Photo by ISIphotos.com
By CHRISTA MANN
An international, an unknown, and an under-performing player made quite the impact in Week 17 of Women's Pro Soccer. Each put away the single goal accounting for all three of the weekend's 1-0 results.
The game winners began when Japanese international Homara Sawa slotted a ball near post in the 74th giving the Washington Freedom one-up over the St.Louis Athletica. Next, it was Boston Breaker Kelly Schmedes, who broke the offside trap and the Bay Area's spirits with an early breakaway goal against FC Gold Pride. Yet, nothing compared to the rocket by Sky Blue FC's Kerri Hanks that took down the Chicago Red Stars.
Yes, National team players are an important part of the skill and star power of this league, the recent rash of call-ups didn't stop WPS from having a competitive showing in Week 17.
Weekend action began with a Saturday between the Washington Freedom and the St. Louis Athletica. The Athletica had the first half chances; but it was the Freedom who were able to finish in the second. The goal actually started on a Freedom throw-in that a St. Louis midfielder initially won. The Athletica player then made a terrible pass (intended for outside back Elise Weber) that sets up a perfect play for Sawa. The Japanese international strikes for the near post and gets a lucky deflection into the goal.
The win puts Washington in fifth place and two points behind the fourth and final playoff spot. The loss is only a minor road block for St. Louis as it drops the Athletica down from second to third and ends a three game win streak. Washington still has to battle for a spot in the post season; however, St. Louis will bounce back and has little to worry about at this point.
In Sunday's opening match, New Jersey's SBFC hosted and defeated the Chicago Red Stars. The Red Stars had no luck controlling anything in this game without its core players in Lindsey Tarpley, Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, and Karen Carney. Chicago defender Marian Dalmy showed signs of her early season play (pre-injury) with dangerous runs out the back and quality service from the right flank.
Here are the highlights:
SBFC did well to get in behind Chicago early for some great first half looks, but some better finishing and more attacking runs out of the midfield could have easily made this a two or 3-0 game. Kacy White and Natasha Kai both have tremendous speed; but when White gets into the box and looks to serve, Rosana's run is late which makes Kai the only option among the recovering Chicago defenders. Granted, Jill Oakes, Ifeoma Dieke and the entire Red Stars' back line deserve a little credit for organizing so quickly and for tracking players on the crosses.
With so many new Jersey chances, it was great to see SBFC forward and former Athletica draft pick Kerri Hanks hit a great shot to win the game in stoppage time even if the club had more than enough chances to get the job done sooner. With the win, SBFC sits in fourth and needs at least a tie next week to maintain its spot in the standings. The Red Stars are still in next to last place and will need at least two wins to be considered for the post season.
In the final match of the weekend, the Boston Breakers traveled to the Bay Area's FC Gold Pride where Boston forward Kelly Schmedes finished her first goal of the season on a game winner to keep FCGP in seventh place and pretty much out of the playoffs.
In the absence of some of the league's best players, others maintained the standard of play and confirmed the reputations of their teams. Three weeks remain in the regular season and, somehow, some way, only four of five worthy teams will make the playoffs.
Losses for Chicago and FCGP put them basically out of contention while St. Louis, Boston, SBFC, and Washington are the four teams battling it out for the last three post-season spots. With constant shifts in the WPS leader board, check out this week's SBI WPS Power Rankings.
SBI WPS Power Rankings
1. Los Angeles Sol (11-2-4)
Outlook:The Sol took the bye this week and spent some extra time acclimating Sharolta Nonen, the team's new center back, to the team. The Sol is by far the class of the league and really needs no further explanation for its top ranking.
2. St. Louis Athletica (7-6-2)
Outlook:The Athletica took an unfortunate loss this week but should bounce back against SBFC and FCGP this week. The game winner against St. Louis was a midfielder mistake that would not have happened with a Captain like Lori Chalupny on the field. Both Solo and Chalupny hold this team together and will get the Athletica back on track when they return in Week 18.
3. Boston Breakers (7-6-3)
Outlook:The Breakers are riding two shut-out wins right now. Not sure why forward Christine Latham is playing in the midfield because she is causing a frenzy of fouls. Hopefully this physical front runner will find herself back up top soon where she is most dangerous. The return of seven National Team players will be a great relief for the Breakers this week and should keep the Breakers in winning fashion.
4. Sky Blue FC (6-6-4)
Outlook:SBFC has made such great progress in the month of July and shows signs that it continues to build. Once the defense is back to normal and Coach Kelly Lindsey takes a chance with a three forward formation, Kacey White and Rosana can stop killing Natasha Kai on through balls. Plus, they will have more options for service into the final third. Overall SBFC is doing well but will have to battle against St. Louis on Wednesday and with Boston on Saturday to maintain their position.
5. Washington Freedom (5-6-5)
Outlook:The Freedom is doing well at this late point in the season. Even after losing a goalkeeper, a defender, and a forward, the core of other top players held this team together. Washington is worthy of a top four position but needs maintain its current stride in order to prove that the all too common roller coaster results have come to an end. If Washington stays up, it will take the place of either Boston of SBFC.
6. Chicago Red Stars (4-8-5)
Outlook:The Red Stars made the most of what they had this weekend, but even that was not enough to earn a win. Chicago really needed Lindsey Tarpley, Karen Carney and Megan Rapinoe this weekend because the Red Stars lacked speed in the attacking third and left Cristiane to do all the work. When the National Team players return, it is likely that on occasion, Carli Lloyd will do well to switch the field and to maintain the pace of the midfield. A final push may be a great effort with some promising opportunity, but it looks like the Red Stars are giving a little too much a little too late.
7. FC Gold Pride (3-9-3)
Outlook:The FC Gold Pride could have had a fighting chance this weekend but instead shot itself in the foot before even reaching the 15 minute mark. Ironically put and with no pun intended, the Bay Area is merely playing for pride at this point. FCGP should seriously take a chance and start the exact same line-up it did in the first week of the season minus the injured Kandace Wilson. Tiffany Weimar needs to be in the game from the very beginning so that she can gain confidence, be createive and combine with Tina DiMartino early.
What are your thoughts on the weekend without English, Canadian, and U.S. National Team players? Which three of the four battling teams do you think will earn the final playoff spots? Agree or disagree with the power rankings? Share your thoughts below.