The Atlanta Beat and Western New York Flash played to a thrilling 2-2 draw on Sunday while magicJack finally kicked off its 2011 season at home, beating the Boston Breakers on Saturday. Here are five things we learned in WPS Week 3:
1. Atlanta proves resilient: Atlanta put up a strong fight against a Western New York team that looked a step slower from last week's 2-1 win over Boston. The heavily favored Flash twice blew a lead to draw 2-2 with Atlanta. Two great strikes from Lori Chalupny and Carli Lloyd gave the Beat the draw, but the battle was won in the midfield.
Western New York's 4-3-3 formation is the most potent attack in WPS, particularly with the inclusion of Brazilian forward Marta, who made her 2011 debut as a second-half substitute Sunday. The Beat packed numbers behind the ball in a 4-5-1 formation and clogged the center of the field. Western New York found some space on the flanks, but most of its chances broke down in the final third. Outnumbered in the midfield, the Flash could not find space up the middle, where it tore apart Boston last week.
As the Flash's frustration built up, Atlanta opened up play in the second half. Lloyd made more forays forward in the second half, and Chalupny drifted wide more to open up the Flash defense. The Beat outplayed a Flash team that looked out of sync all night.
2. MagicJack open up to unfortunate history: Half-hearted jokes pondering the actual existence of magicJack were put to rest on Saturday when the team debuted at Florida Atlantic University Soccer Stadium. The 1,224 people who showed up for the match represent the smallest crowd in WPS history, but Floridians are optimistic over the turnout.
It's a paradox to think that the worst crowd in WPS history could be a good crowd, but it sure could have been worse for magicJack. Team owner Dan Borislow admitted earlier in April that with no marketing the team was not expecting much in terms of attendance.
3. 47 and counting: Incredibly, magicJack defender Becky Sauerbrunn's iron woman streak lives on for at least another week. Sauerbrunn has played in every minute of action for her team (formerly the Washington Freedom) since WPS' inception. That streak should have ended April 16 when Sauerbrunn was left out of the starting lineup for magicJack's road game against the Philadelphia Independence, but that game was canceled (the first postponement in WPS history) due to severe thunderstorms and tornado warnings in the Philadelphia area.
Fast-forward to Saturday. Sauerbrunn found her way into magicJack's starting lineup against Boston, keeping alive the streak. While Sauerbrunn's streak is far from the 2,632 straight games that Baltimore Orioles legend Cal Ripken, Jr. put together over a 16-year period, it is a rare sign of stability in a constantly changing league. Sauerbrunn's streak, which likely will end this season due to Women's World Cup commitments, has endured 47 games (two of which were playoff games), the demise of four teams and the relocation and re-branding of her own club.
4. Boston struggles to finish: After opening the season with a convincing 4-1 win over Atlanta, the Breakers have hit a wall offensively. They scored just once in the past two games (against Western New York and magicJack, respectively) despite featuring Lauren Cheney, Kelley O'Hara and Kelly Smith in the attack.
Granted, the Flash and magicJack boast two of the better defenses in WPS, but Boston's top-notch back line and goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher are what has kept the Breakers in the last two matches. Next up for the Breakers is Sky Blue FC at home Sunday. Both teams have been inconsistent thus far. Sky Blue FC began the season with a 2-2 draw against the Philadelphia Independence and followed up with a 1-0 loss to Atlanta in Week 2.
For Boston, the key is finding a striker willing to take on the goal-scoring load. Smith is best used as a playmaker, and Cheney can be a useful target striker when in form, but her absence from weekly training sessions does not allow the Breakers to practice such a system. The absence of Jordan Angeli -- who will miss the rest of the season after tearing her ACL in Week 1 -- is already being felt.
5. Western New York is beatable but still dangerous: With high expectations placed on the Flash, many thought Western New York would roll over a theoretically overmatched Atlanta side Sunday. However, an unconvincing first half from the Flash and a stellar second 45 from Atlanta proved otherwise. With so much parity in WPS, Western New York will be hard-pressed to dominate the way FC Gold Pride did in 2010 or how the Los Angeles Sol did in 2009.
FC Gold Pride kicked off 2010 in unconvincing fashion with a 2-0 loss to Saint Louis Athletica but went on to hit its stride and dominate the rest of the league. The Flash will face Atlanta again this Sunday, this time in Western New York's home opener in Rochester. If that is not enough motivation for the Flash, Sunday's underwhelming performance will put revenge on the mind. Western New York is more comfortable on artificial turf (which Sahlen's Stadium features) which, combined with Atlanta's comfort on grass and first road trip of the year, should help WNY.
Boston Breakers 0-1 magicJack: After scoring eight goals for the Chicago Red Stars in 2010, Ella Masar continued her progression with the game-winning goal for magicJack. That came in the 26th minute as a result of Abby Wambach's cross from the right flank. Boston was outshot 23-13.
Western New York Flash 2-2 Atlanta Beat: Sinclair put the Flash ahead just two minutes in when she beat an out-of-position Lipsher, but Atlanta equalized early in the second half through a hard, knuckling shot from Chalupny. Marta put Western New York back ahead 2-1 in the 66th minute when she headed in a Sinclair cross. But Lloyd made sure the two teams would share the points with her 78th-minute strike that dipped under the crossbar and past Flash goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris.
Jeff Kassouf is a freelance writer who runs The Equalizer, a website devoted to women's professional soccer news.