Week 5 in Women's Professional Soccer saw another top rookie forward score her first professional goal and the debut of a promising young international forward. WPS players looking for inclusion in the United States' Women's World Cup roster also learned their fate. Here are five things learned in WPS Week 5:
1. Sundhage names roster: U.S. coach Pia Sundhage named her 21-player Women's World Cup roster on Monday, and although there were few surprises, the impact on WPS was clear. Seven of the 21 players headed to Germany play for magicJack, which will be gutted by Women's World Cup call-ups. Not only will veterans Abby Wambach and Christie Rampone be missing on international duty, but magicJack will be without its top two goalkeepers. Hope Solo and Jillian Loyden both made the U.S. roster, meaning the inexperienced Brett Maron will see time in goal. She was 1-4 in five starts with Atlanta last year, giving up seven goals in five games. Luckily for magicJack, it's off this weekend when the U.S. plays Japan.
Also hit hard by the U.S. roster will be the Boston Breakers and Philadelphia Independence, both losing four players. Boston will face the toughest transition since three of its four starting defenders (Amy LePeilbet, Rachel Buehler and Stephanie Cox) are on the U.S. squad. However, Philadelphia coach Paul Riley has smartly featured his U.S. players sparingly in order to ease the Independence into times without Amy Rodriguez, Lori Lindsey, Megan Rapinoe and goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart. Val Henderson is a capable backup for Barnhart, and Veronica Boquete should soon be available up top for Philadelphia. Along with Tasha Kai and Lianne Sanderson, Boquete should do well to fill the void left by Rodriguez.
Here is the breakdown by team:
Atlanta Beat: 2 Boston Breakers: 4 magicJack: 7 Philadelphia Independence: 4 Sky Blue FC: 2 Western New York Flash: 1 Unattached: 1 (Ali Krieger is currently out of contract)
2. Still perfect in Florida: Although magicJack stands to lose seven players to the United States' Women's World Cup preparations, the team remains perfect after defeating the Atlanta Beat 2-0 at home on Sunday. Ella Masar scored her second goal of the season, and Christen Press scored her first professional goal, proving that the team can still succeed even without its superstar Wambach. The depth of magicJack makes it a serious contender for the regular season championship.
May 22 could serve as an early-season preview of the championship when magicJack travels to Rochester to take on the Western New York Flash. Both teams are currently unbeaten and playing confident soccer. That match will be wide open on a large turf field in Rochester with magicJack's 3-4-3 formation taking on the 4-3-3 of Western New York. It'll be interesting to see if magicJack will be daring enough to employ a 3-defender back line against the league's fastest forward line, which includes Marta.
3. Adriana could be the answer in New Jersey: Young Spanish striker Adriana made an instant impact Friday, scoring one minute after she entered Sky Blue FC's 3-1 loss to Western New York. Sky Blue FC, notorious for its lack of scoring, looked underwhelming in the first, half but second-half substitute Eniola Aluko injected life (and speed) into the team. The 24-year-old Adriana then entered the match in the 64th minute and quickly scored her first WPS goal -- a curling far-post shot that rippled the side netting.
That has to bring relief to Sky Blue FC fans hoping their team can claw its way out of the basement of WPS. Sky Blue FC (0-3-1, 1 point) has scored just three goals in four WPS games. Adriana is reason for optimism. She scored 10 goals in 12 UEFA Champions League matches and serves as one of Spain's go-to forwards. On Friday she scored and looked dangerous after just one training session with her new team. If she looked that good after a flight from Madrid to New Jersey followed by a seven-hour bus ride to Rochester, N.Y., imagine what she can do on fresh legs.
4. Flash emulate the best: Across WPS, Barcelona is one of the most-followed team by players. U.S. women's national team players love to watch the team, and Western New York uses a defensive system that looks very much like Barcelona. Sure, Western New York boasts a dangerous front line -- Marta is the female counterpart to Lionel Messi -- and the team even has one of the most underappreciated midfields in the league. But the system of defensive play makes the Flash extra entertaining.
Center backs Whitney Engen and Candace Chapman are essentially left player for player against the opposing teams forwards. Outside backs Ali Riley and Kandace Wilson are released into the attack on practically every possession, similar to the way Dani Alves and Eric Abidal get forward for Barcelona. Riley can often be found playing in front of her forwards, which on most teams might be worrisome. However, Engen and Chapman have proved perfectly capable of defending as a pair, and Riley and Wilson can recover quickly with their superior speed.
5. Philadelphia gets the upper hand again: In their first meeting since a controversial semifinal win that sent the Philadelphia Independence through to the 2010 WPS final, Philadelphia got the better of the Boston Breakers (2-0) through superior midfield play. Independence coach Paul Riley loves to play a diamond in the midfield, which allows Lianne Sanderson to effectively sit just under the two strikers in front of her. She scored on Sunday and continues to look dangerous, as does Christina DiMartino, who has quietly been Philadelphia's best player in this young season. DiMartino combines a superior crossing ability with speed that allows her to cut inside and penetrate defenses on the dribble.
Also critical to Philadelphia's midfield success are two unsung heroes: rookie Sinead Farrelly and defensive midfielder Jen Buczkowski. Farrelly has an eye for the killer through ball, and her technical ability on the ball is a cut above any other rookie midfielder. Buczkowski, who won the 2009 WPS Championship with Sky Blue FC, serves as the hard-tackling ball winner who sits in front of the backs.
Western New York Flash 3-1 Sky Blue FC: Rookie Alex Morgan opened the scoring in the fourth minute on a flick-on header from Marta before Caroline Seger doubled the Flash's lead with an upper-90 strike. Adriana then got one back for Sky Blue FC in the 65th minute, but just minutes later Marta iced the game after finishing a through ball from Morgan.
magicJack 2-0 Atlanta Beat: Ella Masar and Christen Press scored on each end of halftime for magicJack to improve the team to 3-0-0. The biggest news was Christie Rampone's exit before halftime. The U.S. captain center back is day to day with a mild groin strain and could miss the United States' upcoming friendly matches against Japan.
Philadelphia Independence 2-0 Boston Breakers: Boston defender Ifeoma Dieke was twice exposed on the day as Philadelphia claimed a convincing win over Boston. Tasha Kai outmuscled Dieke to score in the 44th minute and scored on her own rebound. Kai's initial shot went off the post, but she followed up with a diving header to score. Amy Rodriguez then initially had her 55th-minute shot saved, but the rebound went right to Lianne Sanderson, who tapped the ball in from a tight angle.
Jeff Kassouf is a freelance writer who runs The Equalizer, a website devoted to women's professional soccer news.