With the race for the regular season title all but over, the race for fourth place is really where all the action is. Nope, this isn’t referring to the English Premier League but rather to Women’s Professional Soccer.
The top four WPS teams advance to the playoffs. The Bay Area’s FC Gold Pride, the Philadelphia Independence and the surging Boston Breakers seem to be pulling away from the pack and into the postseason. Below them, just two points separate three WPS teams in the race for that crucial fourth place spot. The Washington Freedom and Sky Blue FC seem to be improving while the Chicago Red Stars can never be counted out. And last-place Atlanta Beat are just four points away from the fourth spot.
Last year Sky Blue FC emerged from the middle of the pack, nipped fourth place and went on to win the inaugural WPS Championship. Who’s to say it can’t happen again?
Saturday: FC Gold Pride 0, Chicago Red Stars 0
FC Gold Pride seem to prefer to take the regular season title at a canter and not a gallop. This is the second consecutive goalless draw for the league’s most prolific team. Other than a headed attempt by fiesty Gold Pride rookie Kelley O’Hara, few opportunities were produced between FC Gold Pride and the inconsistent Chicago Red Stars.
Saturday: Atlanta Beat 1, Sky Blue FC 2
In perhaps one of the most critical regular seasons games at this juncture, a much-improved Atlanta Beat side hosted a struggling Sky Blue FC. New Jersey’s Sky Blue FC were riding a five game winless streak and had plummetted down the table. A win for either side would vault them back into playoff conention. And that was clearly on Sky Blue FC’s mind as they struck in the 44′ as Finnish international Laura Kalmari slotted in her team-leading fifth goal. The Beat answered back in the 62′ as English striker Eniola Aluko continued her fine form with a equalizer. Disaster then struck for the Beat as ordinarily steady center-back Tina Ellertson whiffed a ball into her own net. Sky Blue FC would probably take a victory any which way and their fortuitous twist of fate saw them return to fourth.
Sunday: Philadelphia Independence 2, Boston Breakers 2
In a battle for second place of sorts, WPS’ two scrappiest teams met in Philadelphia for what would be a thrilling draw. Boston struck first as rookie Lauren Cheney made a magnificant turn to open up space and loop her shot into the back of the net for the lead. Then in the 28′, Philadelphia’s underrated left back Icelandic international Holmfridur Magnusdottir came up big on a free kick attempt and equalized. Just two minutes later, Magnusdottir struck again as she dispatched another long-range effort into the right corner of the net for the go-ahead goal. Breakers rookie goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher could have done better with both goals and she got a fatal touch on the latter goal. Play proceeded to congeal in midfield but English #10 Kelly Smith scored her sixth goal in just four games as she hit a low shot from 25 yards out for the crucial equalizer. The lone point helped both teams stake their claims for the postseason.
What To Look Out For
There are two more midweek matches this week. Sky Blue FC and the Washington Freedom meet in New Jersey on Wednesday in a game with many implications. A win would pretty much assure the victors’ place in a playoff spot. The Chicago Red Stars also host the Philadelphia Independence and if the Red Stars win and the SBFC/Freedom match ends in a draw, the Red Stars will jump to fourth place.
Stunning: Holmfridur Magnusdottir/Philadelphia Independence. The player with the best name in WPS doubled her total goal amount of 2010 in about three minutes on Sunday. Both left-footed long-distance goals were stunners and her contributions kept her team on the score sheet.
Shocking: Atlanta Beat. The Beat can never seem to pull it together when the need to and thus, they remain in last place. An Atltanta own goal has now made the fatal difference between the Beat and Sky Blue FC in each of their meetings this season.
Streaking: Kelly Smith/Boston Breakers. The 31 year-old is in the form of her life right now. She’s suddenly scored the third most amount of goals in WPS this season with 10 and six of those goals have come in the last four games.
Sputtering: Chicago Red Stars. The team remains infuriatingly inconsistent. After a good run of form that saw them take eight points out of a possible 12, the team has since earned just four points of a possible 15.
Stinging: Caroline Seger/Philadelphia Independence. The aggressive Swedish central midfielder got taken out by an unscrupulous hip-check from Boston Breakers goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. Naturally, Seger was well enough to return to action minutes later.