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:
1. Unbeaten no more. Philadelphia Independence forward Danesha Adams sent a shock through Sahlen's Stadium in Rochester with her 90th-minute goal. The calmly placed header delivered the Western New York Flash (6-1-2, 20 pts.) its first loss of the season. It was a harsh way for the Flash to begin a one month break from league play, but more concerning is that it was the second straight underwhelming performance from the Flash.
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.
2. Still coachless. Almost halfway through the season, magicJack still does not have a coach. Don't hold your breath waiting for one to be named either. Abby Wambach coached the team to a 3-2 win over the Atlanta Beat on Saturday, allowing magicJack to pull within striking distance of the Flash.
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.
3. Signs of hope? Atlanta showed some fight, which is more than it has produced in the past several weeks. The Beat managed to stay in the game thanks to Kacey White's 53rd minute goal, but it was not enough for Atlanta. As much as Atlanta is anchored by veteran center backs Cat Whitehill and Keeley Dowling, it has given up an incredible 23 goals in 10 games, 10 more than any other team. There is simply no way to win when you leak like that.
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.
4. The Flash's Eng-en. Throughout the season I have highlighted unsung heroes in WPS, from midfielders Brittany Bock and Becky Edwards to defender Tina Ellertson. Unintentionally omitted from that list was Flash center back Whitney Engen, the rock of their defense. Despite Danesha Adams slipping into Engen's blindside for the game-winning goal on Sunday, Engen was stellar all night containing Veronica Boquete and Tasha Kai.
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.
5. Still rolling. Sky Blue FC extended its unbeaten streak to four games on Sunday in a 0-0 draw with the Boston Breakers. It wasn't the most exciting result for Sky Blue FC, but with the Flash's loss, Sky Blue FC is the hottest team in WPS. Wins against the Beat and Breakers started the streak, which gained serious traction last week in a come-from-behind 2-2 draw with the Flash.
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.
Atlanta Beat 2-3 magicJack. It was a day of revenge of sorts as Kacey White scored for Atlanta just days after being traded from magicJack, but Johanna Rasmussen had the last laugh. The attacking midfielder scored the game-winner for magicJack against the team that traded her away on draft day.
Sky Blue FC 0-0 Boston Breakers. Alyssa Naeher made nine saves for Boston in the shutout. The teams fired off a combined 41 shots.
Western New York Flash 0-1 Philadelphia Independence. Danesha Adams headed in a 90th-minute cross from Lianne Sanderson (both were second-half substitutes) to hand the Flash their first loss.
Jeff Kassouf is a freelance writer who runs The Equalizer, a Web site devoted to women's professional soccer news.