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WPS Extra Time: Philly, Atlanta a year apart after 2010 starts

Giovanni Albanese Extra Time

Talk about different ends of the spectrum. When further examining Women’s Professional Soccer expansion teams from the 2010 season, it’s night and day.

On one end, you have the Philadelphia Independence, shining bright, with lofty expectations; on the other end, you have the Atlanta Beat, in the dark, and the light at the end of the tunnel is nowhere to be found. By the way, WPS kicked off its third year over the weekend, if you weren’t already aware. Both aforementioned teams were on display.

Philadelphia – in its first match since the 4-0 loss in the 2010 WPS Championship – traveled to Piscataway, N.J., to take on the inaugural WPS champion, Sky Blue FC, on Sunday night. Sky Blue, under new head coach Jim Gabarra, raced out to a 2-0 lead. But, showing its depth, the Independence fought back and came away with a 2-2 draw, thanks to a Tina DiMartino 90th minute goal.

Then there’s the Beat.

Atlanta hosted the Boston Breakers in the first WPS match of the season on Saturday night at KSU Soccer Stadium in Kennesaw, Ga. It didn’t take long for things to get out of hand. Boston was up 2-0 before the blink of an eye. Well, 23 minutes to be exact. Jordan Angeli, last season’s runner-up in the Rookie of the Year voting, scored an unassisted goal in the 18th minute. (Angeli later came out of the match in the 26th minute after a Katherine Reynolds – former Santa Clara teammates – tackle tore her ACL; she’ll miss the rest of the year recovering from the injury.) Five minutes later it was Boston’s first round pick in this season’s WPS draft, Keelin Winters, who tallied an unassisted goal.

Kelley O’Hara, a second-year player formerly with 2010 champion FC Gold Pride, who came in for the injured Angeli, made it 3-0 with another unassisted goal in the 72nd minute. Carli Lloyd made it 3-1 with a PK goal in the 78th, but the Breakers got that back with a penalty of their own in stoppage time, taken by Kasey Moore.

Veterans Heather Mitts, Cat Whitehill, captain Lori Chalupny and Lloyd all played for the Beat, but outside of those four, the roster is lacking in the necessary leadership to be a successful team – especially in a deep, six-team league such as WPS.

Whitehill, in a feature piece found in the Marietta Daily Journal, had this to say about the Beat’s youth movement: “It is strange, because I am used to being on a little older team … A lot of these girls have no WPS experience.”

Boston’s defense was stout, with Alex Scott, Moore, Stephanie Cox and Ifeoma Dieke shutting down the Beat with ease. That’s a Boston defense that was without its two star marking backs in Rachel Buehler (another former member of FC Gold Pride) and Amy LePeilbet.

Really? Only one goal against a defense that was without two of its four regulars?

Not to take anything away from Moore or Dieke, but when you are up against a team with two bench players starting in place of a couple national team players, as the Beat were on Saturday, you have to put more pressure on goal. They scored, but it came on a PK. This Beat offense will be lucky if they net 10 goals this season if that’s all they could muster against Boston this weekend.

It’s only one game though, so a lot can change. But Whitehill isn’t concerned about the Beat’s lack of experience. “I’m not too worried about the experience factor because we have enough experience around these players,” she told the MDJ.

And as if things weren’t bad enough the Beat will be without its starting keeper Allison Whitworth after she was ejected on Saturday. Whitehill stepped up and finished the game in net, but come next weekend against Sky Blue FC, Allison Lipsher will get the nod.

If Atlanta intends to improve on its showing Saturday night, the young players are going to have to start learning from those veterans quickly. Should the learning curve be shallow, this Beat team could give opponents fits.  One thing working in their favor is that the Women’s World Cup will not affect the team much at all. As all coaches are, Galanis remained positive after Saturday’s match.

“There was a lot of nervousness before the game,” said Galanis. “We are a good team, and it will surface.”

Maybe it will … in 2012.


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