For the first time this season all six teams in Women's Professional Soccer were in action on the same day, with home teams taking maximum points -- albeit in front of scarce crowds. Here are five things learned in WPS Week 4:
Boston has struggled up front this season and much of that has been a result of relying on Kelly Smith to be a goal scorer instead of a playmaker. Recognizing this, DiCicco dropped the English maestro into her more comfortable attacking midfield role on Sunday in what was an unorthodox 4-1-2-3 formation. That was expected. What was not expected, was DiCicco's move to deploy Alex Scott as an attacking right winger. Scott is one of the best fullbacks in the league but DiCicco said he wants to get her more involved in the attack. Scott played well in her more advanced role, providing several good crosses and using her speed to apply higher pressure to Sky Blue FC players. If nothing else, the change gave Boston a much needed fresh look. Scott probably won't be turning into a midfielder any time soon, but for at least one week she provided a spark to a Breakers team that was searching for answers.
Meanwhile, Sky Blue FC (0-2-1, 1 pts.) is one of only two winless teams left in the league along with Philadelphia. After a poor 2010 season, the overhauled Sky Blue FC looked like it got the fresh start it wanted on opening weekend against Philadelphia. However, a 2-0 lead that night ended as a 2-2 draw and frustration has followed ever since. The following week the team dominated Atlanta only to lose 1-0 and this week Sky Blue FC managed just three shots on goal in Boston. Friday's trip to Rochester to take on the Western New York Flash won't make things any easier on Sky Blue FC.
Also emerging are young stars such as Allie Long, who despite Sky Blue FC's rough start has been the anchor to the team's midfield, winning balls and switching the point of attack well. She is complimented well by Carolyn Blank, who serves as the primary ball winner. Most notable early in the 2011 season has been the emergence of Brittany Bock and Becky Edwards in Western New York. At times it seems like a stretch to call them true holding midfielders because of their attacking abilities (Bock in particular), but the two youngsters have been the best central midfield pair in this early season. They stay at home and do the dirty work and the star-studded attacking cast that surrounds them does the rest for the Flash.
The adjustment from grass to turf or vice versa is not just mental, either. Home teams are 5-2-2 this season. For a team like Western New York, which may be the fastest in the league with Marta, Christine Sinclair and Alex Morgan up top, a wet turf makes them that much more dangerous. Western New York was noticeably slower on grass in Atlanta last week, but looked lethal on its home turf on Sunday.
"It's very different on turf," Atlanta defender Cat Whitehill said after Sunday's loss. "The ball moves a lot faster and that really benefits a fast team so I think the turf had a little bit to do with us. We're not accustomed to the turf."
It is not inconceivable to think that Lipsher is worthy of a look from U.S. coach Pia Sundhage. In any year other than a Women's World Cup year, that training camp experience would be invaluable for Lipsher. For now, the best thing Lipsher can do is continue to progress in WPS. There are several quality goalkeepers in the U.S. system but the next generation of U.S. goalkeepers is still very much up in the air. Thus far in 2011, Lipsher has outperformed her young counterparts Alyssa Naeher in Boston and the Flash's Ashlyn Harris, who in fairness has not had much action in goal.