When the week began, three Women's Professional Soccer clubs were knotted up for the final two playoff spots with only three weeks left in the regular season. The jumble was the product of a league where any team can win on a given night. On Wednesday night, that's just what happened.
There was the Boston Breakers (4-6-4, 16 pts), a team with a backline consisting of four World Cup talents (Alex Scott, Rachel Buehler, Amy LePeilbet, and Stephanie Cox), one of the world's best playmakers (Kelly Smith), and one of the league's hottest player (attacker Kelly O'Hara). There was magicJack (5-6-2, 16 pts), a club with a bevy of United States women's national teamers (Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe, Christie Rampone, Jillian Loyden, Hope Solo, and Shannon Boxx). And then there was Sky Blue FC (5-5-4, 19 pts), capable of flashing their own stars: Heather O'Reilly, Karen Bardsley, Tobin Heath, Anita Asante and Eniola Aluko.
Just peaking into the World Cup talents on each team, you'd think that magicJack had the most talent, Boston was next in line and Sky Blue FC is last. Things played out in reverse on Wednesday.
At FAU Soccer Field in Boca Raton, magicJack and Sky Blue faced off with mentor - Sky Blue coach Jim Gabarra - going up against pupil -- magicJack player-coach Wambach. MagicJack seemed to control the flow of the match, taking 27 shots, 18 on frame, but couldn't put one past Sky Blue `keeper Jenni Branam. At the other end, Sky Blue capitalized on its few opportunities, with former magicJack (when they were still the Washington Freedom) midfielder Allie Long netting her third goal of the season in the 15th minute. Wambach put one in her own net in the 68th and Sky Blue left with a 2-0 win, grabbing hold of sole possession of third.
Meanwhile, at Harvard Stadium, the Breakers were looking to improve its record, facing the Philadelphia Independence (9-3-3, 30 pts). All they would have needed to have sole possession of fourth was a draw, but with the score tied at zero, Spanish international Veronica Boquete delivered in the clutch. Boquete took a Laura del Rio pass and slotted past Alyssa Naeher in the 83rd minute. Philly held on for the 1-0 victory and clinched a playoff spot in the process.
Heading into the weekend, Philly is atop the table, with Western New York three points back (with a couple games in hand). Sky Blue now holds third, with Boston and magicJack deadlocked for the final playoff spot.
One look at those standings, and then a peak at the schedule this weekend, and we see two games that have major significance, thought it's hard to say has more importance. We'll just go chronologically.
On Saturday night at FAU Soccer Field, the Breakers and magicJack meet up with sole possession of fourth on the line. Boston is back to full health, but whether Solo will be ready unknown. Even in Solo's absence, magicJack still touts a US international in Loyden, so they should be able to hold their own at the `keeper position.
Outside of Solo, magicJack is back to full strength, and after the 2-0 loss on Wednesday, the Wambach-led Boca Raton squad has some work to do to get itself into the top four. Home field should give magicJack a bit of an edge, not that it proved meaningful in their midweek loss.
Boston needs this game more for the sole reason that they have one less game on the schedule down the stretch. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m ET.
In the weekend's other über-important match (the WPS Game of the Week on FOX Soccer, live Sunday at 6 p.m. ET), the Independence host the last-place Atlanta Beat. You may be wondering, "How in the world does a first-place team that just clinched a playoff spot vs. a last-place team with no shot at the playoffs have any significance?" I'm glad you asked. Let me explain.
Philadelphia has a three-point lead over Western New York for the top spot in WPS. Western New York has two games in hand over Philly. In the 18-game regular season, the Flash has five games left, including this weekend, while Philadelphia has just three games remaining, including this weekend against the Beat. And, of course, first place in WPS regular season play results in a ticket directly to the WPS Championship and home-field advantage.
As we've discussed before , if any club knows how important it is to have home field in the final, it's Paul Riley's Independence. They'll need to win out in order to have a chance to be atop the Flash at season's end.
That's the Philly side of things. Atlanta, despite its lackluster record, still puts out a decent product. They boast a very serviceable goalkeeper duo of Allison Whitworth and Alli Lipsher, United States internationals Carli Lloyd and (former Philly defender) Heather Mitts as well as Canadian international Kelly Parker. Also playing a major part for James Galanis's club are Cat Whitehill, Lori Chalupny and Analisa Marquez. Atlanta is better than their record says they are and will most likely give Philadelphia a hard fight.
And in the final match of the week, on Saturday, 7 p.m. at Yurcak Field in Piscataway, N.J., is the Flash vs. Sky Blue FC. With the two games in hand over Philly, Marta, Christine Sinclair, Alex Morgan and the dynamic Flash is looking to round itself into a complete club and takeover first place in the process. Meanwhile in Sky Blue camp, they hope to keep momentum from their midweek victory while strengthening its grasp on third place.
WNY will have its full complement of players, including Swedish international Caroline Seger, finally back from her injury sustained during the World Cup.