Another in a series of women's club soccer posts, sadly all-too focused on southern California, since that's where I happen to live. This is a big, big transition year for the women's game, and I think it's interesting. Yeah, Jen Striker and Scott French are doing their part, too. Maybe you should read them as well (that is, instead).
On Saturday, I saw the biggest upset I had ever seen in my life, probably one of the biggest upsets in the history of American club soccer. The expansion Los Angeles Rampage went to Nansen Field and defeated Ajax America, 2-1. I'll try to give you some idea of what a sea-change of a result this was...Ajax is the defending Open Cup winners. They hadn't lost at home in three years.
It wasn't a beatdown, by any means. As with so many of history's great soccer upsets, it was made possible by stellar goalkeeping - the hero in this case was Nakisha Gutierrez, who made - and these are unofficial stats - about ten billion saves. In the second half, the bigger, stronger, faster Ajax looked all set to re-assert the natural order - then Marihelen Tomer (last seen winning the national championship for USC) scored a terrific shot, very much against the run of play. (Tomer and former WUSA player Louise Lieberman signed for the Rampage the day before the game.)
Ajax finally woke up, and tied the game within the minute. Now, I thought, Ajax will pull this out.
Not so much. Three minutes later, Tomer found Lieberman who found Salma Tarik of the Egypt National Team, something I wasn't previously aware existed. Ajax coach Brian Boswell blamed a defensive breakdown, and it sure looked like he had a point. Seven minutes of pure fury towards the Rampage goal followed, but didn't pay off.
Then the next day (such are WPSL schedules), Ajax went to San Diego, and lost to another expansion team, SD United. The Rampage tied the WSC Sea Lions, the division's other previously existing team.
We'll see if this is a permanent shift in the balance of power in the club scene. Ajax used to simply "compete" with universities and the national team for player commitments. Over the past year, the new W-League Pali Blues signed away Karen Bardsley, Kandace Wilson and Kendall Fletcher - plus Danielle Fotopoulos retired, and Lindsey Huie was called into national team camp. And all this player raiding is taking place a year before WPS takes the field.
The W-League, or at least some of its teams, is poised to turn professional. We'll see if the market is there. The talent in the United States has so far vastly outpaced the audience - most of the fans at the Ajax-Rampage game were family and friends. Funds are raised by concessions and raffled (I won a soccer ball). The "Sportsklubben Fram" on the Ajax badge this year has nothing to do with Amsterdam, but refers to the Norwegian athletic club that runs the soccer field. (Don't look for any Ajax players at the Fiskeklubben, though - "Participation and membership is by invitation. By club rules, all members and guests must be male.")