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WPS Monday Kick-Around: Beat stadium opens, Sauerbrunn is lone iron woman left

The distancing has begun.  Well, that is the thought anyway.  Even with the parity in Women’s Professional Soccer, the results from week five have opened up an 11 point gap from the top of the table to the bottom.  However, three points separate five teams in the middle of the table, suggestive of the fact that teams still have not found a way to distinguish themselves.

The historic opening of the Kennesaw State University Soccer Stadium outside of Atlanta has come and gone, but the Atlanta Beat still find themsleves winless after dominating Sky Blue FC for much of the match Sunday.  Ramona Bachmann lived up to the hype of being a star striker at the tender age of 19-years-old as she found her way through the Sky Blue FC defense on several occasions.  However, goalkeeper Karen Bardsley was in top form for the visitors, stopping 13 shots on her way to her third shutout of the season as Sky Blue FC won 1-0 after a 50th minute own goal from Leigh Ann Robinson.

Bachmann and Danish midfielder Johanna Rasmussen were extremely impressive Sunday despite the Beat’s loss.  Both were involved in many of Atlanta’s chances that were continuously denied by Bardsley, who had one of the best single games in net in the league’s short history.  Credit to her for sending her team back to New Jersey with the full three points, and don’t forget about young center back Brittany Taylor, who has now played every minute for Sky Blue FC and had another great game Sunday.  All of Sky Blue FC’s back line looked good, but mounting an attack is still clearly giving the defending champions trouble.

Atlanta’s defense deserves some credit as well.  Leigh Ann Robinson, Stacy Bishop, Kia McNeill and Katie Larkin make up a back four composed of four converted attackers led by young Brett Maron in goal.  Similar to the Chicago Red Stars 2-0 upset of the Boston Breakers May 1, Atlanta seems like a team on the cusp of winning.  The big problem thus far for the Beat has been the final pass, but as Rasmussen, Bachmann, Monica Ocampo and company come together, that should improve.  Sunday’s home match against the Washington Freedom could have upset written all over it.

Tarpley Back With a Bang

Now fully recovered from ACL surgery that made for a tough offseason, Lindsay Tarpley scored in her first start of the season to help Saint Louis Athletica to a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Independence.  Athletica’s win brought an end to Philadelphia’s unbeaten start to the season, but Tarpley’s comeback is the big story there.

A healthy Tarpley gives Eniola Aluko a world-class partner up top, which is where Saint Louis needs the most help.  Athletica’s back line is solid, particularly with Hope Solo in goal.  The trouble since the beginning of 2009 has been finding scoring help for Eniola Aluko, who cannot take that burden on her own.  Tarpley’s 60th minute strike Saturday was not only the game-winner but was a quality goal that looked like the Lindsay Tarpley of old – the Tarpley that made waves for the U.S. Women’s National Team and was named the ESPN RISE national high school player of the decade in girls soccer.

“It was really inspiring for me to see a player come back from having such an injury,” Aluko said.  “We have been working together in training all week, just trying to find our rhythm.  I am just glad my striking partner scored and long may it continue.”

Lyndsey Patterson scored just three minutes after entering the match for Philadelphia, which played its first of three-straight road games Saturday.  Next up for the Independence is a Saturday showdown with the Chicago Red Stars, a dangerous near-bottom of the table team hungry for a win .

O’Hara Finally Rewarded

Similar to the way Bardsley stole the show in Atlanta, Kelley O’Hara continued to shine in Northern California as she helped FC Gold Pride defeated the Chicago Red Stars 2-0.  O’Hara scored her first goal of the season in the Pride’s fourth-straight win and kept her streak of playing every minute of the season thus far alive.

Tiffeny Milbrett had the game-winner in this match, with many calling her sideways bicycle volley the goal of the year thus far.  The pure athleticism shown from the 37-year-old to hammer the ball into the back of the net was incredible.  It is crazy to think that a team with the star power of Marta, Christine Sinclair and Camille Abily (though now injured), the savvy veteran Milbrett and the gutsy rookie O’Hara can still stand out so much.  That is what has the Bay Area clicking on all cylinders with four-straight wins heading into Friday’s match against the Boston Breakers at Harvard Stadium.

An honest Emma Hayes knew her Red Stars squad was out-played on the evening, which was not helped by defender Ifeoma Dieke being shown a red card in the 25th minute for pushing Kelley O’Hara in the box.

“I don’t think we played well tonight,” Hayes said.  “It took us too long to get going, and they came out gunning at us.  They dominated us in every way, and we were out-played.”

Less Than Wild Affair in Windy Maryland

Saturday’s showdown between the Boston Breakers and Washington Freedom at the Maryland SoccerPlex played out to a less than spectacular 0-0 draw between two teams that capable of much better efforts.  Unfortunately, there was not much that players could do to combat Mother Nature, which blew howling gusts that altered game plans for both teams.

The famous Cat Whitehill long ball was ill-effective by winds that would send a lofted ball swirling and Boston failed to do much with typically strong flank play from overlaps by outside backs Alex Scott and Stephanie Cox.  Brittany Bock got her first minutes of the season when she checked into the game in the 78th minute, but she played in a central midfield role rather than a central defender role in the absence of Homare Sawa (Japan) and forward Lisa De Vanna (Australia), who were participating in the AFC Asian Cup qualifying tournament.

“I think we’re deep everywhere,” Freedom Head Coach Jim Gabarra said.  “It’s a huge asset to have when you’re missing players, players can step in and make the most of the opportunity.  When Bock comes in, she can give us something a little different.  She can play central defender or holding midfield.”

Attendance Watch:

Some exceptionally cold and wet weather has been hitting WPS cities and has unfortunately kept some fans away from places like the Maryland SoccerPlex and the Anheuser Busch Soccer Park on multiple occasions.  Attendance was still decent for both locations this weekend, though, and Atlanta’s stadium opening provided a nice boost to attendance.

The Kennesaw State University Soccer Stadium should bring a consistent boost to the average WPS attendance even when well below capacity, but that will require some loyal Atlanta Beat fans to stick with a young team that is still coming together.  The facility looks spectacular and is a monumental step in legitimizing women’s soccer, but surely folks down in Atlanta are a little unhappy that they could not completely sell-out the stadium.

Anway, the WPS average attendance through five weeks is 4,230, which is still down from last year’s average of just under 4,500.  That number should go up as summer sets in, kids get out of school, and the weather gets nicer, although that seems like far away after New York just witnessed snow twice in early May (end personal venting).

Loving Rookie Life:

Brittany Taylor and Kelley O’Hara were mentioned above and they are among just five natural rookies (fresh out of college) to have played every minute thus far this season.  Defender Ali Riley, O’Hara’s FC Gold Pride and former Stanford University teammate, is among them.  Boston’s Lauren Cheney and Washington’s Nikki Marshall are the other two players to have played all 450 minutes thus far.

The Lone Ironwoman:

Breakers Kristine Lilly checked out of Saturday’s 0-0 draw with the Freedom in the 80th minute, replaced by Laura Del Rio.  Those final ten minutes of the match are the first that Lilly has ever missed in WPS, logging 2,240 consecutive minutes prior to that substitution.  The only player now left to have played in every single minute of regular season WPS action is Freedom utility player Becky Sauerbrunn, who was ironically on the same field as Lilly Saturday night.  Sauerbrunn is still running strong, having played all 2,250 possible minutes thus far.

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