In the final weekend of full WPS play before the Women's World Cup starts, WPS showcased a poor game in Atlanta and an absolute blowout in Philadelphia. After beating magicJack 6-0 on Saturday, Philadelphia will once again host magicJack this coming Saturday, less than a full day before the Women's World Cup kicks off. Here are five things learned in WPS Week 11:
1. A magicJack massacre. Perhaps magicJack's second wave of players is not as strong as once thought. Or maybe it was just one of those weekends where everything went wrong. But magicJack got absolutely embarrassed Saturday, losing 6-0 to the Philadelphia Independence on the road. Everybody has been talking about magicJack closing the gap on Western New York while the Flash sit idle for a month, but Philadelphia (4-2-3, 15 points) now has the chance to do that. With the emphatic victory, the Independence jumped past magicJack (5-3-0, 14 pts.) in the standings. That one-point deduction magicJack incurred for failing to comply with league standards is clearly already making a difference.
With the win, Philadelphia tied a league record with six goals scored and set a WPS record for margin of victory. Without the team's seven U.S. internationals, magicJack cannot afford to play its daring 3-4-3 formation. The effort showed on Saturday was uninspiring, and the body language of players was dejected.
2. Is Philly finding its form? After handing the Western New York Flash its first loss of the season on June 12, Philadelphia's emphatic victory Saturday tells WPS that the Independence should not be an afterthought in the championship discussion. Less than a year removed from the 2010 title game, Paul Riley has found a mix of players that could be one of the best teams during the Women's World Cup.
The emergence of Danesha Adams (three goals in the past two games) and Veronica Boquete (a goal and two assists on Saturday) has been instrumental to the team's success. Riley believes that Boquete can be one of the best players in this league, and although her experience last year with Chicago and this year with Philadelphia is minimal, she has shown brilliance as a playmaker and a quick, crafty attacker.
3. Much is left to be had in Atlanta. WPS showcased what was the least eventful game of the season Sunday when the Boston Breakers visited the Atlanta Beat. Sure, the temperature at kickoff was a scorching 97 degrees, and that affected the level of play. Simply standing up in that kind of weather is an exhausting task. However, that does not excuse the lack of cohesion from either team. Both the Breakers and the Beat struggled to string even a few passes together throughout the evening. The six combined shots on goal might be generous in a game that seriously lacked quality.
Even the few chances that were available to either team went begging. Boston midfielder Liz Bogus hit the crossbar in the second half, but the biggest gaffe of the night came in the 36th minute. Atlanta midfielder Lori Chalupny nicely dribbled through two Boston defenders and played a square ball to Angela Salem, who put the ball wide of a practically empty net. The frustrating miss summarized a very frustrating day of soccer in Georgia.
4. Beat, Sky Blue headed in opposite directions. Atlanta is now winless in its last nine games. The Beat's only win came April 16, 1-0 over Sky Blue FC. Atlanta was expected to struggle this season as WPS' five other teams loaded their rosters with international talent, and the Beat went for young, unproven players. Atlanta is still looking to break through and find a way to turn around its season, but it looks like it is already time to focus on 2012. The Beat may only be six points out of a playoff spot (miraculously), but they have shown no sign of ability to make a push for that.
Now, the Beat face Sky Blue FC on Wednesday. Sky Blue FC is unbeaten in its last four games and should be set to make it five straight. The Beat will be without center back Cat Whitehill, who is calling Women's World Cup matches for ESPN, and likely without Keeley Dowling, who left Sunday's match in the first half with an injury.
5. Will there be a World Cup boost? WPS hopes that the Women's World Cup will bring attention to the league. Unfortunately, I just don't see it happening to any drastic extent. Some folks will surely like what they see and tune into WPS as a result of watching the Women's World Cup, but the large majority likely will not.
We see it on the men's side, too. The masses watch the World Cup because it is soccer's best talent fighting for the most heralded trophy on the planet. But that doesn't mean that all of those people will suddenly be waking up early to watch EPL action or heading to their local MLS stadium. Americans live for the big one-off sporting events where champions are crowned. If the U.S. can pull off a Women's World Cup title, it should at least bring some attention to WPS, but the large focus would still be on the U.S. as a team. Where WPS needs to focus is locally within each market.
Jeff Kassouf is a freelance writer who runs The Equalizer, a Web site devoted to women's professional soccer news.