At the mid-point of the inaugural season of Women's Professional Soccer [WPS], Marta and the Los Angeles Sol remain firmly in command, having allowed just four goals in eleven matches. The club has earned twice as many points as their nearest rival, albeit with two games in hand. And while the three-time FIFA Player of the Year continues to delight supporters, others are getting in on the action as well.
Led by French international Sonia Bompastor, the Washington Freedom recently embarked on a five-game unbeaten streak that took them past FC Gold Pride and the Boston Breakers into the second spot. The Sol and the Freedom squared off at the weekend in what amounted to a replay of the league's inaugural match in March in which the Sol emerged victorious 2-0.
The result on 7 June was much the same, with the Sol winning 3-1, propelled by a brace from Camille Abily, Bompastor's compatriot on France's national team. After netting two on Sunday, Abily became the league's leading goalscorer with six, one ahead of Boston Breakers' England star Kelly Smith.
Washington's lone goal came from Bompastor, who pounced on a deflected free kick to tie the score 1-1 in the 57th minute. The Sol were quickly back in control, however, through a well-taken penalty just three minutes later. Brittany Bock then orchestrated a clever give-and-go with Marta on the left side of the area before slotting home to seal the victory.
"We really focus on the wall pass and on 2 v 1 situations in training," said Bock. "I knew I would get it back if I found Marta, because she was it in the right spot on the field to receive my pass."
Bock called back
Selected in the first round of the WPS Draft [and 5th overall] by Los Angeles, Bock has played with both the US Under-20 and US Under-23 squads. Last month, she got her second career call-up to the senior US Women's National Team (USWNT).
USWNT head coach Pia Sundhage named Bock to her a 21-player roster for the first two domestic matches of 2009, but Japan cancelled after deciding not to travel to the United States, citing concerns about the H1N1 virus. Instead, the US played a friendly on 25 May in Toronto in which four different players scored to defeat Canada 4-0 in front of 10,255 fans. Bock was a substitute, but did not make it into the game and thus still awaits her first senior team cap.
Bock wrote recently that playing for the USWNT is "a dream and goal of mine that I have had since I started playing soccer... I will never stop working to make that team and win a gold medal and World Cup."
Yet to fade
Elsewhere on 7 June, FC Gold Pride, home to US soccer luminaries Tiffeny Milbrett and Brandi Chastain, had a chance to take over sole possession of second place with a victory at home against Chicago, but could only manage a 1-1 draw. Next month marks the ten-year anniversary of the US victory over China in the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup™ and, a decade after they brought women's football into focus in the US, Milbrett, Chastain and other members of that trailblazing team are still making their mark.
More than 90,000 spectators witnessed the 1999 final and WPS fans have already begun commemorating the victory. The league though, is keeping its eyes on the road ahead, with development, sponsors and expansion ever-present interests. The newly-named Philadelphia Independence, and potentially a team from Atlanta, will begin play next season.
WPS Commissioner Tonya Antonucci said: "We've said all along that WPS will be a league built on long-term growth and stability, and expansion into Philadelphia is simply reflective of that strategy."
Stars soon to rise
WPS is also planning nearly two dozen soccer camps across the US this summer, many in markets without a WPS team. Staffed by an elite pool of coaches and employing a carefully crafted, girls-only curriculum, WPS Camps will offer a challenging training environment for young female soccer players. WPS athletes will make guest appearances at the camps to work directly with the stars of tomorrow, who may one day join them on the pitch.