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WPS Weekend Wrap: Atlanta beaten, battered and bruised

The 2010 WPS All-Star Game has come and gone, but the remnants of it certainly affected teams and players over the weekend.

The Washington Freedom and Chicago Red Stars played to a 0-0 draw Sunday in a match dominated by the Red Stars, who out-shot the home team 23-5 at the Maryland SoccerPlex.  Still, Chicago could not finish off the Freedom, who were without midfielder Sonia Bompastor for the second half.  Washington Head Coach Jim Gabarra pulled Bompastor from the game at halftime when he felt that she did not have her legs under her.

“Sonia physically couldn’t do what she can do,” Gabarra said.  “She played in the All-Star game and has played a lot over the last few weeks.  That’s why I replaced her going into the second half.”

He was not done talking about the All-Star Game, though, as Cat Whitehill, Erin McLeod, Becky Sauerbrunn and Abby Wambach also participated.  McLeod played 57 minutes, while Wambach played 52 minutes, Sauerbrunn played 41 minutes and Whitehill essentially played the full 90 minutes aside from a three minute break.  Bompastor was the only Freedom player to go the full 90.

“You have players out there that can’t move,” Gabarra said.  “We have four players who have played three games in one week with the All-Star Game.  I’m just glad Erin played much better, and that she had good defensive help.”

Atlanta Beat players may have felt that fatigue Saturday as well when they had the game taken to them by FC Gold Pride on their home pitch.  FC Gold Pride would win 4-0 and Atlanta would be absolutely embarrassed.  Granted, defender Kia McNeill was sent off in the 34th minute for a horrible challenge on FC Gold Pride goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart, but that does not excuse the result.

The Beat simply gave up in the second half and Hope Solo looked disgusted with the team in front of her as she essentially let Marta walk into the back of the net for the Brazilian’s second goal of the game and third for FC Gold Pride.  Regardless of FC Gold Pride’s quality, Atlanta showed no heart Saturday and heart cannot be coached.  With six ex-Athletica players now sporting Atlanta jerseys, there are not many more player changes that can be made.  Perhaps it is time for other changes to be made.  With games against Chicago (Wednesday) and the Boston Breakers (Sunday), there is no better time to right the ship for Atlanta.

Meanwhile, FC Gold Pride played with three defenders in a 3-5-2 system for the first time this year.  It is an ideal system for Head Coach Albertin Montoya as it allows Marta, Kelley O’Hara, Christine Sinclair and Tiffeny Milbrett to get on the field at the same time.  That is easily the best attack in the league.  Here is how things looked in the 3-5-2:

—Marta—————Sinclair—-
————-Milbrett—————
O’Hara———————-Bosio
———Boxx——-Abily———
Riley—–Chapman—–Buehler
———–Barnhart—————

Possibly the biggest story of the weekend was the Boston Breakers (2-5-4, 10 pts.) obtaining their first win in almost three months and just their second of the year in a 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Independence.  Amy Rodriguez scored early to get her seventh goal of the season, which surely gave Boston fans even further heart attacks.  But Lauren Cheney struck just after halftime and the ageless Kristine Lilly’s late goal gave Boston its first win since April 10 (which was opening day, by the way).

With the loss, Philadelphia (6-4-3, 21 pts.) failed to keep pace with FC Gold Pride, which still has a game in hand.  The Independence do not play again until July 17 and they will be without their Swedish and U.S. internationals as those two teams square off on the same day in a friendly in Connecticut.  Philadelphia Head Coach Paul Riley surely won’t be happy with the result.

Across the board, there seems to be some angst with where the All-Star Game fell in the schedule.  As previously mentioned, a mid-season game is fine, but there needs to be a break installed to give these players a chance to recover.  Next year will present an entirely different challenge for WPS, though, with the Women’s World Cup.  From June 26-July 17, about one-third of the league will be in Germany for the Women’s World Cup, which will make it impossible for the league to keep going without taking a break.

WPS may need to look at what MLS did in this World Cup year and play the All-Star Game after a World Cup break (toward the end of July).  During that break, I would like to see some form of an open cup take place between WPSL, W-League and WPS teams.  A national open cup may be impossible, but why not instill regional tournaments that put a trophy and bragging rights on the line?  WPS teams will be without their superstars and will be on more of a level playing field with W-League and WPSL teams.  Envision a Northeast Cup, California derbies and even a Great Lakes Championship taking place to fill the gap that the Women’s World Cup will bring.  Teams could keep sharp and a tradition could begin to form.

That would be contingent on WPS teams adding some temporary players and the W-League and WPSL freeing up their regular season schedules to avoid fixture congestion, but it is food for thought.  Either way, something has to be done about the All-Star Game and the possible – inevitable – Women’s World Cup break.  See WPS Commissioner Tonya Antonucci’s thoughts       here.

News and Notes:

  • Leslie Osborne returned to action for the first time since May 29 against Sky Blue FC.  She suffered a cut in that game that produced a leg infection which kept her out for over a month.  Osborne played the full 90 minutes Sunday against Philadelphia.
  • Lauren Cheney scored just her second goal of the year.  She scored Boston’s first goal of the year April 10 in a 2-1 win against Washington, the Breakers’ only other win this season.
  • Marta leads the league in goals with eight, but Amy Rodriguez is in a close second with seven goals.
  • With Saturday’s shutout, FC Gold Pride goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart now leads the league in goals against average along with Chicago goalkeeper Jillian Loyden.  Both have a 0.83 GAA.  Hope Solo has a 0.89 GAA and the now injured Karen Bardsley will most likely ddend the season sporting a 0.90 GAA.
  • Christine Sinclair’s goal in the first minute of Saturday’s match against Atlanta was the fastest in WPS history.
  • Nikki Marshall played her usual center back position for the Freedom for 73 minutes before moving up top with Abby Wambach.
  • Ifeoma Dieke made her Breakers debut when she entered the game Kelly Smith in the 88th minute.
  • Second half substitute Jen Buczkowski’s giveaway in the back created the Kristine Lilly’s game-winning goal.
  • Tony DiCicco also turned to the 3-5-2 Sunday with Osborne back to play the holding midfield role.  Kelly Smith and Lindsay Tarpley sat in front of her while Laura Del Rio paired with Lauren Cheney up top.  With Stephanie Cox, Amy LePeilbet and Alex Scott in the back, Kasey Moore was bounced from the starting line-up (and was not used as a reserve either).  Alyssa Naeher played in net again.
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