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WPS Monday Kick-Around: The difference a doubleheader makes

Week four in Women’s Professional Soccer brought some surprising stories, from an upset in Beantown to shake-ups in net for the two expansion teams.  The weekend’s fixtures were supposed to produce more answers as to which teams would distinguish themselves as superior teams, but instead produced more questions as the parity continued.

The shocker of the weekend was a win-less Chicago Red Stars team rolling into Harvard Stadium and leaving with a 2-0 win Saturday over the previously unbeaten Boston Breakers.  Casey Nogueira and Cristiane scored six minutes apart in the second half to give Chicago its first win of the season.

After coming up just short against Sky Blue FC twice in two separate 1-0 defeats and drawing Saint Louis 1-1 in between, the Red Stars finally found a way to turn their positive play into three points against a Boston team that was in top form to start the season.  The Breakers entered the game having acquired two straight draws against Philadelphia and Saint Louis in two games that should have produced three points and Chicago made them pay Saturday by finally turning a good performance into a win.

A few hours south, the Philadelphia Independence and Atlanta Beat squared off for the second time in a month in West Chester, Penn.  The Independence won 1-0 to stay unbeaten and keep the Beat as the only winless team in WPS.  Atlanta has produced just two goals in four games this season, but may find comfort in its new stadium, which is set to open Sunday.

This game brought some interesting moves in net, with Val Henderson starting in goal for Philadelphia over Canadian international Karina LeBlanc after a stellar game in net for Philly’s 3-1 win over Washington last weekend.  Coach Paul Riley said he might ride the hot hand of Henderson and he did exactly that, creating an interesting predicament of having LeBlanc, one of the world’s best goalkeepers, temporarily on the bench.

Atlanta Head Coach Gareth O’Sullivan also changed his goalkeeper in an attempt to get the franchise its first win.  Allison Whitworth gave way to Brett Maron, but that still was not enough to get Atlanta off the schnide.  Sunday’s home opener against Sky Blue FC may prove to be a prime opportunity for Atlanta to take advantage of a New Jersey team that has struggled to find consistency.  The stadium is expected to be close to capacity (8,300), so Atlanta may be able to ride the momentum of an excited crowd to the franchise’s first win.

If the Beat were to knock off Sky Blue FC, it would raise some serious questions about the defending champions, who have unconvincingly topped the Chicago Red Stars twice and have twice fallen to FC Gold Pride.  The most recent loss to the Bay Area team came at home Saturday to the tune of a 1-0 defeat. Christine Sinclair scored in the 38th minute and Sky Blue FC struggled to threaten much throughout the match.

Meanwhile, FC Gold Pride (3-1-0, 9 pts.) now sits alone atop the table, one point clear of an impressive Independence team.  Marta and Sinclair have looked good and Sinclair is tied for the league lead in scoring with three goals, but Kelley O’Hara has been stellar thus far.  The rookie out of Stanford University has two assists this season and drew a penalty kick on Saturday.  Along with Rachel Buehler, Marta and former Stanford teammate Ali Riley, O’Hara is one of only four FC Gold Pride players to have played in every minute of the season thus far.  That speaks volumes about her efforts thus far.

In D.C., the Washington Freedom topped Saint Louis Athletica 3-1 Saturday, ending Athletica’s unbeaten start to the season.  Sonia Bompastor got on the board after returning to the midfield and Homare Sawa and Lene Mykjaland provided the rest of the scoring in a good team performance from Washington.  Bompastor’s rocket into the upper corner might be the goal of the year thus far.

The match was the only doubleheader that will be played at RFK Stadium this year and it drew 8,261, although the crowd looked sparser than that.

Attendance Watch:

What a difference that doubleheader makes in calculating the average attendance.  Through four weeks, the average WPS attendance is 3,912 fans per game discounting Saturday’s game at RFK.  Including the 8,261 at RFK, the average jumps to 4,781 fans, an increase of over 800.  The first number is still on the low end of WPS Commissioner Tonya Antonucci’s 2010 expectations, while the second number would be an increase over the 2009 average of 4,493.

Goal Scoring Watch:

Through 16 games this season, there have been 36 goals scored, keeping the average goals per game at 2.25, just above last season’s average of 2.14.

Power Rankings:

With these I would just emphasize that this is how things look right now.  I think there will be plenty of movement by season’s end.

  1. FC Gold Pride – League leaders and winners of three straight, two against Sky Blue FC.
  2. Philadelphia Independence – The only unbeaten team in WPS.  Saturday’s game at Saint Louis will be a big test.
  3. Boston Breakers – The Chicago loss looks bad, but the Red Stars are better than expected.
  4. Washington Freedom – Beating Saint Louis 3-1 is a big statement, but the Freedom needs to follow up with something good against Boston.
  5. Saint Louis Athletica – Saturday was a slip-up for this good team, but it gets no easier with Philadelphia coming to town.
  6. Chicago Red Stars – Getting win No. 1 against Boston is something that has been building. FC Gold Pride on Saturday will be a huge test.
  7. Sky Blue FC – This team is simply underperforming and was shutout for the first time this season Saturday.  There is no reason that this group of players should be averaging less than a goal per game, even with good defending.
  8. Atlanta Beat – Still winless and waiting for some signs of life.

Questions, comments or concerns? E-mail me at jeff@womens.soccerly.com or send me a note on Twitter @JeffKassouf.

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