Photo by ISIphotos.com
By CHRISTA MANN
In this fourth week of Women's Professional Soccer, Boston finished 3-1 over Washington; L.A.’s single goal defeated FC Gold Pride (Bay Area); Chicago and New Jersey tied scoreless and St. Louis took the bye.
It seemed to be a bit of a down week for the WPS, but Week Four's opening game between the Boston Breakers and Washington Freedom made for an exciting match-up.
For the first half of Saturday's East Coast battle, possession and chances went equally both ways. With two distinctive styles of play, there was a near even amount of goal scoring opportunities. Boston combined in the midfield and found outside players for service while Washington found its strength in the target play of Lisa De Vanna and Abby Wambach.
Neither attack proved to be more dangerous as both teams remained scoreless after the first half. Then, during the second half, the Freedom dominated down the stretch but missed some key opportunities to finish the game.
Boston can thank the play of Angela Hucles for its ability to come out on top. It took her a few games, but Hucles is now becoming that strong midfield presence that fans have been expecting. After challenging Scurry and drawing the PK, she set up the team's first goal. Then she finished things off with a bomb from the outside to net the team's third.
As it stands, a 3-1 victory is a big result for Boston out of this game. Boston was not the better team against Washington but it did find a way to finish. For Washington, a 3-2, 2-1 or even a 2-2 result would have been more respectable but such is life lately for the Freedom.
There was hope that the the team's challenges would go away in Week Four; however, Briana Scurry’s goalkeeping, the poor finishing up top, and bad luck all around prevented that from happening. Is there any chance that Erin McLeod or KJ play will finally play in goal for the Freedom next week? When will Wambach be recovered enough to score a goal?
Following Saturday's result, Washington now finds itself just one place from the bottom of league standings while Boston moves just one away from the top.
With the number one ranking for the fourth consecutive week, the L.A. Sol returned from a bye week in commanding fashion to defeat FCGP, 1-0.
Coming as no surprise, Marta scored the lone goal in this California match-up. It came early in the second half after the Bay Area back-line kept things scoreless in the first.
Anchoring this defensive unit, which has played very well in these opening weeks, is USWNT player Rachael Buehler. She usually gains notoriety for her physical play and hard tackles, so it was especially surprising to see that Marta actually fouled her first.
There were great plays both offensively and defensively for both sides. Then, Marta put in the first goal of the match just two minutes into the second half. After this goal, play settled for a good portion of the game before FCGP earned some quality chances on goal. Perhaps the elements came into play nearing the end of the second half because the game slowed significantly.
In another game effected by the conditions, Chicago’s rainy day home opener to Sky Blue FC saw a ridiculous amount of set pieces with not a single finish. In the first scoreless game in WPS history, Chicago held a 10-1 advantage on corners in the first half alone.
To add to the corners, Red Stars’ Marian Dalmy put in some great service from the right side throughout much of the game. Between Dalmy, Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe there was no shortage of dangerous balls played into the mix for Chicago. Despite Chicago's advantage in shots, a few of New Jersey’s chances were actually more dangerous.
SBFC’s Sarah Walsh went straight at the Chicago defensive line to draw defenders out of the the backline. When Collette McCallum's run initiated the ball in behind, MaCallum had a wide open net on Chicago GK Carolien Johnsson (which is near impossible to do) and missed just over the crossbar.
Shots similar to McCallum’s became the norm for the majority of this game. Almost every other shot sailed high, wide, or high and wide. Blame it on the wet conditions, but of 18 Chicago shots, how is it that only four made it on frame?
Chicago’s only goal scorer up to this point, Lindsey Tarpley had been the savior for this time for two straight weeks, but she had a relatively quiet game in the home opener. This week, Lloyd finally got more involved and was named FSC Player of the Match. Dalmy and Rapinoe are possibly just as deserving of this honor, but these unsung heroes will get receive their recognition soon.
As the big names are still drawing the most appeal, fans are looking for more out of SBFC’s Natasha Kai. She is not starting and she only tallied one shot against the Red Stars.
Chicago’s tie today keeps the Red Stars in a good position; however the team is rated much higher in league standings than its play has determined.
In a week where Boston created the win and Washington took an unlucky fall, Los Angeles never missed a beat and FC Gold Pride got another taste of humble pie. Chicago, St. Louis, and Sky Blue are still working the kinks but here is how they all stack up.
SBI WPS POWER RANKINGS
1. LA Sol (3-0)
As Los Angeles remains the only team to not concede any goals, it remains undefeated and at the top of the WPS. It would have to take some tough losses to bring this team down. Not to mention, Washington has been the only team to hold Marta scoreless.
2. Boston Breakers (2-1)
The Breakers came out with a good result against Washington this week and have done well to both score and prevent goals. Boston finishes opportunities and has yet to be shut-out.
3. FC Gold Pride (1-1-1)
FC Gold Pride began strong but has fallen into a bit of a lull in these past two weeks. The Bay Area got comfortable against SBFC last week and allowed the underdog to come back to tie things up at 1-1. Plus, against a strong L.A. Sol team, they couldn't put away some really good chances to upset the favorites. FCGP opened well against Boston but has lost some of its stride. It hasn't lost more than one game, and to its credit, that was only by one goal to the best team in the league. This team needs a strong win to solidify that Boston wasn't a lucky break because it seems FCGP is could be falling into a rut.
4. Washington Freedom (0-2-1)
The Freedom began the season rough with a loss against L.A. but rebounded well against Chicago to prove that it is among the top teams. The Freedom's biggest problem is that the team cannot find the back of the net. When they are up a player or dominating an attack, this team has to learn how to finish. Wambach and De Vanna are creating chances, but both need to keep those chances on target and to find the end of each other's service. Washington needs a self-esteem booster. Talent wise and based upon the quality of play, the Freedom should be a top three team. However, in looking at results, Washington has very little to show.
5. Chicago Red Stars (1-0-2)
Chicago has some key players but is missing the chemistry that will bring it all together. Cristaine Carli Lloyd and Lindsey Tarley are the focal points of this team. But, players like Dalmy and Rampinoe do not get enough credit for the work they contribute. If all of these players could work well together, there would be more opportunities to score. Chicago drops down in the rankings this week because the Red Stars did a terrible job of putting away some key opportunities. Runs to the far post are late, everyone is looking to shoot from way outside, shots are completely off the mark, defense is sometimes shaky, and most games would be lost without the stellar goalkeeping of Caroline Johnsson.
6. Sky Blue FC (0-1-2)
Sky Blue began on a rough start but found its footing after netting the club's first WPS goal in Week Three. SBFC had a few good chances in Week Four, but it failed to finishes the chances that would create a shift of momentum in its favor. The team chased for much of the game against Chicago, gave away too many corner, and needs to combine more in the final third.
7. St. Louis Athletica (0-2)
The Athletica had the bye this week and has hopefully addressed finishing in the final third and cover on the defensive end. As is standard with this league, the team has gone into the half tied 0-0 in both games. If St. Louis can get an early goal or even score first, it will find a new momentum. Preventing goals needs to be the number one priority because even with a tie, this team can earn some points in the standings. Secondly, the Athletica needs to put away chances. This team has a tough climb out of the whole but it should be able to get back into the race over the next two to three weeks.