Round eight of Women’s Professional Soccer fixtures was one of the most tightly contested to date, with evenly matched games that produced two draws and just one team getting the full three points over the weekend. Teams on hot streaks continued to do well, while the struggling but new look Atlanta Beat and Chicago Red Stars sides faced off only to play to a scoreless draw. With the Boston Breakers sitting the week out, they are now officially alone in sixth place.
The weekend started off with a bang as first place FC Gold Pride hosted second place Washington Freedom in a marquee showdown. Fittingly, the two teams played to a 1-1 draw after Allie Long and Marta both struck world-class goals for their teams. Long opened the scoring in the 38th minute on a wonder strike that found upper 90. Long, casual as ever, made it look easy as she gave the Freedom the advantage against the run of play. FC Gold Pride’s poor clearances have to take a lot of blame for the goal, which was a result of continued Washington pressure after five – yes, five – clearances from the Pride failed to relieve the pressure.
Marta would have something to say about the score in the 75th minute when she dribbled through three Freedom defenders to hammer the ball into the back of the net. That left Cat Whitehill, one of the defenders exposed on the play, with her head down. Marta’s explosive abilities are unmatched by anyone in the world and when she is feeling in form, nobody is going to stop her.
One piece of encouragement for FC Gold Pride was Shannon Boxx (which is a given anyway). Everyone knows Boxx’s work rate and ability to control a game, but she showed something extra Saturday. Boxx got off seven shots, most of which came from her head. Many of Marta’s corner kicks found Boxx, who had eight dangerous opportunities with her head alone. As Boxx gets assimilated with FC Gold Pride, that team should get even more dangerous. Credit to the Freedom for withstanding such an onslaught of pressure, though.
Sunday in Philadelphia was a coming out party of sorts for the often criticized Amy Rodriguez, who assisted Lori Lindsey’s 3rd minute goal and finished one of her own in the 27th minute, which turned out to be the game-winner in Philly’s 2-1 win. Laura Kalmari pulled one back for Sky Blue FC in between those goals, but it was not enough for Sky Blue FC, which has not won since topping the winless Atlanta Beat May 9.
Philadelphia (4-2-2) and the Freedom now boast identical records, with both teams sitting level on 14 pts. Sky Blue FC is still in fourth place with 11 pts., but the Chicago Red Stars are suddenly just one win away from drawing level.
The Red Stars were part of the match that the entire country had its eyes on Sunday, although little action came of it. Chicago played the still winless Atlanta Beat to a 0-0 draw Sunday in a game of adjustments for both teams. Chicago is still adjusting to new Head Coach Omid Namazi’s game plans and Atlanta had to adapt to having five new starters from Saint Louis Athletica on the field (for a total of seven starters that have Saint Louis connections – hence the name “Atlantica”).
- Christie Rampone entered the game in the 58th minute for Kacey White, who immediately handed over the captain’s armband. It was Rampone’s first action of 2010 since having her second child.
- Camille Abily also made her return to action when she came on in the 62nd minute and almost scored a goal shortly after. However, her effort flashed across the goal mouth. Kelley O’Hara was also active in the match with some very creative touches, perhaps taking a page or two from Marta. O’Hara’s former Stanford University teammate Ali Riley made a meal of a couple of passes and needs to start limiting what seems to be a tendency to play a negative ball back to Rachel Buehler.
- Head injuries have become far too common in WPS, and they have been highlighted on national TV broadcasts twice now. Sonia Bompastor and McCall Zerboni collided early in a Freedom-Beat match May 16 and Sunday produced another scary, bloody scene on Fox Soccer Channel. Atlanta midfielder Mami Yamaguchi and Chicago defender Natalie Spilger smashed heads in just the 4th minute of action. Spilger would require seven stitches and Yamaguchi needed eight to stop the bleeding from their respective heads, which may force more players to think about wearing head gear.
- Just 2,585 fans showed up in Philadelphia Sunday, which is worrying. That should improve Sunday when Marta and FC Gold Pride comes to town, but attendance is down almost six percent from the 2009 average of 4,493.
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