USA

Flash makes up ground at the top

Alex Morgan has brought her stand-out form back from Germany.
SpecialtoFoxSoccer GIOVANNI ALBANESE JR
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When the final whistle blew at Harvard Stadium ending Sunday night’s FOX Soccer Women's Professional Soccer game of the week, WPS's standings were as tight as you could possibly get it. At the top of the table sat Western New York (8-2-3, 27 pts) and the Philadelphia Independence (8-3-3, 27 pts), the Flash having made up the one point deficit they carried into the weekend.

FINAL WPS STANDINGS

 
 
POS TEAM GP PTS +/-
1 x-Western New York 18 42 +22
2 x-Philadelphia 18 36 +13
3 x-magicJack 18 28 0
4 x-Boston 18 19 -5
5 Sky Blue 18 19 -5
6 Atlanta 18 7 -25

In the six-team WPS, only four clubs make the postseason. Philly and WNY are all but locks, while the weekend's action left three of the four remaining clubs - Boston Breakers (4-5-4, 16 pts), Sky Blue FC (4-5-4, 16 pts) and magicJack (5-5-2, 16 pts) - deadlocked for the final two spots. Atlanta Beat (1-10-4, 7 pts) rounds out the standings.

WNY reached the top of the table thanks to its perseverance against the Breakers. The Flash came back twice from one-goal deficits to earn a 2-2 draw in front of 6,222.

Despite being the dominant side (something that would continue through much of the match), the Flash allowed Boston to take the lead in the 20th minutes. Boston executed an extremely quick counter attack off a Rebecca Moros turnover. Midfielder Meghan Klingenberg headed the attempted clearance to Katie Schoepfer, who slid a pass to Kelley O’Hara. With defender Whitney Engen draped over her, the United States international took advantage of Flash `keeper Ashlyn Harris’s bad positioning and slotted a shot into the side netting.

Western New York responded 18 minutes later, with FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year (five times running) Marta getting the equalizer. Two minutes after McCall Zerboni had botched a wide open header in the six-yard box, the Flash forward set up her Brazilian teammate. Marta received Zerboni’s pass, took a touch to her strong left foot, and drilled a shot from outside the box far post, past a completely laid out Alyssa Naeher, tying the score at one.

Boston was on its heels for much of the second half but, much like they did in the first, the Breakers took another one-goal lead, this time in the 84th minute. O’Hara notched the brace (taking her goal total to four on the season) with a clinical one-two inside the Flash box. Defender Nikki Marshall had initially saved a ball from crossing the end line, whipping it to the top of the box to O’Hara, who teamed up with Claire Zimmeck for the wall pass. O’Hara buried the return ball in the back of Harris's net, putting her team up with six minutes to go.

But before the Breakers' celebrations could begin, a flash of skill from Alex Morgan got the Flash their point. With her back to the goal at the top of the box, Morgan lined up the ball which bounced to just above her waist, flicking it up and over Naeher, off the crossbar and in, leveling the match in the 87th minute.

Saturday action

Before the Flash completed their four-point week, the Independence went to Piscataway, New Jersey, to take on Sky Blue FC. Hoping to keep their lead atop the league, Philadelphia saw their hopes fall at the feet of one of the league's emerging stars.

Coming on for English international Eniola Aluko with the scored tied nil-nil, two-time NCAA Player of the Year Casey Nogueira showed that she's developed into fully-capable pro. In a 10-minute span, Nogueira netted a pair of goals - 71st and 80th minutes - leading Sky Blue past WPS’s 2010 runner up. Nogueira’s brace gave her five goals for the season, leading the way for WPS's first champs.

As Sky Blue was notching its 16th point, magicJack was down in Kennsaw, Georgia, taking on the last-place Atlanta Beat. Going into the match, Atlanta had a league low in goals scored (7) and a league high in goals allowed (27). Still, magicJack failed put one past Allison Whitworth, ending a very winnable match with a scoreless draw.

Considering they had just played a match at Western New York on Wednesday, magicJack were fortunate to have their legs, playing in front of the 9,345 in attendance at KSU Soccer Stadium. US backup keeper - and magicJack backup - Jillian Loyden filled in for regular starter Hope Solo, putting forth a better effort than she gave in Wednesday night's 3-1 loss to the Flash. Loyden stopped all six shots on goal to help keep magicJack on pace with the Breakers and Sky Blue.

With just three weeks remaining in the regular season, only the Beat are a long shot for the playoffs. WPS is chock full of parity and, even with the Flash looking like the clear-cut dominant team, any team can still win come August 27th's final.

Giovanni Albanese Jr. is the sports editor for Tri-City Voice in Fremont, California. He covered FC Gold Pride of WPS in 2009 and 2010. He is a WPS contributor at Equalizer Soccer and MLS contributor at Goal.com. You can contact Giovanni on Twitter at @GAlbaneseJr.

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