be wise to pit the WPS All-Stars against a German Women’s Bundesliga team such as current champions FFC Turbine Potsdam.

Not only would true bragging rights be on the line, but it also might make German players, coaches and fans more aware of the success of WPS on and off the field and help bring more interest over from the one truly untapped country as far as the league is concerned.The German ladies are also the defending World Champions after winning the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup, which could be an interesting point to look at in 2011.

Worrying about league schedules in 2011 will surely be a nightmare for Commissioner Tonya Antonucci and company, but the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup (which happens to be in Germany) could be a blessing in disguise.The Final will be played on July 17, 2011, meaning that the champion will be crowned well before the end of the WPS regular season. What more could women’s soccer fans ask for then to have the best players in WPS (and the world) playing the world champions?

It would be too short of notice for the league to book the team after July 17, but there are realistically only a handful of teams that will likely make the semifinals. If WPS could lock up one of those national teams, it would have a great marketing tool either way as a team fresh off of a world championship or a team looking to avenge disappointment.

There is even the option that MLS explored in early years of pitting the U.S. national team against league all-stars. With so many internationals finding success in WPS, having American WPS All-Stars play the WPS All-Stars from the rest of the world could make for a very exciting match-up. The game could even serve as a victory tour for the world champions, although there might be little interest if it were any team other than the United States.

Either way, there are many different directions to go with the WPS All-Star Game and all of them could provide very exciting showdowns. It would be wise of the league to avoid any type of East vs. West or inter-league format for several reasons, including personnel and geography.Just three of the nine teams next year will be based West of the Mississippi River, and with just nine teams in the league, there may not be enough (36) players worthy of being called all-stars.

For now, the league and the 18 players that participated should enjoy the inaugural victory and start to plan for the coming years. If WPS continues to bring in such high-level talent, it may just have to get away from this year’s format, because all of the world’s best players will be right here in the United States.


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