Marta again shines stateside

FC Gold Pride completed a stunning turn-around to take the Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) title in emphatic fashion after finishing bottom in the inaugural season last year. The club based in California’s Bay Area won the play-off final with a resounding 4-0 victory over Philadelphia Independence. Gold Pride also claimed the regular season title with three rounds remaining eventually winning by a seventeen-point-margin over Boston Breakers, while Philadelphia and Washington Freedom rounded out the other play-off positions.

The title decider completed another successful WPS season, the world’s highest profile and prestigious women’s competition. A catalogue of stars from all corners of the globe again strutted their stuff for the league’s seven clubs, which this year featured newcomers in Philadelphia Independence.

Marta shines brightest among stars
Brazilian star forward Marta played a predictably key role in helping Gold Pride to their haul of silverware with the four-time FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year having made the move upstate from Los Angeles Sol during the off-season. The 24-year-old scored 19 goals in 24 games during the regular season and also notched five assists to ensure a second successive Michelle Akers Player of the Year award. The goal rush helped Gold Pride to a WPS record 13-game unbeaten streak during the second half of the season.

That form continued into the play-off decider with Marta scoring one and providing three assists en route to adding the Player of the Match award to her bulging collection of personal accolades. Ably assisting Marta was highly regarded Canada international striker Christine Sinclair who scored twice in the final for a season tally of 12.

However, Gold Pride’s success owed equally to a rock-solid rearguard, with just 19 goals conceded for the league’s best defensive record by some distance. The Santa Clara based side had Nicole Barnhart, WPS goalkeeper of the season and understudy to Hope Solo in the USA squad, defending their goal. Another defensive stand-out was New Zealand left-sided defender Ali Riley who was a model of consistency, leading to her claiming the league’s rookie of the year award.

Global appeal
With the notable exception of Germany, most of the biggest nations in the world of women’s football all had representatives in the WPS. Brazilian stars Cristiane and Formiga featured prominently for Chicago Red Stars. Asia were represented strongly by Australia’s Lisa De Vanna and Japan’s Homare Sawa at Washington Freedom, while Nadeshiko midfield colleague Mami Yamaguchi was an ever-present at Atlanta Beat.

Elite European representatives included England duo Eniola Aluko and Kelly Smith; French stars Camille Abily and Sonia Bompastor; decorated Swedish midfielder Caroline Seger; Italy forward Patrizia Panico and Swiss rising star Ramona Bachmann. USA stars included Boston Breakers defender Amy LePeilbet, goalscoring pair Abby Wambach and Amy Rodriguez, plus the likes of experienced midfielders Lori Chalupny and Heather O’Reilly.

The league will expand to an eight-team competition for 2011 with Buffalo Flash, who are based in western New York, set to line-up next April. The new team, who won the second tier W-League this year, will provide local rivalry to 2009 WPS champions, the New Jersey based Sky Blue FC. The league anticipates further growth in the coming years on the back of the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup™ and USA’s hold on top position in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women's World Ranking.

“By making adjustments to our league structure and operations over the past few months, expansion talks have heated up in several cities,” said David Halstead of the WPS Expansion Committee. “It (the inclusion of an extra club for 2011) gives our league an even number of teams for scheduling purposes and puts us back in expansion mode as we look ahead to 2012 and beyond.”