We have come to the end of the 2009 Women's Professional Soccer season, and we see Sky Blue FC clinch the final postseason berth. This year has been full of extraordinary everything: goals, saves, and skill all around. I am glad to have been a part of witnessing it, as you are.
As more history is made before our eyes this weekend, we take a look at the penultimate edition of the Power Rankings for this inaugural season.
1. ST. LOUIS ATHLETICA
Hope Solo made history as the first WPS goalkeeper to be credited with an assist. But we'll get to that in a bit.
Jorge Barcellos's Athletica wrapped up the 2009 WPS regular season with a win and a draw.
On Wednesday, St. Louis Athletica faced the Chicago Red Stars at the Anheuser-Busch Soccer Park. Christie Welsh broke through with her first two goals of the campaign.
In the 33rd minute, Sarah Walsh found Welsh on the left side, and she drilled a shot past Caroline Jonsson to finally open her account.
In the 64th minute, Walsh and Melissa Tancredi teamed up to help Welsh complete the brace.
Athletica doubled up on shots on goal (four to two) Wednesday night.
With Eniola Aluko setting sail for the European Championships, the question of who will succeed the England international was brought up on Saturday against FC Gold Pride.
Once again, the answer looked to be clear: In Welsh We Trust.
On Sunday night at Buck Shaw Stadium, a goal kick from Hope Solo saw Welsh race past two FC Gold Pride defenders to tally her third of the season.
However, St. Louis would have to settle for a 1-1 draw. But the crowd at Santa Clara got to see a rare treat: the first assist by a goalkeeper in WPS play.
Straight out of a video game? Perhaps. But the WPS is yet to be available in the EA Sports FIFA series.
Oh yes, and Solo made nine saves in the draw, denying a majority of opportunities for the Lionesses of the Bay.
All signs now point to preparations for the WPS Super Semifinal at the Busch. And the question beckons: can the firm of Walsh and Welsh seal the deal for St. Louis Athletica?
Kickoff is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 19 at 7:00 p.m. ET and will be televised by Fox Soccer Channel.
2. LOS ANGELES SOL
The Los Angeles Sol returned to form by rallying from a goal down to earn their first-ever victory over the Boston Breakers, a 2-1 decision at Harvard Stadium on Sunday evening.
Manager Abner Rogers wanted to boost the morale of his players after letting Kelly Smith break loose early in the first half. The early substitution of Camille Abily paid off, as her presence helped Marta earn her tenth goal of the season.
It was not the prettiest of goals, but she had enough to knock one out of Kristin Luckinbill's reach in the 59th minute.
Late in stoppage time, Marta was fouled inside the second half by Alex Scott. Captain Shannon Boxx converted the penalty to finally get a large East Coast monkey off their back. The goal was Boxx's third of the season.
Abily may have already wrapped up her services with the Sol this season, but this breakthrough win is sure to re-energize the team, who snap a three-game winless streak.
In spite of giving up the Smith goal, LeBlanc otherwise was nothing short of solid, making five saves in a contest that saw threatening, ominous skies above Soldiers' Field.
LA's final match will be at the Home Depot Center in the WPS Championship Game against either St. Louis Athletica, the Washington Freedom or Sky Blue FC.
It will be a glorified home game for the Sol, as the road to the title ends where it started. Kickoff is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 22 at 4:00 p.m. ET and will be televised by Fox Sports Net.
On a side note...their W-League affiliates, the Pali Blues, successfully defended their W-League title with a 2-1 victory over the Washington Freedom Reserves. Keep your eyes out for Mexico's Iris Mora; it will not be surprising if she is given a shot to compete in the WPS next season.
3. WASHINGTON FREEDOM
Jim Gabarra's Freedom earned the right to host the First Round of the 2009 WPS Playoffs with a 3-1 victory over Sky Blue FC at the Mayland SoccerPlex in Germantown on Saturday.
Of course, they also had to count on the Los Angeles Sol holding off the Boston Breakers on Sunday. Nonetheless, the partisan fans at the SoccerPlex had to be pleased by seeing the regular season end on the winning note.
Once again, the heroics of captain Abby Wambach saw them through.
In the 20th minute, Rebecca Moros's cross on the right side found Wambach to make it 1-0 and in the 27th minute, Lisa De Vanna found Wambach again in the far post to make it a 2-0 in favor of the Freedom.
In the 57th minute, Wambach returned the favor by delivering a cross to the Australian international, who tapped in her sixth of the season inside the left post from eight yards away.
An anonymous sage of sport once said, "It's hard to beat a good team twice." But while Washington has proven this maxim wrong with their series victory over Sky Blue FC, they must prepare for payback.
Kickoff in the 2009 WPS First Round between the Freedom and Sky Blue FC is scheduled for 4:00 p.m. ET and will be covered by Fox Sports Net.
4. SKY BLUE FC
Not two managerial changes, nor a lousy beginning to the season or a nailbiting set of matches in Week 20 could prevent Sky Blue FC from earning a playoff berth with the Washington Freedom.
Okay, they did need help...from the Los Angeles Sol. But the Jersey Girls needed to get the job done on their end.
And what better way to make that happen with a Wednesday contest with the cellar-dwellers of WPS...FC Gold Pride?
Sky Blue outshot the visitors 22 to six, and had 12 of their shots on target as second-half goals by Rosana and Natasha Kai translated to a 2-0 victory.
In the 47th minute, a floater from Heather O'Reilly on the right side found the Brazilian international, who made it 1-0.
The barrage of volleys continued to pay off, as Collette McCallum found Natasha Kai inside the box in the 61st minute.
In addition to shot domination, Sky Blue FC won seven corners, while backup goalkeeper Karen Bardsley made two key stops in the defeat.
But Christie Rampone's club needed to win both of its matches to secure a berth in the postseason, and frustration mounted in the form of a 3-1 defeat to the Washington Freedom.
Rosana scored a consolation goal in the 53rd minute, with a left-footed shot into the top right corner from 25 yards away.
Goalkeeper Jenni Branam made four saves in the defeat, as Sky Blue outshot Washington 28 to 13. Sky Blue also had more shots on goal that the Freedom (nine to seven).
Thankfully for the ladies from Piscataway, they were able to make the playoffs with Boston's defeat to the Sol. For a club thrust into a state of flux, earning a postseason berth is the best thing that could ever happen.
But it can only get better. Sky Blue FC will look for hard-earned payback against Washington in the WPS First Round. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:00 p.m. ET on Sunday, August 16 and will be televised by Fox Sports Net.
5. BOSTON BREAKERS
Certainly this was the last thing Tony DiCicco wanted.
But the Breakers' reputation as being the only team to not have lost to the Los Angeles Sol was not going to last any longer, as their playoff hopes died on the pitch that is Harvard Stadium.
Boston needed a victory to keep their season alive. However, goals by Marta and Shannon Boxx sank the Breakers to a 2-1 defeat.
Their only goal came in the 17th minute as Kelly Smith ran down a long ball from Kristine Lilly to tally her sixth goal of the season.
After that, things went downhill for the Breakers.
Goalkeeper Kristin Luckinbill was unable to hold off a charging Marta in the 59th minute, and Alex Smith's foul on the Brazilian international elicited howls of disapproval and disgust.
Shannon Boxx's stoppage-time penalty consigned Boston—who handed Los Angeles their first-ever defeat this season—to their first-ever defeat against the Sol.
Never mess with karma.
Boston outshot the Sol 14 to eight, had more shots on goal (six to two), and won more corners (10 to four) than Los Angeles. But for all the chances they had, the Sol scorched them defensively to spoil a shot at payback against the Freedom.
6. CHICAGO RED STARS
Like the Boston Breakers, Emma Hayes's Red Stars saw their season end in defeat.
On Wednesday, Chicago was ambushed by the likes of Sarah Walsh and Christie Welsh in a 2-0 defeat at the Anheuser-Busch Soccer Park.
The Red Stars outshot Athletica 10 to eight, but were held at bay by a strong St. Louis defense that was led by goalkeeper Hope Solo.
Adding insult to defeat, captain Lindsay Tarpley tore her ACL prior to the match in the team's final practice of the season last Tuesday.
Caroline Jonsson made two saves in the defeat, and notched her name into the history books as the first-ever WPS goalkeeper to start in every regular season match.
7. FC GOLD PRIDE
It wasn't the best of ways for FC Gold Pride to end their season. A difficult campaign which was a train wreck from the beginning ended with matches against Sky Blue FC and St. Louis Athletica.
In the Wednesday road encounter at Yurcak Field, Rosana and Natasha Kai led a successful Sky Blue ambush to send the Lionesses of the Bay back to Buck Shaw Stadium with a 2-0 defeat.
Goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart made nine saves in the defeat.
A more favorable set of circumstances awaited the Pride in the season finale against St. Louis.
Rachel Buehler got her first—and last—goal of the season donning the black and gold in the 24th minute to give the Pride optimism for the future in a 1-1 draw.
FC Gold Pride outshot St. Louis 17 to six and had 11 shots on goal. compared to Athletica's five. Barnhart made four saves in securing the draw.
For Montoya, it was a sign that things would be looking up.
“I’m very excited,” he said after the match. “I’m looking forward to next season because we have a special group here.
"When we put performances like we have till the end of the season, it makes my job very difficult when deciding what changes I need to make for next season.
"Obviously, we need to find a few players that will help us get over the hump, but I got to give credit to our team, they’ve come out and played hard in every game.”