A new season; another chance to watch some great women's football.
The dawn of the 2010 Women's Professional Soccer season saw exciting action, from Hayward to Piscataway, from Chester to Fenton, and all points in between.
And with it, we have the first Power Rankings. Let's take a look at who moved up and down from our Preseason rankings this week.
1. ST. LOUIS ATHLETICA
Rising to the No.1 spot this week is Jorge Barcellos' St. Louis Athletica, who kicked off their 2010 campaign with a 2-0 victory over FC Gold Pride at the Anheuser-Busch Soccer Park in Fenton, Mo.
The finishing prowess of Eniola Aluko was at it again on Sunday. Not missing her touch from last year, the Birmingham, UK native benefited from deliveries from Shannon Boxx with goals in the 40th and 62nd minutes.
“I could not have wished for anything better to be honest,” said Aluko after the contest. “I just wanted a team win, and for me to be able to contribute to the team win is even better. It was very important that we get off to a good start this year, especially after our start last year. We didn’t want to go through what we did last year, so hopefully it is onwards and upwards from here.”
“As a team we said let's start the season off right, let’s get a win,” Boxx said after the contest. “Chalupny said it best before the game. ‘Let's show everyone what we are about, come out strong and hard, be in on every tackle.' And we did that today.”
Barcellos was all smiles after the victory. “The team was very good today, all the team,” the head coach said. “Eniola Aluko was unbelievable. I think she will score a lot of goals this year. The support she got from Shannon Boxx was terrific. Plus, we did not make our defense do a lot of work today.”
Well Jorge, the defense did have to do its share. And who better to spearhead the Athletica D than goalkeeper Hope Solo, who frustrated Marta and FC Gold Pride. Solo made six saves to earn her first shutout of the season for St. Louis.
Next for St. Louis, they go from the Brewery to Bridgeview. Athletica opens their road campaign next Saturday against the Chicago Red Stars. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. ET.
2. BOSTON BREAKERS
Tony DiCicco's Boston Breakers make a jump of their own as well, coming in at No.2 in our WPS Power Rankings.
After seeing their postseason dreams go up in smoke last year, they got right on track with a 2-1 victory over the Washington Freedom at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown, Md.
A Lauren Cheney goal in the seventh minute, a second by Kelly Smith in the 20th minute and some stifling defending in their own third was all it took for the Breakers to earn their first win of the season.
“A good win tonight against a good Washington Freedom team,” DiCicco said. “Early goals by Cheney and Smith, defending by the back four led by Amy LePeilbet, and excellent goalkeeping by (Ashley) Phillips in her first start was the difference. I am very proud of this team.”
Breakers goalkeeper Ashley Phillips made two key saves to earn her first victory of the season.
Next up for Boston, a Sunday trip back home to Soldiers Field, a.k.a. Harvard Stadium, for a match with the expansion Philadelphia Independence. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. ET Sunday, April 18 and will be televised by Fox Soccer Channel.
3. SKY BLUE FC
Dropping to third in the rankings are Sky Blue FC, but don't let this ranking fool you; they haven't missed much from their 2010 WPS Championship year. In fact, it seemed that the match with the now-defunct Los Angeles Sol was just last week.
A goal by Natasha Kai (or "Tasha" as she prefers to be called) in the sixth minute was all the Ladies of the Raritan needed in their 1-0 victory over the Chicago Red Stars at Joe Yurcak Field on the campus of Rutgers University.
"Nerves got the best of us today, but we fought through it as a team," Kai said after the match. "We played with a lot of heart, and we stuck together. In the end, we came out victorious."
New manager Pauliina Miettinen knew that Sky Blue FC had a huge X on their back. Nonetheless, they were able to manage the bar they raised.
"As a team," Miettinen said, "expectations are high, and I think that contributed to the fact that we were a little bit nervous out there. We can definitely play, but we have to be a little bit more willing to move along the field and make ourselves available."
Goalkeeper Karen Bardsley made five saves to earn her first shutout of the season. "I thought we played well," she said after the match. "We could have done a few things better. It was difficult to get on the same page at first because we have a lot of new faces. I think for the most part, we did alright."
Sky Blue FC will look to consolidate on their team chemistry next Saturday against FC Gold Pride at Castro Valley Athletic Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled 10:00 p.m. ET.
4. WASHINGTON FREEDOM
Dropping to fourth in our 2010 WPS Power Rankings is Jim Gabarra's Washington Freedom. Gabarra had an idea of why his club couldn't produce after going down two goals at halftime to lose 2-1 to the Boston Breakers.
"[Boston] didn't have any great chances unless it was from our mistakes," Gabarra said after the match. "We certainly weren't broken down by their play. We were broken down by our lack of intensity. We need to play another system aside from the 4-2-3-1 and we have to learn more systems. We need time."
Allie Long earned a consolation for the Washington in the 87th minute off a delivery by Abby Wambach.
"It surprises you when the first goal [by Lauren Cheney] goes in," said the Freedom's Rebecca Moros on Boston's fast start. "It takes the wind out of your sails. We didn't really get it back until the second half."
Cat Whitehill agreed. "They scored early and that set the pace," she said. "The first five or ten minutes of a game are usually the most dangerous. Especially the first ten minutes of the first game of the season."
The Freedom will face the Atlanta Beat Sunday, April 18 at the SoccerPlex. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. ET.
5. PHILADELPHIA INDEPENDENCE
The WPS Power Rankings doesn't do ties, so even in draws some moving and shaking can happen. At John A. Farrell Stadium in West Chester, Pa., Paul Riley's Philadelphia Independence played the Atlanta Beat to a hard-fought scoreless draw.
In truth, Philadelphia could have won the contest 3-0 to the good. The Indies had the majority of the chances, peppering Atlanta's net with 12 shots, 11 on goal.
Philly's Jen Buczkowski was unable to connect on a header off an Amy Rodriguez delivery late in the first half. A second-half penalty by Holmfridur Magnusdottir and a one-on-one chance by Rodriguez late in stoppage time were also stopped.
That's not to say Philly didn't have to make stops of their own; Karina LeBlanc made four saves to earn her first clean sheet with her new club.
The home fans were treated to a solid display in the midfield by Lori Lindsey. "It was great to be here in Philly playing for such amazing fans, and I think it went well for our first time playing together," Lindsey said on the match.
The Sons of Ben, a.k.a. the Daughters of Betsy, were hoping to ride the momentum from the Union's breakthrough win over D.C. United. Ultimately, they had to settle for a draw that saw the Indies rack up 12 fouls.
Riley's observations of the supporters were overwhelmingly positive. "I love Philly fans—they get on the ref, which is great, and they were chanting and having a great time," Riley said. "Fans who love the game of soccer make all the difference. I thought we played well for our first game together. We had national team players leave during preseason and we have only played one game with everyone there, so I think overall...it felt good to get this match under our belt.”
The Indies will look to make one point turn into three when they face the Boston Breakers Sunday, April 18. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. ET and will be televised live by Fox Soccer Channel.
6. ATLANTA BEAT
Gareth O'Sullivan's Atlanta Beat, led by Tobin Heath, were looking to open their inaugural season in style against the Philadelphia Independence. Instead, the resurrected club settled for a scoreless draw.
Atlanta had a golden opportunity to get in a scoring rhythm early in their campaign. Amanda Cinalli's header in the 26th minute hit the woodwork. Beat keeper Allison Whitworth made four saves to earn her first shutout of the season.
"I think it was a good result tonight in our first game together as a team," O'Sullivan said on the match. "I think the girls were disappointed because they wanted to get a result, but any time you have a 1 on 1 with your keeper in the last 20 seconds, you have to be pleased to come out with a draw."
"I don’t think either team looked like an expansion team tonight, and I think both Atlanta and Philly are going to give any team they play against a good game. I think it’s going to be a fantastic rivalry between our teams, and we will be back in about three weeks for what I’m sure will be another tough battle."
But before the Beat and Indies return to Farrell for the second match of the series (which is scheduled for Saturday, May 1 at 6:00 p.m. ET), there's the matter of the schedule in between. Next up for Atlanta are the Washington Freedom at the Maryland SoccerPlex on Sunday, April 18, 2010. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. ET.
7. CHICAGO RED STARS
It was the same old story for Chicago Red Stars, who had the lions' share of opportunities to defeat the defending WPS Champions. Emma Hayes' club lost 1-0 to Sky Blue FC at Joe Yurcak Field.
In fact, you can only wonder why the finishing was as difficult to watch as it was. Chicago had 20 shots, with five on goal. Compounding matters was the 13 corners the Red Stars had to get on the score column.
Brazilian Cristiane was given a cruel reminder that she wasn't in the company of Kleiton Lima's Santos Ladies, as her shots missed the mark with such precision.
"I was disappointed that we didn't capitalize on our set pieces. That's something to work at in training this week," Hayes said after the match. "But there were a lot of positives to take out of this game. Other than the result, I thought we were the better team."
Jillian Loyden made three saves in the losing effort.
So just how will the Red Stars regroup? Or rather, WILL they? St. Louis Athletica is coming to Toyota Park, and somewhere people following the football out there in Chicagoland will wonder if the Women of the Windy City will get the ball in the net at least once.
Kickoff is scheduled for Saturday, April 17 at 8:00 p.m. ET.
8. FC GOLD PRIDE
Even with the arrival of Marta, Albertin Montoya's FC Gold Pride were unable to figure out St. Louis Athletica, losing 2-0 to fall to the bottom of our 2010 WPS Power Rankings.
While the Lionesses of the Bay were able to manage more shots (nine to eight) and shots on goal (six to five), Hope Solo and the Athletica defense and attack led by Eniola Aluko proved too strong to handle.
In fact, Marta proved all too human in her first match with the Pride, never making an impact at the Anheuser-Busch Soccer Park.
Pride fans can only hope that will change when she faces the team that beat her Sol for the WPS crown last year, Sky Blue FC. Kickoff is scheduled 10:00 p.m. ET at Castro Valley Athletic Stadium on Saturday, April 17.