The Lionesses of the East Bay might as well be running away with the regular season crown at this point in the 2010 Women's Professional Soccer season. It's as if the ghost of the Los Angeles Sol was placed in a formerly lifeless cadaver of last season's FC Gold Pride team, resulting in the corpse rising to its feet and doing Michael Jackson's "Thriller" dance.
That's how good things have been, as they dominate this week's WPS Power Rankings. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Beat can rest assured that they will not be in the cellar, as the Washington Freedom tank again to occupy that spot.
With all that said, let's take a look at the rankings.
Guess who's at the top of this week's rankings? No, it doesn't take a rocket scientist monkey to figure out that Albertin Montoya's FC Gold Pride rule the roost once again.
Cross-country victories over the Boston Breakers and Washington Freedom have put the rest of the league and the rest of the country on notice for the rest of the season.
On Wednesday July 21, the Pride stormed into Harvard Stadium and bounced back from a 1-0 deficit to win 2-1 over the Boston Breakers.
Christine Sinclair earned her eighth goal of the season from an Ali Riley delivery in the 35th minute, while Marta Vieira da Silva brought home the game-winner in first half stoppage time.
Goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart delivered in the clutch with four saves. The Lionesses of the East Bay also won six corners against Boston.
"First of all, it was huge in this league to come back," Sinclair said on her goal after the match. "It doesn't happen often when you fall behind so to respond like that pretty quickly was obviously very important for us. If their goalkeeper gets the ball we're supposed to press and Allie did that and did a tremendous job and I pretty much had an open net."
On Saturday the Pride made the trip down to the Maryland SportsPlex in Germantown to face off against the Washington Freedom. It wasn't even close, as the Pride continued their East Coast conquest with a 4-1 rout.
Marta must be a fan of the pitch at the 'Plex. She scored a brace in the second half to lead the league with a baker's dozen of goals.
In the 18th minute Tiffeny Milbrett scored her third of the season off a poor save attempt by the Freedom's Erin McLeod. While Washington equalized before halftime, FC Gold Pride took command of the match through their franchise combination: the defending FIFA Women's Player of the Year Marta and her right-hand confidante Christine Sinclair.
In the 59th minute Sinclair connected with Marta to earn her 12th of the season. The Pride took advantage of Washington playing a man down, as Sinclair and Marta connected to complete the Brazilian's brace. Milbrett completed her own brace in the 89th minute through Sinclair to earn her fourth of the campaign.
"It is difficult to travel as far as we have to go from the West Coast," said midfielder Shannon Boxx, "but we came out with 6 points (on the East Coast) and that's a great thing for us. I feel like we have gotten that separation but we need to keep moving forward. We can't quit, we can't stop playing because people can catch us for sure.
"I think I've learned a lot from last year that you can never stop playing because of the momentum going into playoffs and you want to keep getting better as a team no matter where you are in the standings."
Barnhart was stellar in the net, making six saves in the victory.
The Atlanta Beat must brace themselves: The Lionesses of the East Bay are on the prowl.
Kickoff between FC Gold Pride and the Beat at the Beat/KSU Stadium in Kennesaw, Georgia is scheduled for August 1 at 5:00 p.m. ET and will be televised by Fox Soccer Channel.
Paul Riley's Philadelphia Independence are also on a tear. On July 24 they defeated Sky Blue FC 4-1 to gain separation on their rivals down the Turnpike.
"These were an important three points for us because it puts us six ahead of New Jersey," Riley said after the match. "We absolutely have to finish Chicago Wednesday night and need to focus on earning those points so that we can breathe a little easier."
Caroline Seger was the difference maker at John A. Farrell Stadium in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Her three assists tied a WPS record.
In the seventh minute Seger's cross to Joanna Lohman made it 1-0 Indies. The goal was Lohman's third of the year. Amy Rodriguez would benefit from Seger's deliveries though, with goals in the eighth and 52nd minutes. The goals were Rodriguez's eighth and ninth, respectively.
Iceland's Holmfridur Magnusdottir finally opened her scoring account in the 21st minute to make it 3-0 Philly.
The Independence had six of their 11 shots on goal against Sky Blue FC.
"Our confidence as a team just shoots through the roof when we have games like this, and it really is just so much fun playing like that," Rodriguez said after the match. " Plus, we’re able to walk away with three points."
Next up for the Indies is a match with the Chicago Red Stars at John A. Farrell Stadium on Wednesday, July 28. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. ET.
It's been a hit-and-miss week for Tony DiCicco's Boston Breakers. While they gave up an early lead to FC Gold Pride, they bounced back against the Chicago Red Stars.
So much for consistency.
On Wednesday the Breakers hosted the Pride at Harvard Stadium in Cambridge, Massachusetts. While Jordan Angeli gave Boston a 1-0 lead thanks to Alex Scott, the Breakers could not hold on and lost 2-1.
Angeli's goal was her fourth of the season.
"This team has a lot of fight, they're big, they work hard, and we created some chances," DiCicco said after the match. "Barnhart had a good save and it hit the post on another one. Again we give to the goal and you can’t do that against the best team in the league and that’s why they’re the best team in the league.
"[FC Gold Pride] obviously got one of the best players in the world [in Marta] and they’re good in a lot of positions. I was proud of the way the team played and we are still in the hunt here but this was a game that I think we really could have gotten a result from."
"Of course we’re a little down right now," Angeli said after Wednesday's contest, "but we are playing good soccer and getting great opportunities and I think that we are going to put it away and it’s only a matter of time before some of those start just going in like habit."
Boston outshot FC Gold Pride 11 to nine and had six shots on goal. But the Pride's defense held the Breakers' attack in check during the second half at Soldiers' Field.
The Breakers would have better fortunes ahead of them against the Chicago Red Stars on Sunday at Bridgeview's Toyota Park. Kelly Smith set the pace with a brace to give Boston an important 3-1 road victory.
In the ninth minute Smith earned her fifth of the year on an unassisted goal and benefited from a Lindsay Tarpley delivery three minutes later for her sixth of the campaign.
Two minutes after Smith's brace, Ifeoma Dieke opened her scoring account off a Smith feed to increase the lead to 3-0. It was a lead the Breakers would not relinquish.
Boston played a sound game, with no fouls or offsides called against them in the first half. Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher made eight saves in the win.
The Breakers return to Harvard Stadium to face the struggling Washington Freedom. Kickoff at Soldiers' Field is scheduled for Saturday, July 31 at 6:00 p.m. ET.
Gareth O'Sullivan's Atlanta Beat are learning how to win again.
Atlanta defeated the Chicago Red Stars on July 21 at the Beat/KSU Stadium in Kennesaw. Eniola Aluko was the difference-maker once again. Her goal in the 56th minute off the Stacy Bishop delivery was her sixth of the season.
“I’m a striker, so I’m there to score,” Aluko said after the match. “It just gives me confidence to keep scoring.
"It always feels good for a striker to contribute to a win, and that’s what I did today.”
Hope Solo made five saves in the victory, frustrating Cristiane and the Red Stars' attack.
The Beat hope to keep their rhythm going with a couple of matches on the card this week. On Wednesday July 28, they clash with the Washington Freedom at Beat/KSU Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET.
And on August 1 the league-leading FC Gold Pride will come down to Kennesaw. Kickoff for that match is scheduled for 5:00 p.m. ET, and it will be televised by Fox Soccer Channel.
Like last year, turmoil has resulted in a shakeup on the banks of the Raritan River.
Pauliina Miettinen was sacked as manager of Sky Blue FC and was replaced by Rick Stainton. It's no surprise that Stainton's club lost its focus early and often in its 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Independence.
Brittany Taylor opened her scoring account in the 80th minute, but it was a mere consolation prize for the defending WPS Champions, who will have to ride once again on the shoulders of a caretaker manager to contend for a postseason spot.
"[The Independence] come at us with numbers every time, and we need to handle that pressure better," Stainton said after the match. "We knew that coming in, and we even practiced it, we just didn’t execute tonight."
Sky Blue FC outshot Philadelphia 12-11, but goalkeeper Kristin Luckenbill couldn't hold up her end of the bargain, as she was left out to dry early and often by the Indies' attack.
Despite his team's woes at the goalkeeping position, Stainton was optimistic about his chances of injecting some more depth.
"We have Jenni Branam coming back, she’s nearly healthy and should be back fully on the first," Stainton added. "We also have Shannon Meyers as a great backup, but we are in search of another to have some depth in the position."
Of course, Branam's return won't guarantee Sky Blue FC a chance to defend the crown. The whole team has to help itself.
They get their chance to do just that with a match against the Chicago Red Stars. Kickoff at Joe Yurcak Field on the campus of Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey is scheduled for August 1 at 7:00 p.m. ET.
If Omid Namazi hasn't figured it out by now, his Chicago Red Stars are struggling to earn points. It was simply a week to forget for the Women of the Windy City, as they dropped two critical matches—one at home, one on the road.
On July 21 the Red Stars were ambushed by a one-player wrecking crew known to the world as Eniola Aluko in a 1-0 defeat at the Beat/KSU Stadium in Kennesaw.
Chicago outshot Atlanta 11 to six but were throttled by a scrappy Beat defense that made life miserable for the Red Stars' scorers.
It didn't get any better back in Bridgeview, Illinois. Chicago was taken to the woodshed by Kelly Smith and the Boston Breakers in a 3-1 loss.
Again, even though the Red Stars dominated offensively (18 shots to Boston's seven, 10 shots on goal to Boston's six, five corner kicks to Boston's two), their inability to figure out opposing defenses made this a week worthy of their rear-view mirror.
Kosovare Asllani earned her second of the season from Casey Nogueira in the 80th minute.
Chicago will hope to snap out of its funk with a couple of matches on the cards. On Wednesday they will travel to West Chester to clash with the Philadelphia Independence. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. ET. On August 1 they will face Sky Blue FC at Joe Yurcak Field in Piscataway. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. ET.
Jim Gabarra must be living in a nightmare right now. His Washington Freedom continue to slump yet again. On Saturday Marta and FC Gold Pride came to the Maryland SportsPlex and smelled blood in the water. The Freedom were annihilated 4-1 by a pack of ravaging Lionesses from the East Bay.
Abby Wambach got her sixth of the season off a Beverly Goebel delivery to tie the score at 1-1 going into the break. Ultimately, Erin McLeod was unable to deliver in the clutch for the Freedom and left the game with a knee injury. All the Pride did from that point forward was take advantage.
Washington outshot FC Gold Pride 10 to 8, but Barnhart's stops, the Pride defense, and a certain player by the name of Marta just made this a no-win situation for the Freedom.
"We are trying everything," defender Cat Whitehill admitted after the match. "Different formations, different players. We need some things to fall our way. We just need a little bit of luck. Just a few things to go our way, because we are giving 100 percent, no doubt about it."
"We didn't do a good job with the chances we had and they were very good with theirs," Gabarra said after the match. "We still have nine games and still plenty of points out there. We just have to keep working hard."
"We are hoping that it doesn't get worse than this," Whitehill added. "I feel like we are at rock bottom. We haven't won in a while. We have a Wednesday game against Atlanta and we have won twice against them. They are on a win streak so it will be a tough game."
It should be noted that in the WPS, fortunes can change, even for teams at the bottom. Atlanta's a good example of this. Can the Freedom take a page out of the Beat's cadence book and free themselves from the cellar?
Kickoff between Washington and Atlanta at the Beat/KSU Stadium is scheduled for Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. ET.
The Freedom will then ship themselves up to Boston to tangle with the Breakers at Harvard Stadium on Saturday. Kickoff at Soldiers' Field is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. ET.