WPS kicks off 2011 with a goal fest
Week 1 of the 2011 Women's Professional Soccer season is in the books and the Boston Breakers sit atop the table after a 4-1 thrashing of the Atlanta Beat. Sky Blue FC and the Philadelphia Independence played to an entertaining 2-2 draw on Sunday, while magicJack and the Western New York Flash were idle on opening weekend. Here are five things learned from this week's fixtures:
Casey Nogueira, Long's former University of North Carolina teammate, was the perfect attacking midfielder complement to Long. Nogueira's free kick from just outside the 18-yard box in the 36th minute that bent into the far upper corner was spectacular and she looked dangerous all night. She forced two huge saves -- one in each half -- from Philadelphia goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart and caused fits for an experienced Philadelphia defense. Tobin Heath, another former Tar Heel, also looked effective as a second-half substitute. Carolyn Blank was a strong defensive presence as the second holding midfielder in Sky Blue FC's 4-2-3-1 formation.
Kai looked inspired all evening against her former team and should have put the visitors ahead in the 13th minute when sent a cross from Sanderson over the crossbar from six yards out. Due to national team duty, Rodriguez may not be available as often as coach Paul Riley would like, but in tandem with Kai, will allow Philadelphia to play a more direct style. Sanderson offers a nice balancing option as a back-to-the-goal forward.
Whitehill and Keeley Dowling lead the defense as experienced center backs (Dowling has a WPS Championship ring from Sky Blue FC's 2009 run) and, combined with Heather Mitts at right back, the three veterans will be critical to this team's early season fortunes. Younger players like Megan Jesolva and Kristina Larsen should develop in time, but for now Atlanta will lean heavily on its back line. The most curious move for Atlanta was the absence of Kylie Wright from the lineup. Wright was the Beat's top draft pick at No. 7 overall and saw significant time in preseason.
In New Jersey, Sky Blue FC coach Jim Gabarra waited until the 68th minute to insert Heath into the game and midfielder Heather O'Reilly did not even play. Riley waited until halftime to insert Rodriguez into Philadelphia's lineup and waited until even later into the half to include midfielder Lori Lindsey. The key here is how willing coaches are to stick to their word. If U.S. internationals just come on at halftime every game and that is predetermined in a coach's mind, is that really the fairest compromise? Maybe the answer is "yes," but it is surely a tactic that could affect the mental psyche of players on the field who know that they will inevitably be subbed out in favor of national teamers.
Next week: The mysterious magicJack opens its season on the road against Philadelphia (0-0-1, 1 pt.) on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Widener University. Sky Blue FC (0-0-1, 1 pt.) travels to Atlanta (0-1-0, 0 pts.) on Saturday at 7 p.m. and the Western New York Flash plays its first-ever WPS game on the road against Boston (1-0-0, 3 pts.) on Sunday at 6 p.m.