From a surprising result in Atlanta to a curious game cancellation in Philadelphia, here are five things we learned in Week 2 of WPS action:
1. Morgan ready for pro level: Already the newest star youngster of the U.S. women's national team, Alex Morgan looks set to shine in WPS as well. Morgan made her professional debut on Sunday (playing nearly the full 90 minutes) in the Western New York Flash's 2-1 win over the Boston Breakers. Morgan consistently combined with Christine Sinclair up top and assisted on Sinclair's goal in the 66th minute.
Anyone can look good when surrounded by the star-studded cast that Western New York boasts, but what Morgan proved on Sunday is that she can also create opportunities on her own. On several occasions the 21-year-old outran an international quality Breakers defense and managed to create chances as the lone attacker against two or three defenders.
Morgan should have had the story book beginning to her professional career in the 56th minute when she ran onto a through ball and tapped it around an onrushing Alyssa Naeher, who was 30 yards off her line. Morgan tried to chip defender Rachel Buehler, but the chip went high and wide.
"I think that I did pretty well," Morgan said. "I could have made some more runs and taken some people on, but I think I had some good passes, had some good balls behind the back line and gave [Sinclair] a pretty good assist."
2. Flash not wasting any time: Even more impressive than Morgan's debut was the fluency of WNY as a whole in its first-ever top flight game. A year after winning the second division championship in the USL W-League, Western New York showed why it's a contender for the 2011 WPS crown. Caroline Seger ran the midfield of the Flash's dynamic attack (a 4-3-3 formation that shifts to a 4-5-1 defensively). Seger had the freedom to be the Flash's creative playmaker on Sunday, picking out Sinclair and Morgan in space behind Boston's defense. What's scary for the rest of the league is that Western New York was able to have its way with Boston even without Brazil superstar Marta, who only arrived in Buffalo on Monday. She will join the Flash for Sunday's road game against the Atlanta Beat.
Western New York also did well defensively to shut down Kelly Smith and company. That began in the midfield with Brittany Bock, who controlled the center of the park alongside Becky Edwards. Left back Ali Riley shut down former FC Gold Pride teammate Kelly O'Hara on the outside and Kandace Wilson had the green light to go forward from her right back position. With seven former FC Gold Pride players joining the Flash this year, the winning ways look like they will continue in Western New York
3. One more week of waiting: The team formerly known as the Washington Freedom, now named magicJack, still remains a mystery. The match scheduled for Saturday between the Philadelphia Independence and magicJack was postponed due to severe thunderstorms in the Philadelphia area.
About all that was learned about magicJack was the starting lineup issued before the game. That included U.S. international Jillian Loyden in goal, Christie Rampone in the back and Abby Wambach starting up front alongside Ella Masar and rookie Christen Press. Even the formation that magicJack will utilize remains a mystery, although the personnel chosen implied a 3-4-3, in line with what team owner Dan Borislow had indicated previously.
4. Atlanta picks up big three points: The Atlanta Beat temporarily silenced their critics with a 1-0 win over Sky Blue FC on Saturday. Meghan Lenczyk scored the game's only goal just minutes after entering the match to give Atlanta (1-1-0, 3 pts.) its first points of the season.
Although Sky Blue FC enjoyed the better part of play, Atlanta was able to contain the dangerous midfield combination of Casey Nogueira, Heather O'Reilly and Allie Long. Veteran defender Cat Whitehill organized the back line and goalkeeper Allison Lipsher made several key saves to preserve the shutout. Atlanta coach James Galanis said the team is progressing despite having its detractors.
"If anybody expected these young girls to come out and do everything right in their first WPS game, then they don't know anything about the game and haven't played the game themselves," Galanis said.
The win is huge for Atlanta psychologically more than anything. For this young team to get a win under its belt in just its second game of the season is a critical confidence builder, but things will only get tougher. On Sunday, Western New York comes to town with Marta and Sinclair, who combined for six goals and three assists last year (then with FC Gold Pride) on Atlanta's home turf in embarrassing 4-0 and 6-1 losses for the Beat.
5. Sky Blue needs to finish: Sky Blue FC scored two goals in the opening week but failed to find net on Saturday against Atlanta despite outshooting the Beat 18-4 on the evening. Both Eniola Aluko and Tobin Heath had one versus one chances against Lipsher -- Aluko failed to even put her effort on frame, while Heath's leisurely shot was easily saved. After squandering so many chances, Sky Blue FC head coach Jim Gabarra said the 1-0 loss was more a result of his team's failure to finish than Atlanta's ability to defend.
"It's just tough when we should be scoring three or four goals a game. It's something that's got to be addressed and something that certainly we are going to work on."
Finishing has been a problem for the Sky Blue FC franchise since WPS began in 2009 and although Gabarra envisions evenly balanced goal-scoring production from Nogueira, Aluko and Laura Kalmari, somebody will have to step up and be the go-to goal scorer. Aluko is the most likely candidate as a pure striker, although the introduction of Spanish striker Adriana could add another element to the attack. Adriana will join the team within the next week and could be ready for the May 1 trip to Boston.
Atlanta Beat 1-0 Sky Blue FC: Rookie forward Meghan Lenczyk came on at halftime and scored five minutes later to give Atlanta the 1-0 victory. That came as a result of a collision with Sky Blue FC goalkeeper Karen Bardsley after Bardsley bobbled the ball at the top of the 18-yard box. Defender Carrie Dew looked like she cleared it off the line, but the assistant referee deemed that the entire ball crossed the line.
Western New York Flash 2-1 Boston Breakers: A stoppage-time goal from Boston forward Kelly Smith made this game look closer than it was. Christine Sinclair scored in the 66th minute and Gemma Davison hit for the eventual game-winner in the 90th minute to give the Flash the win. Western New York outshot Boston 16-8 on the evening.
Jeff Kassouf is a freelance writer who runs The Equalizer, a Web site devoted to women's professional soccer news.