WPS Week 9 was the first of what will be several consecutive weeks that will not feature U.S. women's national team players. It was also the final week for other select internationals, who will join their respective national teams shortly. Here are five things learned in WPS Week 9:
1. Nogueira finding form. Sky Blue FC midfielder Casey Nogueira extended her team's unbeaten streak to four games with a gorgeous 88th-minute equalizer in Friday's 2-2 draw with still unbeaten Western New York Flash. The goal capped off a fabulous evening for the second-year pro, who put a typically composed Flash defense under serious pressure throughout the match.
Nogueira has long been criticized for being inconsistent and taking days off, but her play in 2011 suggests she is overcoming habits of her younger years and evolving into the high level player she can be. Already 2011 has brought far more consistency for the former North Carolina Tar Heel as she settles into an attacking role on the Sky Blue FC's left wing.
Her success is also translating at the team level. While Sky Blue FC is just 2-3-2 with 8 points, it now rides a three-game unbeaten streak into Sunday's home match against the Boston Breakers, a team that has never won in New Jersey.
2. Ellertson still defending tough. In a league where fans continue to let great defending go unnoticed, Tina Ellertson has been phenomenal playing in arguably a defensive liability of a formation. Two weeks ago, Ellertson single-handedly marked Marta out of the game in magicJack's match against the Western New York Flash. Ellertson got physical with Marta and got into the Brazilian's head enough to keep her frustrated all night. That forced Marta to drop deeper and wider to look for the ball, which is exactly what magicJack hoped for.
On Sunday, Ellertson ensured that Boston Breakers playmaker Kelly Smith did not see much of the ball, especially near the goal mouth. It was another successful man-marking assignment from Ellertson (primarily in the first half). However, just like the game against the Flash two weeks ago, it came in another loss -- partly since magicJack's daring 3-4-3 formation cares very little about defense. To stand out that much as a defender man marking two of the world's best players in a three back system says a lot about Ellertson, a two-time WPS All-Star.
3. Instant impact. In the ultimate example of "sticking it to an old club," the magicJack and the Boston Breakers pulled off a trade last week before playing each other on Sunday. That game saw the Breakers send midfielder Nikki Washington to magicJack in exchange for midfielder Meghan Klingenberg, a second-round pick in the 2012 WPS Draft and a player to be named later. The deal was considered an absolute steal at the time for Boston, which acquired an upgrade in midfield on top of a draft pick and another yet unidentified player.
Breakers coach Tony DiCicco looked like a genius as he inserted Klingenberg into the starting lineup immediately and the move certainly paid off. Klingenberg played a role in the first goal in Boston's 2-1 defeat of magicJack and scored a stunning in-stride volley that turned out to be the game-winner. The timing was great for Klingenberg, who showed magicJack owner Dan Borislow exactly what he is missing. Boston needed the result too, having entered the match with just two wins in eight tries.
4. Parity reigns. As internationals disappear, the playing field levels out and even shifts for the next month or so. A team like Atlanta can take the opportunity to try to close ground on teams losing several players to the Women's World Cup, while magicJack and Western New York have to obtain results in the absence of almost their entire starting lineups.
The parity of the league was evident on the weekend, with a struggling Breakers team defeating second-place magicJack, Sky Blue FC erasing a two-goal deficit on the road to tie the Flash and the Atlanta drawing with Philadelphia. The shutout was much needed for Atlanta which has been outscored 17-1 over the past five games (all losses).
5. WPS players headed to Germany. While the selection of most WPS players to their respective national teams for the Women's World Cup are foregone conclusions, some floating on the edge of the bubble are learning of their fates. Boston midfielder Kelley O'Hara has officially been named as Lindsay Tarpley's replacement while defender Heather Mitts will be on the team's flight to Germany after a hamstring injury scare. And after disagreements between player and coach were supposedly resolved, it looks like magicJack forward Lisa De Vanna is headed to Germany.
Western New York Flash 2-2 Sky Blue FC. Christine Sinclair and Caroline Seger scored five minutes apart just before halftime to give the Flash the lead, but Allie Long converted a penalty in the 65th minute and Nogueira completed the comeback in the 88th minute with her great volley.
Philadelphia Independence 0-0 Atlanta Beat. Allison Whitworth, starting in place of Allison Lipsher, made 12 saves for Atlanta to keep the game scoreless. Spaniard Veronica Boquete also made her Philadelphia Independence debut.
Boston Breakers 2-1 magicJack. Katie Schoepfer scored on a looping shot in the 9th minute and Klingenberg struck eight minutes later to give Boston a dream start. Christen Press cut the lead in half in the 68th minute, but it wasn't enough for magicJack.