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WPS Week Two in Review

This statement might just become a broken record in Women’s Professional Soccer (or maybe it has already), but this league is filled with parity, parity and more parity.

FC Gold Pride and Sky Blue FC sit at the top of the table after three weeks of play with six points each, but the Philadelphia Independence, Boston Breakers and Saint Louis Athletica are all right behind with five points apiece.  The Chicago Red Stars and the Atlanta Beat are the only two teams in the league without a victory and even they are one win away from being back into the mix of things.

Philadelphia supplied the most impressive result of the weekend.  After going down to the Washington Freedom at home in the second half, the Independence stormed back with three unanswered goals to win 3-1.  Defender Allison Falk had her second goal in as many weeks thanks to more great service from Lori Lindsey and perhaps most importantly for Philadelphia, forward Amy Rodriguez got on the board with the first goal.  That should give her some much needed confidence entering Saturday’s opening weekend rematch with Atlanta.

Sky Blue FC Head Coach Pauliina Miettinen said that fans should expect her team to play conservative and patiently, and she was not kidding.  Sunday’s 1-0 win over the Chicago Red Stars proved that yet again.  The 2009 WPS Champions have two wins in their first three games but have managed just three goals, two of which have come from Natasha Kai.  Sky Blue FC has been less than dominant in its two wins, which notably are both against Chicago.  In a head-to-head match-up with co-front runner FC Gold Pride April 17, Marta and Christine Sinclair came alive to give FC Gold Pride a 3-1 victory.  The two teams meet again Saturday in New Jersey, which interestingly means that through four weeks of play, Sky Blue FC will have only played two teams (twice each).  How the defending champions do against the rest of the league will be something to look for later in May.

“There were so many chances that Chicago created and all credit to them for those chances,” Miettinen said.  “Sometimes teams have to earn their luck and I think we fought hard today and we were a little bit lucky.”

She is going to need more than just luck to take down FC Gold Pride Saturday.  Midfielder Carli Lloyd had to exit Sunday’s game for Sky Blue FC in just the 36th minute Sunday with an ankle injury.  Sky Blue FC is still waiting on word from team doctors to see how long she will be out for.

For Chicago, the 1-0 loss means the team is still winless and has just one goal in its first three matches.

“We’re here to get results,” Red Stars Head Coach Emma Hayes said.  “We’re not putting the ball in the back of the net and that’s important for me to address that in training to make sure we’re finishing off our opportunities.”

Another high profile name that suffered an ankle injury was Tobin Heath.  The Atlanta midfielder and No. 1-overall pick in the 2010 WPS Draft was taken out of Saturday’s 2-1 loss to FC Gold Pride in just the 20th minute after going down with the injury.  Still waiting on word out of Atlanta on that one.  Things have not been easy for Heath in her young professional career.  She battled illness that kept her out all preseason.

Along with the Red Stars, Atlanta is one of only two winless teams remaining in WPS.  Atlanta has scored just twice in three games and Saturday’s loss was a result of an 89th minute Carrie Dew header.  That was heartbreaking for Atlanta and things may not get much easier with a return trip to Philadelphia Saturday.

In the marquee match of the weekend, Saint Louis Athletica and the Boston Breakers played to a 1-1 draw Sunday in Fenton, Mo.  Kacey Moore had the early goal for Boston on a beautifully drawn out corner kick play, but Saint Louis equalized soon after on a Carolyn Blank goal that exposed the Breakers’ set piece defending for the second straight week.

“Another hard fought match between two even teams,” Breakers Head Coach Tony DiCicco said. “I again was very proud of our team.  We defended very well, created chances and played some attractive soccer in very difficult field conditions, in fairness, both teams did.”

DiCicco is right about the team playing attractive soccer.  Although Boston has only managed two draws over the last two weeks, the team is arguably playing the prettiest soccer in WPS.  In time, that should bring more wins.  Saint Louis goalkeeper Hope Solo also deserves a lot of credit for coming up big on several occasions, and Blank had a surprisingly excellent game for Athletica.  Clearly, these were two of the best teams in the league that took the pitch Sunday in Missouri.

Attendance Watch:

Attendance took a hit this week, although to be fair, there was some poor weather across the country that affected the gates in Chicago, Saint Louis and Philadelphia.  Through two weeks of play, the average attendance was at 4,319 fans per game.  At the conclusion of week three and 12 WPS games, the average attendance figure is now 3,908.  That comes from weekend crowds of:

Atlanta Beat @ FC Gold Pride: 3,002
Washington Freedom @ Philadelphia Independence: 2,906
Sky Blue FC @ Chicago Red Stars: 3,136
Boston Breakers @ Saint Louis Athletica: 3,300

The crowd in Philadelphia is almost exactly half of the 6,028 people that attended the opener April 11.  While Saint Louis deserves a pass on this with the tornadoes that were in the area the day prior and the rain that followed, anybody watching could tell that there were not 3,300 people in the stands.  The television side of the field was very sparsely filled and the staidium only holds about 5,000.

Goal Scoring: Through 12 league games, the average goals per game is 2.33.

WPS Fantasy Challenge: Check out the Dream Team here. Karen Bardsley is the surprise of the week on that one.

Player of the Week:  Lori Lindsey for adding two more assists in a big 3-1 Independence win over Washington.  Honorable mention to Hope Solo for some incredible saves Sunday.

Power Rankings:

  1. Boston Breakers – Boston is playing the most attractive soccer right now, and it just needs to get over the hump to get the full three points.  The Breakers should do that Saturday against Chicago.
  2. Saint Louis Athletica – Clearly one of the best teams in WPS, Athletica looked slightly less impressive in Sunday’s marquee match-up.
  3. FC Gold Pride – It took a late Carrie Dew goal but FC Gold Pride got the job done against Atlanta.  A win Saturday against Sky Blue FC would continue that momentum.
  4. Sky Blue FC – New Jersey might be tied atop the table but both wins have been over the Chicago Red Stars.  A rematch Saturday against FC Gold Pride will provide an opportunity to actually prove something.
  5. Philadelphia Independence – Philly impressed in last week’s 1-1 draw with Boston and sent a message with Sunday’s 3-1 win over Washington.  Now it is time for the Independence to prove which expansion team is best when Atlanta returns to town Saturday.
  6. Washington Freedom – A loss to Philadelphia means the Freedom’s only points thus far come from a win over Atlanta.
  7. Chicago Red Stars – Chicago is not playing poorly, but with just one goal to the team’s name there are serious scoring troubles in the Windy City.
  8. Atlanta Beat – Two goals and one point from three games and the beat has its fourth straight road game Saturday to open the season.

Follow me for the best WPS coverage here and on Twitter @JeffKassouf.


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