With many of the big names on both sides of the Can-Am border on assignment for a May 25 friendly at BMO Field, a number of fresh new faces soaked in some valuable playing time in last weekend's set of matches.
This week in the 2009 WPS Power Rankings, the Los Angeles Sol reclaim the top spot, while Chicago's slump continues and Sky Blue FC tumble into a state of flux. Let's take a look.
1. LOS ANGELES SOL
Reclaiming the number one spot this week are Abner Rogers' Sol, who scored a 2-0 victory over FC Gold Pride to consolidate their position at the top of the league table.
With players such as goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc and captain Shannon Boxx on international duty for a friendly series with Canada, the Sol's depth was tested as Val Henderson made her first start at keeper. Aly Wagner's injury also meant that Lisa Sari and Liz Bogus would play a bigger role at Buck Shaw Stadium.
LA's first goal came on a penalty in the 27th minute, when FC Gold Pride's Carrie Dew fouled Aya Miyama, who wore the captain's armband for the Sol, in the penalty box.
Camille Abily slotted home the conversion in the 27th minute. Han Duan would score her first goal of her WPS campaign with a shot that escaped Pride goalkeeper Allison Whitworth, who was filling in for Nicole Barnhart, also called on to international duty.
The Sol outshot the Pride 13-9 (8-4 on goal) and did not commit a single offside.
Next Saturday, the Sol host St. Louis Athletica, who drop down to 2nd this week at the Home Depot Center.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:00PM ET, and comprises part of a WPS/MLS doubleheader (the Los Angeles Galaxy take on the Kansas City Wizards later in the evening).
2. ST. LOUIS ATHLETICA
In spite of sliding down to 2nd on our WPS Power Rankings, Jorge Barcellos's St. Louis Athletica is feeling rather fantastic at the moment.
They continued to add to the misery hounding the Chicago Red Stars, shutting them out at Toyota Park 2-0 last Saturday.
The debut of Athletica keeper Jillian Loyden (taking over for Hope Solo) was a smashing one, as the alumnus from Villanova made six cruicial saves in the shutout. Offensively, their first goal was own goal by Chicago's Ifeoma Dieke. Her deflection escaped Caroline Jonsson in the 26th minute.
Fifteen minutes later, Athletica's Eniola Aluko was able to drive home a 10-yard volley to make it 2-0 for the visitors from the Show Me state, who showed the home crowd something to think about.
“[It was a] typical strikers goal,” Aluko said after the match. “Ball fell to me perfectly and I just tried to put it away.”
Barcellos was pleased, to say the least.
“We were in a similar situation to Chicago, we lost our first two games,” said Barcellos following the game. “We were able to find our game today and get three points away from home.
Those three points will be very cruicial, as St. Louis makes it move up the table. They have an opportunity to gain more leverage against the Los Angeles Sol this Saturday at Victoria Street. Kickoff at the Home Depot Center is scheduled for 7:00PM ET, and is part of a WPS/MLS doubleheader.
3. BOSTON BREAKERS
Tony DiCicco's Boston Breakers were off this week, and remain third in this week's WPS Power Rankings.
The Breakers' bye week was serendipitous, as seven of them were away on international duty: Angela Hucles, Amy LePeilbet, Heather Mitts and Amy Rodriguez for the USA; Candace Chapman for Canada; and Alex Scott and Kelly Smith for England for the national team's preparations prior to UEFA Women's Euro 2009 action in Finland.
This past Monday, Boston defeated the SoccerPlus CT Reds 4-0. Maggie Tomecka, a former player with the reds, scored a brace in the victory and Kelly Schmedes added a goal and an assist.
Earlier last Thursday, the Breakers went down the road to Amesbury to take on their reserve team, Boston Aztec of the WPSL, and routed them 4-0. A Kelly Schmedes second half brace was combined with first half tallies by Soiphia Mundy and Tomecka.
"We didn't have all of our players, but it gave some of our other players a chance to show (Breakers coach) Tony (DiCicco) what they could do," captain Kristine Lilly said after the match at the Amesbury Sports Park. "We didn't play very well in the first half, but the second half looked a lot better."
Next Sunday, Boston will be traveling to Yurcak Field on the campus of Rutgers University to face struggling Sky Blue FC. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:00PM ET and will be televised by Fox Soccer Channel.
4. WASHINGTON FREEDOM
Jim Gabarra's Freedom scored a 2-1 victory over a reeling Sky Blue FC side at RFK Stadium to move up to fourth on our Power Rankings.
In their glorious return to RFK Stadium, their WUSA stomping grounds, Washington defender Cat Whitehill headed a corner from Sonia Bompastor to give the home side a 1-0 lead in the 35th minute.
“We’ve probably had a lot of corners; we hadn’t scored on any corner kicks so eventually the numbers game plays into that," said Gabarra on the goal after the game. "I think Cat made a great run and Sonia’s been great with her serve.”
The 39th minute saw Lisa De Vanna score on a transition play, sending one past Jenni Branam to make it 2-0.
“They were a little tired and beat in the back and they were losing the ball, they weren’t having good touches," Gabarra said on the second goal by the Matilda. "I actually yelled to Lisa, ‘come on, you’ve got to work’ and she stepped and pressed [the Sky Blue defense] and stole the ball and went on a breakaway and finished it nicely.”
Freedom goalkeeper Erin McLeod made four saves in the contest, but felt that she had not reached form yet.
“I’m a little rusty,” she said following the match. “We’re still learning to work with one another and the more comfortable we get with one another, the easier it will be.”
Whitehill concurred. “[McLeod’s] been huge for us," she said after the match. "We’ve only been together two weeks and I already feel she’s been behind me for two months.”
What a difference a keeper makes.
McLeod will need to carry the hopes of the nation's capital on her shoulders again as they take on FC Gold Pride back at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown, MD. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:00PM ET on Sunday, May 31.
5. FC GOLD PRIDE
The showdown of the Samba Queens was rudely upstaged by Han Duan and Camille Abily of the Los Angeles Sol as the Lionesses of the Bay fell again to their Southern California rivals 2-0 at Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara.
This was the first time the Pride were held scoreless at home. The closest Albertin Montoya's club had to scoring was late in the match when the unlikeliest of would-be heroines in Brandi Chastain squandered an equalizer opportunity.
"We had one mental lapse, but we will learn from it," said Montoya after the match. "We went from Brandi almost scoring to a missed ball off a goal kick. We lost our concentration for one second.
"When you have players like Marta and Duan, they'll make you pay."
The Pride will look to make amends after losing a 4-3 goal festival to the Washington Freedom at the Buck. Kickoff is scheduled for Sunday, May 31 at the Maryland SoccerPlex at 4:00PM ET.
6. SKY BLUE FC
Staying at the sixth spot is Sky Blue FC, who saw Natasha Kai back on the field after a couple of knocks against the Los Angeles Sol.
The team, however, saw turmoil on the managerial front as Ian Sawyers was relieved of his duties as general manager and head coach.
In his place as head coach was former assistant Kelly Lindsey. A second-half rally led by Rosana and Kai fell short as the Washington Freedom won 2-1 at RFK Stadium.
Rosana's goal came in the 66th minute off a feed from Kai.
Lindsey was all smiles when asked about the final minutes of the match. "It felt good - our team did well, our bench was up, the fans were into it," she said. "I thought there were a lot of goal scoring opportunities and there were some dangerous moments and I think everyone enjoyed the last 15-20 minutes of the game."
Noelle Keselica made her debut against Washington, where she grew up. "It’s incredible having my family and friends here being able to watch me," the forward from Gatherburg, MD and Virginia said. "I think our team fought well in the second half and I think we were battling so hard at the end that we thought we would have pulled a win or a tie."
The big question for Sky Blue FC heading into their home tie with the Boston Breakers is how big of a distraction will the situation regarding Sawyers become.
Kickoff is scheduled for Sunday, May 31, and will be televised by Fox Soccer Channel at 6:00PM ET.
7. CHICAGO RED STARS
Once again, Chicago is at the cellar. While it's too soon to say that the Red Star ship is sinking (way too soon, in fact), things aren't looking quite rosy for Emma Hayes' club, who have failed to score in 308 minutes, and have dropped three straight, including a 2-0 defeat to St. Louis Athletica at Bridgeview's Toyota Park.
Chicago defender Ifeoma Dieke was unfortunate to have scored an own goal in the 25th minute of a home shutout that saw the Red Stars outshoot St. Louis 12-5 (6-1 shots on goal).
"I think after the [own] goal we became disconnected as a team," said Hayes following the match. “I’ll say this time and time again. Now is the test again of our character. We can’t fold, we lost the game in two moments. It’s crucial that we identify what those problems are once a goal goes in. It is emotional, I can assure you that.
"We need to get on the same page and have a collective focus. You can’t solve it as an individual, you have to solve it as a collective. I think we’re lacking with that at the moment, and it’s something that we’re going to have to work at."
Red Stars keeper Caroline Jonnson concurred with the manager's verdict.
“I also think that this is a problem we have, but I also think this keeps coming every game," she said after the match "I think actually this could gain us in the long run that we’ve been through this period of time now.
"I think we will have time to fix it and be great at it when it comes to playoffs. It could be a good thing for us to have it now.”
It can only be a matter of time before Chicago's dry spell ends. Or will it?
The Red Stars have a bye week to contemplate the missed opportunities. Afterwards, they will touch down on the LAX tarmac on route to the Home Depot Center for a Wednesday night contest on June 3 against the Los Angeles Sol. Kickoff is scheduled for 10:30PM ET.