Chicago at Los Angeles, of course.
Well, it was bigger before the Red Stars put their freaking mouths on the curb the past three games. They have two games in hand, so it's not like they're out of a playoff spot, but now, like every other team in the league, they'll need the Sol to start churning out some losses.
I don't want to use statistics as a philosopher's stone, but check some of what's going on here. What can we conclude?
Karina LeBlanc is in another world right now...she gave up twice as many goals to the United States in the Swine Flu Classic as she has in nine WPS games. In fairness, the Sol employ a four defender backline, as opposed to a zero defender set. But LeBlanc is also leading WPS in saves, to the tune of 32 saves to 2 goals given up. As a point of comparison, your current MLS goalkeepers with the best goals against average, save percentage, and total saves are three different players.
But maybe it's just that your average WPS forward isn't shooting all that well. In fact, unless your name is Kelly Smith or Marta - you're not shooting very well at all. Abby Wambach is not your average player, but she's been terribly mediocre. Twenty-seven shots, 12 on frame...two goals.
That's positively productive compared to Marta's running mates. The horrible truth is that the Sol should be doing even better. Marta's nowhere near the team lead in shots taken. Han Duan, Chinese national team player: 17 shots, 7 on frame, 1 managed to get in - it was on FSC against the Gold Pride, you probably saw her non-Marta teammates mobbing her like she'd won the lottery. Can't imagine what they have in store for Aya Miyama when she finally scores. It's been 22 shots, 10 on goal. And I think the fastest of those ten shots could have been outrun by Usain Bolt.
Teams are collapsing on Marta, triple-covering her, and forcing her teammates to take the heat off her. By and large, they haven't.
So the likelihood is, one of two things will happen. One of Han, Miyama or Camille Abily will finally become a reliable second threat for Los Angeles (probably Camille); and Los Angeles will lose maybe once more all year. Or, one of the other six teams will figure out how to cover Marta while retaining enough possession to make LeBlanc work a little harder.
The Sol aren't as good as their stats, not yet. Well, they're not as good as Marta and LeBlanc's stats. Most of the casual observers who saw the Sol-Galaxy doubleheader dismissed the Sol as Marta and some ten other people. A little unfair to Shannon Boxx, who is not responsible for the offense.
Yes...now it can be told. Hope Solo, once again, told the truth. A poorly timed, sour grapey kind of truth, but truth nevertheless. In the words of Spinal Tap, the more it stays the same, the less it changes:
Do I take points away from her for saying this after a game where Han Duan assisted on a Shannon Boxx goal? I do not. Should I? I should. Should I stop asking Robert Evans-style rhetorical questions? I should more than stop.
Chicago, meanwhile...okay, so they've lost three shutouts in a row, at home, and tonight embark on a four-game road trip. Is that any reason to panic?
Sure it is. Emma Hayes has been calling for "Leadership among the collective", which is always a wonderful sign. The Red Stars won't have Carli Lloyd - she's been bad enough that I don't know if you could say they'll be missing her, Bob. (Office Space reference, sorry.)
Those of you who hate the US Men's National Team - and really, who doesn't? - can groove to the webcast at [url=www.losangelessol.com[/url]. Neither the Sol nor WPS paid me to say that, by the way. I'm not a prostitute, I'm just a slut.