WPS balance of power shifts slightly in Week 10 with Flash loss
The Western New York Flash suffered its first loss and once again dropped points late in a match. Meanwhile, magicJack made up ground with a win over the Atlanta Beat and now finds itself within striking distance of the Flash. Here are five things learned in WPS Week 10:
Make no mistake, this is the best team in the league and likely the world. But the past two weeks -- a 2-2 draw with Sky Blue FC on June 3 where the Flash gave up an 88th-minute equalizer to blow a 2-0 lead, and Sunday's 1-0 loss on a last-minute goal -- have shown that Western New York is not invincible. The midfield was lacking without Caroline Seger, but her absence was not the main problem. The players on the field just did not show up. With all of that star power on the field, the team failed to produce any seriously threatening scoring chances. Marta's frustrations -- which have progressed over the past few weeks -- were more evident than ever as her tackles grew more aggressive and her hand motions to her teammates became more adamant.
One loss is not the end of the world for the Flash, but it shows the rest of the league that the team is beatable. As Philadelphia coach Paul Riley said, "We felt tonight for the league's sake that we needed to win this game for WPS to make this interesting." More importantly, the Flash could return to action on July 9 with its lead diminished. Western New York has a six-point edge on magicJack but having played two more games. Fortunately for Western New York, magicJack's next two games are tricky -- both against the now third-place Independence.
Prior to Saturday's match, the always curious magicJack owner Dan Borislow compared the Atlanta Beat to a high school team. It was a harsh dig on the WPS bottom-feeders, but magicJack has been backing it up with results. Saturday was magicJack's third win of the season over Atlanta. However, that could also speak to the quality of Borislow's team. Three of magicJack's five wins are against Atlanta, which is a miserable 1-7-2 (5 pts.). The one meeting magicJack had with Western New York resulted in a 3-0 loss, and magicJack still has not played Philadelphia. Two upcoming matches against the Independence should tell more about magicJack's quality.
Recent trades brought in Kelly Parker, Julianne Sitch and Kacey White, suggesting that coach James Galanis realizes he needs some veteran presence to turn things around. Making the playoffs is a reach even at this early juncture, but improving and playing with pride is necessary to salvage a respectable season.
Engen had to deal with 1 on 1 battles throughout the night against Philadelphia and dealt with all of them swiftly, showing not only great positioning but also surprisingly promising bursts of speed. After the match, Paul Riley said he had no idea why Engen is not on the U.S. World Cup roster. Neither do I, but that is Western New York's gain. She's the best young center back in the league and looks to have a bright future with the U.S.
Casey Nogueira's emergence continued on the left side of midfield, and the defense, led by captain and right back Brittany Taylor, remains solid for Sky Blue FC. The team can extend its unbeaten streak to five games -- which would be a franchise record -- on June 22 at home against Atlanta.