As the WPS regular season enters the home stretch, teams continue to jockey for playoff positions. Two of the three weekend matches had major playoffs implications. And then there was FC Gold Pride. The Bay Area team had won the regular season title last week and really had nothing to play for. But you’d never know it as they put six goals past Hope Solo and the Atlanta Beat. All the gory details below.
Saturday: Washington Freedom 2, Sky Blue FC 1
Both teams entered the match locked in fourth place. The Freedom were riding a four match unbeaten run while Sky Blue FC were coming off a huge upset win over the Philadelphia Independence. The Freedom started slowly, as the typically do at home. The team struggled to maintain possession and were losing their wits against Sky Blue FC’s gritty midfield. A woeful defensive error by the Freedom defense gave Sky Blue FC striker Tasha Kai a chance to take the lead in the 29’. She directed a well-taken chip over Freedom goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris for her fourth goal of the season. The Freedom came roaring back in the second half. Sky Blue FC back-up goalkeeper Meghann Burke earned her first professional start as #1 GK Jenni Branam went down in the first half with a leg injury. Burke performed admirably against a goal-hungry Abby Wambach. But in the 79’, the goalkeeper tackled Wambach in the box and the ref pointed to the spot. Wambach stepped up and converted the penalty kick for the equalizer. Then in the 84’, Freedom midfielder Allie Long picked out Wambach who beat Burke for her 12th goal of the season. It gave the Washington Freedom both the win and sole possession of fourth place.
Saturday: Atlanta Beat 1, FC Gold Pride 6
FC Gold Pride had wrapped up the regular season title the weekend prior. The Atlanta Beat was coming off a major 3-2 win over the Boston Breakers. FC Gold Pride had nothing to play for while the Beat were determined to prove why they deserved a shot at the postseason. It was all in vain, however, as they got absolutely devastated by a rip-roaring Gold Pride team. The Beat gave it a go in the first half and striker Eniola Aluko had several good looks. But veteran Tiffeny Milbrett put the visiting side ahead in the 44’. All hell broke loose in the second half as FCGP midfielder Camille Abily scored her first goal of the season in the 51’. Atlanta were still in it at that point as Aluko cut the lead in half with a goal in the 65’. But then Atlanta’s back line got absolutely worked, as it allowed four unanswered goals in 22 minutes. Marta earned her 16th and 17th goals of the season in quick succession before Kelley O’Hara and Christine Sinclair added the final touches. Atlanta Beat goalkeeper Hope Solo had a rough night, but she actually prevented the score line from reaching double digits.
Sunday: Philadelphia Independence 1, Boston Breakers 2
WPS’ two most physical teams took to the pitch with second place in mind. The match lived up to its billing, as the Philadelphia Independence kicked lumps out of the Breakers players, notably #10 Kelly Smith and striker Lauren Cheney. That didn’t deter the Breakers, however, as they fought back after going a down courtesy of a Jo Lohman strike in the 17’. In the 35’, USWNT legend Kristine Lilly sent in a corner kick that found Breakers fullback Stephanie Cox. Cox sent a lovely, bending ball past Independence goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc for the equalizer. The physical play continued into the second half. At the hour mark, Lauren Cheney was taken down in the area after being denied a goal-scoring opportunity by Philadelphia defender Estelle Johnson. Kelly Smith stepped up and coolly converted the penalty kick. It was enough to give Boston both the win and a realistic shot at second place.
Stunning: FC Gold Pride. The regular season champions utterly decimated the Atlanta Beat by scoring five goals in the second half.
Shocking: The Atlanta Beat. Conceding six goals is a miserable night. The Beat had some good lucks but traded their offensive ambitions with defensive irresponsibility.
Streaking: Chicago Red Stars. But in the worst way possible. The team is now winless in four games and the Washington Freedom’s 2-1 victory over Sky Blue FC eliminated Chicago from playoff contention. They become the first WPS team of the 2010 season to do so.
Sputtering: Philadelphia Independence. The Independence have been solid all season but two consecutive losses sees the team losing grip of second place.
Stinging: Kelly Smith/Boston Breakers. The English legend got brutalized by the Independence on Sunday night. And it wasn’t just the egregious tackles, it was also Philadelphia’s ruthless American football turf.