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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.