Once CONCACAF Olympic qualifying is decided on Friday, the only remaining federation left to play will be the Oceanic, where New Zealand, which represented the region at the World Cup, is expected to advance. While qualifying dates have yet to be officially announced, the games will likely take place in early April to round out the 12 teams that will compete for gold in the London Games.
For now, star New Zealand defender -- and Women's Professional Soccer fan favorite -- Ali Riley is spending her offseason in Los Angeles, keeping an eye on what's happening in Vancouver, British Columbia, where the United States, Canada, Mexico and Costa Rica will face off Friday night for two spots in the Olympics.
Riley is paying close attention to the U.S. squad for good reason. New Zealand will play a friendly versus the No. 1-ranked team on Feb.11 in Frisco, Texas. Riley will be going up against several of her fellow Stanford alums such as Kelley O'Hara and defender Rachel Buehler as well as WPS teammates such as forward Alex Morgan. "It will be a really big challenge for us, but it will be a good test to see where we are right now," Riley said when reached by phone earlier this week.
It'll be a new beginning for New Zealand. The squad hasn't been together since the World Cup, where it earned the country's first-ever point, and it'll be in a period of transition after coach John Herdman left to manage Canada.
"It's a little tricky," Riley said of the changes so close to Olympic qualifying, "but we are all really excited to see where it goes. We don't have too much to go on right now, but after [the game] in February, we'll really know what's ahead for us."
Of particular interest to Riley in the United States' games was her good friend O'Hara's debut at left back this past weekend. O'Hara, who as a forward won the 2009 Hermann Trophy as the year's top player when the pair played together at Stanford, is being tested out by U.S. coach Pia Sundhage at left back.
"I think she deserves to be on the field so I think it's awesome that she's gotten a chance to show her versatility," Riley said. "She's such a feisty attacker and she always works really hard on defense as well. I think it was a really good fit for her."
O'Hara notched three assists in the U.S.'s 13-0 rout of Guatemala and did well on defense. Riley, a two-time member of the WPS Best XI as an outside back, says she hasn't had to give her friend any advice on playing on the back line. "We haven't compared notes," she said with a laugh. "I love seeing her out there."
In the spring, many U.S. players, as well as Riley, are expected return to their club teams for the WPS season. It's been a tough offseason for the league, with court cases and U.S. Soccer's delayed sanctioning of the league as a Division 1 professional league. Riley, who will return to the defending champion Western New York Flash, admitted the situation has been tough on the players.
"It's really frustrating," she said. "I know all the girls share that same sentiment. It's so frustrating not knowing what you're future holds. It's our livelihood. It's not a hobby. That's why we work so hard to keep this a professional league. We want to be professionals and this be our job. This kind of situation [is] making it really hard to be like that. What's sad is while we want to help build it up so much, so much of it is out of our hands that a lot of people are considering going overseas."
While the league does appear on track for this upcoming season, it will be with just five teams after the league office disbanded magicJack and ended up in legal turmoil with owner Dan Borislow. In three full seasons, WPS has seen a flurry of teams come and go, with only two franchises remaining from the original seven that founded the league in 2007.
"No one knows what's going to happen. It's really hard every six months to not have a stable situation," Riley said. "Right now, we just all have our fingers crossed that we'll move ahead and have the five teams. Then 2013 will be better and the league will have more teams and the league will continue to grow."
The United States women's national team got back together this past week, looking to move on from its second place finish at the World Cup and move forward to Olympic qualification. The two games against Canada were billed as a "Celebration Tour" for the team. After a 1-1 draw in Kansas City this past weekend, the U.S. finished off the two-game series with a 3-0 win in Portland on Thursday night.
The U.S. will play its next game on November 19 in Phoenix against World Cup third-place finishers Sweden. As the players get set for some much-needed rest, here's what we learned from the past week of soccer.
It truly was a celebration: The U.S.'s final friendly on American soil before the World Cup drew just 5,852 fans in New Jersey, but all the attention and support the team received during its run in Germany has carried over. Saturday in Kansas City 16,191 fans came out to see the team, and 18,570 turned out in Portland. Fans at JELD-WEN Park were chanting Alex Morgan's name while she was waiting to sub in on the sidelines.
It's all about Abby: The new formation has brought some new creativity to the team, but in the end, it's all about Abby Wambach. Coach Pia Sundhage's new 4-2-3-1 formation looked its best Thursday with Megan Rapinoe running the offense in midfield, but the U.S. still struggled to finish its chances. Rapinoe hit the crossbar twice and Canadian goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc made a few good saves. In the second half, Wambach came through -- once with her left foot and once, of course, with her head. She has scored in six straight U.S. games, a streak that started in the group stage of the Women's World Cup. She has 125 goals and is close to overtaking Kristine Lilly for second all-time in U.S. history.
Positives for Canada: After a disastrous World Cup that ended with the resignation of its coach, Carolina Morace, Canada needs to put the pieces back together in time for Olympic qualification in January. John Herdman took over as coach after leading New Zealand to the past two World Cups. He's barely been at the job for a week, but got to take a good look at what his team can do against the world's No. 1 ranked team. Canada played the past two games against the U.S. without its best player, Christine Sinclair, who is being rested after a long season of soccer for both club and country. Canada played well at times, and even fought back in the first game to earn a 1-1 draw.
ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- There's no getting away from penalty kicks this year in women's soccer, it seems. After three World Cup games, including the final, were decided by penalty shootouts, the Women's Professional Soccer final also crowned its winner in the same fashion. The Western New York Flash defeated the Philadelphia Independence 5-4 in penalties after the match ended tied at one.
"I've been in so many PK shootouts the past few months," Flash rookie forward Alex Morgan said. Her United States squad had two penalty kick games in the World Cup, but came out on the losing end in their second -- in the final against Japan. "Finally came up with a first-place trophy. It feels really good."
The crowd of 10,461 was the largest for a final in WPS' three-year history and marked a strong end to a season that saw a definite boost from the United States' Women's World Cup success.
"I really hope that the fans continue to support us and stick around," Morgan said.
The Flash came into the match as the favorites, having won the regular season and earning an automatic berth into the title game, which they also hosted. They looked on their way to a tough 1-0 win but Independence forward Amy Rodriguez beat Flash goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris between her legs in the 88th minute to tie things up.
Harris redeemed herself in penalties, stopping Philadelphia's fifth from Laura Del Rio, to give the expansion Flash the title.
"It's a great feeling," Harris said. "After the year I've had -- being with the U.S. team and not making the World Cup team. It's such a good feeling. It feels like everything has been worth it."
Flash forward and Canadian international Christine Sinclair was named MVP of the match. Her goal in the 64th minute gave the Flash their brief 1-0 lead, and she converted the second penalty kick as Western New York scored on all five attempts.
ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- For the first time in Women's Professional Soccer's three-year history, the No. 1 and No. 2 playoff seeds are meeting in the title match. The Western New York Flash finished first atop WPS this season, and won the automatic berth and right to host the title game. The Independence finished close behind in second place and dispatched No. 3 magicJack in the semifinals last week to earn their spot in the final Saturday.
Though their regular-season records are close, the Flash have to be considered the favorite heading into the match. They boast a forward line that consists of five-time reigning FIFA Player of the Year Marta, Canadian captain Christine Sinclair and United States World Cup star Alex Morgan.
Marta and Sinclair both played for and won a title with FC Gold Pride last year -- combining to score 29 goals. This year, they picked up where they left off, each netting 10 goals despite missing time for this summer's Women's World Cup.
"You just can't beat that," Flash defender Ali Riley said of Marta and Sinclair after Friday's practice. "I think they're the two best players in the world."
The Marta-Sinclair combination boasts impressive stats. When both have appeared in a match over the last two years, they've lost only three times, all last year, and they are unbeaten when both play and at least one scores. In fact, in Marta's three years in the league (the first with the Los Angeles Sol), she has never lost a match when she has scored (26-0-3, including last year's title game).
Of slight concern for the Flash, Marta sat out most of Friday's practice at Sahlen's Stadium in Rochester after Flash coach Aaron Lines said she "tweaked" her right groin muscle in Thursday's practice. She was limping slightly.
"Nothing too major, I don't think," Lines said. "Don't anticipate it getting in the way of her playing tomorrow -- hopefully."
The match is a rematch of sorts of last year's title game. Though FC Gold Pride folded after last season, a core group of players joined the expansion Western New York Flash -- most significantly the forward tandem of Marta and Sinclair.
Last year, the Independence had just two days of rest after two extra-time playoff games and were promptly beaten 4-0 in the title game, with Marta and Sinclair scoring three goals. This year, there's a week off in between the matches, so the Independence are a much more well-rested team.
"The worst memory for us was the fact we never showed up," Philadelphia coach Paul Riley said after his team's final training session Friday. "We didn't play well. We didn't really turn it on. This year, we've got a chance to put that right."
It's also a homecoming of sorts for Independence midfielder Veronica Boquete, who played for Lines and the Flash when they were the Buffalo Flash that won last year's W-League title. Now, she's the MVP of the league while leading the opposing offense.
"The final is special, but for me it is more [special]," the Spanish international said Friday. "Last year, I played here. I know the owner, the coach ... It's special, but now I [am] wearing other jersey. I want to win this final."
Boquete made the difference for Philadelphia this season. She arrived midseason and the team finished hot in the second half with a record of 9-1-1 when she appeared in a match.
Assuming Marta and Independence defensive midfielder Jen Buczkowski play Saturday, they'll be the only two players to have played in all three WPS finals, and they'll have done so always as opponents. Marta's Sol lost in an upset to Buczkowski's Sky Blue FC in 2009 before FC Gold Pride beat the Independence last season. Though Marta's team has earned the automatic bid into the final each time, Buczkowski has played in more playoff games (seven) than anyone else in the league.
Her biggest concern Saturday is once again trying to shut down Marta. Buczkowski's Sky Blue FC squad was able to keep Marta from scoring in her first final, but the Independence could not keep her and Sinclair off the scoreboard last year.
"It's just a matter of containing [Marta and Sinclair]," Buczkowski said. "They're good players, but we're going to try to limit their touches."
Once again, the Philadelphia Independence are back in the WPS final, and once again, they are facing the dangerous pair of Marta and Christine Sinclair. Last year, they lost 4-0 to FC Gold Pride. This year, they'll be looking to shut down the Western New York Flash in Rochester.
"It'll be an exciting game with two very attacking teams. I don't think it's going to be nil-nil. I think there's going to be a lot of goals in the game," Independence coach Paul Riley said after Saturday's 2-0 semifinal win over magicJack.
The Independence needed a full team effort to get past magicJack's offensive attack. Abby Wambach came into the game having scored six goals in her previous four games, and looked unstoppable. But Philadelphia's defense came up big, posting a clean sheet Saturday in Philadelphia.
"To get a clean sheet against magicJack is just unbelievable," Riley said. "We've had the best record defensively in the league with Western New York, but people still don't think we're that good in the back. We're athletic. We get stuck in. We get in the way of crosses. We get in the way of shots."
Independence forwards Tasha Kai and Amy Rodriguez scored good goals in the second half of Saturday's win. Midfielder Vero Boquete -- named the Michelle Akers Player of the Year earlier this week -- had several dangerous moments in the attack as well.
With eight members of the Western New York Flash having won a title last year with FC Gold Pride, it feels a lot like a rematch, even though it won't officially be one. Rodriguez said after Saturday's game the Independence have shirts that read "Unfinished Business" -- a reminder of their 4-0 loss.
"We felt disappointed in ourselves because we had worked so hard during the season and to let go in that last game was kind of unfortunate. This is another year to hopefully snatch up the win," she said.
Sinclair and Marta combined for three goals in the match. They've shown no signs of slowing down this year, finishing tied for the league lead in goals with 10 each. Last year, Philadelphia had just two days' rest for the final. Now, it has a week to prepare and turn around the result.
Everything just keeps going magicJack's way. After a strong 3-1 win over the Breakers on Wednesday night in Boca Raton, Abby Wambach & Co. are headed to Philadelphia to face the Independence in the Women's Professional Soccer super semifinal Saturday.
Wambach, also the coach of magicJack, got her side on the scoreboard first just six minutes into the game when Boston left her wide open in the box for a right-footed finish. She added a penalty kick goal in the second half. Including the regular season, Wambach has now scored 11 goals in 10 games this season.
Boston came into the playoffs at 5-9-4 and was a clear underdog in the match, but it made things interesting in the first half. Rookie Keelin Winters scored to tie the match at 1-1 in the 31st minute, and Boston found itself all even with magicJack at halftime.
But magicJack, which started six U.S. women's national team members in the match, hit its stride in the second half and never looked back. Wambach converted the penalty in the 57th minute after Huffman was fouled in the box. In the 61st minute, Christen Press showed why she was named rookie of the year on Wednesday afternoon. After a good run into the box, she cut around Boston defender Taryn Hemmings and passed to a wide-open Megan Rapinoe, who headed home the final goal of the game.
Boston's injured star midfielder, Kelly Smith, subbed into the match in the 69th minute and the Breakers sprung to life for a bit, but couldn't force many shots on magicJack goalkeeper Jill Loyden. Smith memorably played on an injured left ankle and converted a penalty kick in England's World Cup quarterfinal loss to France last month, but had only played 45 minutes since returning to the Breakers. She was clearly not near 100 percent.
Now magicJack (10-7-2) faces Philadelphia (11-4-3) on Saturday on just two days' rest. The Independence boast the best defense in the league as well Spanish playmaker Veronica Boquette, who Wednesday was named the WPS Player of the Year. The Independence is 9-1-1 when Boquette (5 goals, 4 assists) appears in a match, though her only loss this year was against magicJack in the season finale. Boquette is the first Player of the Year not named Marta in WPS' three-year history.
The winner of Saturday's match will face a very well-rested Western New York Flash side on Aug. 27 in Rochester, N.Y. The Flash, led by the dangerous forward combination of Marta and Christine Sinclair, finished first in WPS and won an automatic berth in the title game, which they will also host.
In addition to Boquette's player of the year and Press' rookie of the year wins, a few more awards were handed out Wednesday. Western New York's Ashlyn Harris and Whitney Engen were named goalkeeper and defender of the year, respectively. Harris played every minute for a Flash defense that surrendered one goal per game and finished in a tie with Philadelphia for best goals-against average this season. Philadelphia coach Paul Riley, who guided his team through the summer despite losing key players to the World Cup, won his second consecutive coach of the year award.
It's been a rocky season for the Boston Breakers, but when it mattered most, they got the win they needed over Sky Blue FC at Harvard Stadium in Boston on Sunday. The 2-0 win gave Boston the final Women's Professional Soccer playoff spot, and it'll face Abby Wambach's magicJack side in Florida on Wednesday night in the first round of the playoffs.
United States World Cup star Lauren Cheney tallied both goals for the Breakers, including the fastest goal in WPS history just 14 seconds into the match. Cheney has been battling an ankle sprain she suffered in the World Cup final loss to Japan but looked strong Sunday.
The Breakers made the playoffs at 5-9-4, and the win snapped a four-game losing streak.
"There was no pressure on us," Cheney said after the game. "If we lost, that was our own fault. We had nothing to lose. We had to put it all out there, and we did that."
Sky Blue FC lost one central defender, Carrie Dew, to a red card suspension and another, Anita Asante, to injury, making their job Sunday against U.S. national team forwards Cheney and Kelley O'Hara that much tougher. Both of Cheney's goals came before 20 minutes had passed in the match. In the 34th minute, Sky Blue FC coach Jim Gabarra subbed off Dutch international Petra Hogewoning, who was seeing her first WPS minutes of the year, in favor of another attacker, Casey Nogueira, to try to get back into the game.
"We were a bit of a shambles in the back to start," Gabarra said after the game. "We were way too passive. That's a dream start for them. We were not good enough in the back to start."
Sky Blue FC eventually shifted to just two defenders in the back but couldn't muster much of an offensive attack as the Breakers held on defense.
Because of injuries and World Cup duty, Boston has been without last year's offensive trio of Cheney, English international Kelly Smith and midfielder Jordan Angeli for most of the season. The three combined for 23 goals last year but have just five this year.
Angeli is out for the season with an ACL injury, and Smith has played only 45 minutes for the team since running on an injured ankle in England's World Cup quarterfinal loss to France last month. Cheney was the only one of the three on the field Sunday.
"She hasn't scored the goals for the Breakers that I think she's wanted to," Breakers captain Leslie Osborne said after the game. "Tonight, we just gave her the ball a lot. She had the ball a lot, and she creates special things."
Breakers coach Tony DiCicco said Smith may be available when the team faces magicJack on Wednesday. If Smith is able to contribute in the match, it will help the Breakers against a team that has beaten them twice this month by the combined score of 6-0. MagicJack forwards Abby Wambach and Christen Press scored all six of the goals and have caused opposing defenses all sorts of stress during the past few weeks.
"It's a tough game. You've got Abby Wambach, who, right now, is just -- how do you deal with her?" DiCicco said. "We'll come up with a tactic. We were embarrassed last time we played there. They beat us 4-0."
Sky Blue FC and the Breakers have had their playoff hopes linked together before. In 2009, Boston's late-season collapse (an 0-3-1 finish) allowed the New Jersey squad to take the final playoff spot. Sky Blue FC went on to win three straight road games and take the title with an upset win over Marta and the Los Angeles Sol. Boston's loss to magicJack last week had the Breakers nearly out of playoff contention until Philadelphia's last-minute win over Sky Blue FC reopened the door.
Osborne said she couldn't even watch Sky Blue FC's game last week because she was so nervous. Just a draw for Sky Blue FC would've ended the Breakers' season.
"I was actually at the Red Sox-Yankees game," Osborne said. "I decided to not watch that game because I thought I would stress myself out. I found out from phone calls and text messages."
Now the Breakers will try to repeat what Sky Blue FC was able to achieve just two years ago.
"We didn't want to go out with a loss at home. It's going to be tough to go on the road and win games, but I like where we are right now," DiCicco said. "We're glad we're in the playoffs. Anything can happen once you get in."
Boston Breakers fans have a new favorite player this week -- Philadelphia forward Lianne Sanderson. Sunday, Sanderson's last-minute goal gave the Independence a 2-1 win over Sky Blue FC and kept the Breakers alive in the playoff race heading into Sunday's season finale at home against Sky Blue FC, when the final spot in the Women's Professional Soccer's postseason will be determined.
A tie for the New Jersey side Sunday in Philadelphia would've eliminated the Breakers from playoff contention and given Sky Blue FC the final spot. Now, the two teams meet next Sunday afternoon (4 p.m. ET at Harvard Stadium in Boston) to decide who will advance to the postseason. The Breakers (4-9-4, 16 points) need a win to move on, while Sky Blue FC (5-8-4, 19 points) will advance with just a tie.
It's a scenario eerily similar to how the Breakers ended their 2009 season. Needing just four points to make the playoffs heading into their final four games, the Breakers went 0-2-1 in the first three and scored no goals. They hosted the Sol in their finale in Boston, and crashed out with a 2-1 loss after Shannon Boxx converted a late penalty kick.
Now, the Breakers head into Sunday's game on an 0-4-1 skid, with just three goals scored. And, like the 2009 collapse, they've gotten limited minutes from star midfielder Kelly Smith. Smith injured her left ankle in the World Cup and has played only 45 minutes for the Breakers since she returned from Germany. Saturday, she was listed as an available sub for Boston but was a late scratch after pregame warm-ups.
"It's day-to-day with her," coach Tony DiCicco said after Saturday's loss to magicJack. "She played 45 minutes up in Western New York [Aug. 3] at 50 percent and she was good. She was very good. She's that quality of player. She would've helped us today if she could've gotten on the field. She's really hurting. She wants to play but [her] ankle won't let her."
It's also a late-season scenario that Sky Blue FC is familiar with. In 2009, they benefited from the Breakers' loss to the Sol and advanced to the playoffs as the fourth and final seed. They eventually went on to win the title, winning three games on the road in seven days. In 2010, Sky Blue FC needed a win and some help in their final game, but got neither and missed the playoffs.
While the elimination encounters will be starting a bit earlier in Boston this weekend, the real playoffs get going just a few days later as Florida-based magicJack, who have clinched the No. 3 seed, will play host to either Boston or Sky Blue FC on Aug. 17 or 18. MagicJack has been on a tear of late, winning three straight games, and Abby Wambach has continued her aerial dominance since returning from the World Cup. Saturday in Boston, the Breakers played an even game with magicJack, but couldn't defend Wambach in the air, and gave up two goals to her to lose 2-0.
"It's almost impossible to mark Abby Wambach. She's just on another level apart from anyone else. We saw it in the World Cup. We're seeing it in the league. These are good defenders," DiCicco said. "There's just no ability to stop her when the balls are served into her head."
Meanwhile, the race for first is still on, and is heading into the final week of the season for the first time in league history. If Philadelphia (11-3-3, 36 points) wins its finale Sunday, the Western New York Flash (11-2-3, 36 points) would need four points out of a pair of matches this week to clinch the No. 1 seed, as the Independence hold the tiebreaker. The regular-season title holds significant value in WPS as it represents an automatic berth to the final, and also gives the winner the right to host the title match.
This week's games:
Western New York Flash at magicJack (7 p.m. ET)
magicJack at Philadelphia Independence (4 p.m.)
Sky Blue FC at Boston Breakers (4 p.m.)
Atlanta Beat at Western New York Flash (6 p.m.)
With just two or three games remaining for each of the six teams in Women's Professional Soccer, the playoff races are more competitive than they have been in the league's three-year history. First place -- and an automatic berth to host the final -- is still up for grabs this late in the season. Three teams are jockeying for the final two playoff spots. Here's how each team looks heading toward the playoffs, which begin Aug. 17.
Western New York Flash (10-2-3, 33 points)
At the beginning of the season, it looked like the Flash would run away and hide at the top of the table, much like the Los Angeles Sol and FC Gold Pride were able to do in 2009 and 2010. But that hasn't been the case. While the Flash have certainly impressed for most of the season, two losses during the World Cup are their only blemishes, allowing the Independence to have a shot at the top spot.
The Flash boast one of the most star-studded offenses in women's club soccer. Two-time league MVP Marta and MVP-candidate Christine Sinclair and World Cup hero Alex Morgan. Swedish captain Caroline Seger and June Player of the Month McCall Zerboni lead the way in midfield. Unsurprisingly, the Flash lead the league in goals with 32.
Scary stat: In two years together with FC Gold Pride and now the Flash, Marta and Sinclair have lost only three times when they've both appeared in the match. The last time was in June 2010. With no more international duty this season, they'll both be on the field for the Flash's final three games. In two years together, they've combined to score 44 goals.
Philadelphia Independence (10-3-3, 33 points)
The Independence have just two games left, and neither are against the Flash, so they'll need Western New York to slip up in order to host the title game. But their strong play during the World Cup has guaranteed them a finish no lower than second. Tasha Kai was a scoring machine for Philadelphia during the World Cup and MVP-candidate Veronica Boquete has tallied five goals and four assists in just nine games.
The Independence also have the best defense in the league, surrendering just 15 goals in 16 games. That gives them a slight advantage over the Flash on the defensive side of the field.
Scary stat: The Independence are 8-0-1 when Boquete appears in a match and have been red hot since getting her into their lineup in the middle of the season. Their only loss since May came when she was forced to miss a match with an injury on July 23. Their past three wins have all been by the score of 1-0 with Boquete netting the second-half, game-winning goal in each match.
magicJack (7-6-2, 22 points)
The Florida-based side's off-the-field issues are mounting, but on the pitch it appears to have righted a shaky ship and is in the driver's seat for a third-place finish. The magicJack need one point in their next three games to clinch third place and a home playoff game. The squad, comprised of mostly U.S. national team players -- most notably player-coach Abby Wambach -- struggled during and immediately after the World Cup, but turned things around with back-to-back wins over fellow playoff contenders Boston and Sky Blue FC this past week.
Off the field, owner Dan Borislow is suing the league after WPS filed papers to begin terminating his ownership. A grievance filed against him by the players' union for his treatment of the players is another headache for the team to deal with as it tries to make the playoffs. It has even been deducted a point in the standings and stripped of draft picks for noncompliance with league standards of sponsor-sign boards and media access, among other violations.
Scary stat: Forward Christen Press has scored eight goals for magicJack this season, including a hat trick last week versus Boston. Press and Flash rookie Morgan will be battling for the Rookie of the Year award.
Sky Blue FC (5-7-4, 19 points)
Back-to-back losses to the Flash and magicJack have Sky Blue FC clinging to the last playoff spot. Casey Nogueira has led the way offensively for the squad in her first year with the team, scoring five goals, several of the highlight-reel quality. After coaching turmoil in its first two seasons, former Freedom coach Jim Gabarra should become the first Sky Blue FC coach to start and finish the season as coach.
Scary stat: Sky Blue FC is just 1-5-1 away from New Jersey this season and it plays its final two games of the year on the road at Philadelphia and Boston. The team's final game against the Breakers could be a play-in match for the final playoff spot. A win or tie against Philadelphia this weekend, along with a Boston loss, clinches a playoff berth.
Boston Breakers (4-8-4, 16 points)
The Breakers started strong in 2009 and collapsed at the end of the season, missing the playoffs. In 2010, the Breakers started out miserably, and then surged forward in the second half to finish in second place. In 2011, the Breakers have struggled all season. A 4-0 loss at magicJack last week has their playoff hopes slim and they could be eliminated from the race as early as this weekend. Their biggest offensive hopes lie with Lauren Cheney and Kelly Smith, both now returning from injuries they suffered during the World Cup, though the players are still not 100 percent fit. On the bright side, the Breakers control their own destiny. In their final two games, they host magicJack and Sky Blue FC. Two wins will clinch them a spot in the playoffs.
Scary stat: The Breakers were actually better during the World Cup, without their star players and their head coach, than they were before and have been after. Since the end of the tournament and the return of their United States and English internationals, the Breakers are 0-3-1. It was an 0-3-1 (with one goal scored) collapse in 2009 that cost them a playoff spot.
Atlanta Beat (1-11-4, 7 points)
Atlanta has already been eliminated from playoff contention, and is just struggling to score goals. Its goalless streak has reached 577 minutes and they have as many points as they do goals this season, seven.
Scary stat: Only four players have scored for the Beat this season as they have struggled mightily in the offensive third of the field.
Although the Women's World Cup is over, the increased attention on the sport and the members of the United States women's national team has spilled over to their domestic club league, Women's Professional Soccer. In the past two weeks, two teams have set records for attendance while a third saw a big boost in its first post-World Cup match.
MagicJack, the club side that boasts star striker Abby Wambach, has been the biggest beneficiary, drawing a WPS-record crowd of 15,404 last week in Wambach's hometown of Rochester (vs. Western New York Flash) and then a club-record 9,345 fans for the Atlanta Beat when it hosted Wambach's side.
But it's not just magicJack getting all the attention. The Boston Breakers hosted the Western New York Flash on Sunday and drew 6,222 fans -- its highest attendance of the season. The Flash have been the marquee team this year, with five-time player of the year Marta playing alongside Canadian striker Christine Sinclair and American star Alex Morgan.
The players are hoping the World Cup bounce will continue throughout the summer.
"Once people come out, they like what they see and it's just been a problem to get those people out that first time," Sinclair said Sunday after a 2-2 draw with the Breakers. "Hopefully, we can keep this momentum going and keep producing on the field, put a show on for the fans and they'll continue to come back."
Defender Ali Riley, a California native who played in the World Cup for New Zealand, agreed. "It's definitely long overdue. If it takes the World Cup, the U.S. getting to the final, to get the attention of people all over the country, then fine. So be it," she said. "The U.S. players are getting a lot of press right now. The more they can push for the WPS, the better. The better soccer we can play, [that] will help our own case and all the players who are getting press, if they can keep pushing for it. That's really all we can do as players, and then we have to hope that people still believe and still want to watch women's soccer."
Only Sky Blue FC, which plays in New Jersey, did not see a World Cup attendance boost, drawing 1,593 fans to Saturday's meeting with the Philadelphia Independence. The record-setting Northeast heat that day certainly did not help, though.
Rising star: Morgan, a forward on the U.S. national team and Western New York Flash, continues to steal the spotlight whenever she subs into a game. Sunday night in Boston, the World Cup hero drew the loudest cheers of all the players on the field and then scored a brilliant goal to tie the game in the 87th minute. Morgan is known for her late goals, but the style of this one, a deft flick with the outside of her left foot to beat Breakers goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, has to be seen to be believed.
"Any kind of chance I got, I was going to take it. Luckily, that one went in," Morgan said after the game. She tried to downplay it, but eventually admitted, "That was definitely a top goal."
Morgan already seems like a lock for WPS Rookie of the Year with three goals and two assists in eight games with the Flash.
Famous faces:Off the field, it's a new world for USWNT members, who find themselves being recognized in public after their World Cup performances drew so much support in the United States. Defender Amy LePeilbet, back with the Boston Breakers, was surprised by the attention.
"I was just in Boston Common the other day and someone asked me if I was on the World Cup team," she said Sunday. "I couldn't believe it. I was in normal clothes. I couldn't believe that someone actually recognized my face. It was different for me."
International news: Canada coach Carolina Morace and her entire staff abruptly resigned last Wednesday, just two days after the conclusion of the World Cup. The Canadians, ranked No. 6 in the world heading into the tournament, disappointed in Germany and were eliminated in their second game.
Morace had been at odds with the federation heading into the tournament, and the players threatened to boycott the tournament if Morace was not kept on through the 2012 Olympics, making her resignation even more shocking.
"We're all in a little bit of shock because we think she's a tremendous coach and we fully support her," Sinclair, Canada's captain, said. "We didn't do so well in the World Cup, but I think the build-up for the World Cup, the two years before that, wasn't a fluke. Getting ranked sixth in the world wasn't a fluke. We played badly in one game that obviously mattered most and we're sad to see her go."