FSC and WPS lucked out on Sunday - for once, the league's flaws gave us a white-knuckle thrill ride. The only downside was that the home team lost. Another league or network would have stooped to showing horrified and shocked Gold Pride fans crying tears of disbelief, but WPS doesn't do negative yet. In any case, audible on-field celebrations from Freedom players was appropriate enough, as a contrast to the utter shocked silence in Buck Shaw. I haven't gone back and compared frame-by-frame, but I doubt Abby Wambach was happier to have won the gold medal in 2004.
Wambach's return to form nearly overshadowed the triumphant return of Tiffeny Milbrett. As Grantland Rice would have said, girl was KILLING fools out there.
You could say that these are quality players putting on career-defining performances. Or, you could say that WPS teams are wildly uneven. There's a serious talent gap between the best players and the not-so-best at this point. The Gold Pride-Freedom game was reminiscent of the Red Bulls-Galaxy Beckham 5-4 demolition derby of a couple years ago, and the Crew-Wiz 6-4 scoreboard breaker from MLS' inaugural season. (And that's not an obscure game, my friends - people who don't remember who ran for President that year remember that match. Had the late Boots Randolph not already written "Yakety Sax," he would have composed it for that match.)
Those who love the art and skill of defense saw those games with looks straight out of Iron Eyes Cody. But neutral fans, passersby, and others who should know better ate it up like delicious opium. I certainly did, anyway.
It was much more suspenseful than the Red Stars chewing up and spitting out Smith-less Boston. And [Mark Rogondino] I didn't see the game, [/Rogondino] so for all I know the Solo v. LeBlanc showdown for best keeper in the hemisphere that ended up 2-1 (in penalty kick saves) was the finest game of the week. A's fans focusing on the Chalupny PK miss lead me to conclude otherwise, though.
But all these games are indicative of the same things - wildly unbalanced teams trying to cover their weaknesses and play to their strengths. Boston and Los Angeles couldn't get any business going without their international stars - and neither of those teams are what you'd call terrible. The Red Stars sure look terrific, so maybe we can forget that Sky Blue shut them out in Bridgeview. I think the Gold Pride are extremely fortunate that Milbrett was found frozen in the tundra and thawed out, because they're certainly not keeping the other teams from scoring more or less at will. (Keep an eye or two out for Kandace Wilson, though. She looks like she'll be a household name before too much longer.) (Well, in households that care about women's soccer.)
For the sake of the league, we hope to see more 4-3 track meets while the teams adjust to each other, but there's no guarantee we won't see a bunch more 0-0 or 1-0 slogs.
Still - you'd rather watch the US roll over teams like Chinese Taipei once every two months, instead?
On paper, this week's FSC game is a mismatch. Washington of course is on a huge wave of exuberance, and Athletica hasn't scored yet. Popular opinion has Saint Louis unlucky, rather than sucky, so maybe they'll get well against the Freedom's alleged defense. Fortunately, there's a nice juicy sideshow to keep us occupied. Hope Solo visits her close, personal friend Abby Wambach for the first time since they went to China together in 2007. Imagine how much fun they'll have, catching up on old times. Why on earth would you miss this game?
In other news, Julie Foudy says Birgit Prinz and Hanna Ljunberg are overrated garbage, neither of whose entire careers worth what Marta has already accomplished. She also says China was nothing without Sun Wen, and can't think of a single Swedish or Canadian player worthy of paying attnetion to. And don't get her started on how much April Heinrichs stunk, both as coach and player.
Well, actually, all she did was pick an all-time women's international dream team. I'm just jumping to conclusions based on her omissions, because that's what you do when you see a list like this. (What, no Greg Ryan?)