It might seem easy to try to compare first-place FC Gold Pride to the 2009 Los Angeles Sol, but do not fall for the trap.
FC Gold Pride's dominant 2010 squad includes Marta, Shannon Boxx and Camille Abily, all of whom starred for Los Angeles in 2009, but the similarities between the two squads pretty much end there.
Last season, L.A. ran away from the rest of the pack in Women's Professional Soccer with an 11-game unbeaten streak from May 10-July 8, only to fade at the end of the year, going 1-2-1 in the stretch run and losing the 2009 WPS championship 1-0 to Sky Blue FC, the Cinderella story out of New Jersey.
This year's FC Gold Pride team has sat atop the WPS table since Week 3, but three straight scoreless draws have some fans feeling a case of déjà vu. However, while the typically high-powered offense has been stifled, the trio of shutouts extends FC Gold Pride's unbeaten streak to eight games and the shutout streak to 318 minutes.
"We've put a lot of emphasis over the last few weeks on tightening up our defense and making sure we are solid all the way around, because I think some teams are now going to play us a little bit differently, like Washington did in a 4-5-1," FC Gold Pride coach Albertin Montoya said.
Despite the recent draws (against Atlanta, Chicago and Washington), FC Gold Pride is still playing very attractive soccer and was unlucky to not convert consistent second-half pressure into a goal Saturday against Washington.
Defense wins championships, and for all the attention the likes of Marta, Christine Sinclair, Tiffeny Milbrett and Kelley O'Hara garner up top, FC Gold Pride has allowed just 14 goals in 19 games. No other team has conceded fewer than 21 goals.
With the best defense and most dangerous front line in the league waiting to re-energize for a playoff run, FC Gold Pride continues to be the scariest opposition in WPS. And don't expect FC Gold Pride to experience the same late-season struggles that the Sol did last season.
"It is two different teams and if anything, we do have a few players from that team that hopefully have learned from that experience and that are going to assure they step up and they don't let it happen," Montoya said. "I think I will work closely with those players to make sure we communicate and continue to make sure that doesn't happen."
CONCACAF finally revealed details on qualifying for the 2011 Women's World Cup in an announcement that was disappointing, but far from surprising.
The qualifying tournament will take place from Oct. 28-Nov. 8 in Cancún and Playa del Carmen, Mexico, with Group A featuring Canada, Mexico, Trinidad & Tobago and Guyana and Group B featuring the United States, Costa Rica, Haiti and Guatemala. The top two teams from each group advance to the semifinals, and the two finalists receive automatic berths to the 2011 Women's World Cup. The third-place finisher will face the fifth-place team from Europe in a home-and-home series.
The timing of this announcement -- less than three months before the start of this tournament -- proves that CONCACAF clearly has very little regard for the tournament. Men's qualifying dates are set much further in advance to allow for necessary preparation time (for example, details of 2014 World Cup qualifying are already being discussed). This tournament, however, remained shrouded in mystery until last week's announcement.
Even worse is the selection of venues. Estadio Beto Ávila in Cancún, the 9,000-seat home to Mexican baseball team Quintana Roo Tigres, will play host to Group A. What business does CONCACAF have placing important Women's World Cup Qualifying matches in a baseball stadium when there are hundreds of other viable soccer stadiums throughout the continent and plenty right in Mexico? It speaks volumes about how little the tournament means to the region, which is an absolute shame.
U.S. women's coach Pia Sundhage said Wednesday that she will call training camp for Sept. 20, which is in the middle of the WPS playoffs. So as not to affect club play, Sundhage will only bring in WPS players whose teams miss the playoffs until after the WPS final on Sept. 26.
1. Atlanta fired its coach. The Beat decided to let coach Gareth O'Sullivan go Tuesday after O'Sullivan compiled a record of 4-10-5, earning 17 points through 19 games. James Galanis will take over on an interim basis (he's also Sky Blue FC midfielder Carli Lloyd's personal trainer). "We feel we still have a shot at it," general manager Shawn McGee said of the playoffs. "We felt it was appropriate and time to make the move."
2. Boston's Leslie Osborne out. The Breakers' midfielder will miss the rest of the season after fracturing her collarbone in Sunday's 4-0 win over Sky Blue FC. The injury occurred in the 87th minute when Osborne landed awkwardly on her right shoulder after forward Patricia Panico came in on a harsh challenge. The injury is a huge blow for Boston -- the team is 7-1-1 since Osborne returned from a leg infection July 4 and has surged into third place in WPS, playing some of the league's most exciting soccer.
3. Boston wins in final regular-season home game at Harvard Stadium. In front of 6,108 fans Sunday, the second-largest crowd in WPS this season, the Breakers beat Sky Blue FC 4-0. On Saturday, the Breakers will play host to the Beat at Veterans Stadium in New Britain, Conn. The beginning of Harvard football in mid-August limits the Massachusetts stadium's availability and the Breakers have been looking to test out the Connecticut market, leading to the unique location. "The Breakers just traditionally have had close ties with the Connecticut soccer community," Breakers general manager Andy Crossley said. Kristine Lilly, Alyssa Naeher and coach Tony DiCicco are all Connecticut natives. Veterans Stadium has previously been home to New England Revolution U.S. Open Cup games.
4. Independence comeback. For the second time this season, the Philadelphia Independence erased a two-goal deficit to win, this time a 3-2 victory against Atlanta on Sunday. Philadelphia also came back from two goals down in a 3-2 home win over the Washington Freedom on June 26. After going down 2-0 in the first 18 minutes Sunday, Christina DiMartino scored twice and Joanna Lohman added the game-winner in the 81st minute to complete the comeback. In 20 games, Philadelphia has a WPS single-season record 35 goals.
5. Tight race. With FC Gold Pride, Philadelphia and Boston all pulling away from the pack, four teams are separated by just five points in the bottom half of the table. The Freedom (5-8-7, 22 points) welcome the Chicago Red Stars (5-9-6, 21 points) on Thursday in what amounts to a critical six-point showdown for fourth place. Chicago will then return home to face FC Gold Pride on Sunday. Sky Blue FC (6-9-4, 22 points), looking to rebound after a loss to Boston, meets visiting Philadelphia on Sunday. The Beat (4-10-5, 17 points) will have to make up ground beginning Saturday on the road against the Breakers.