This weekend (for the fifth time this year), FC Gold Pride dropped points, being held to a 0-0 draw by the last place Atlanta Beat. While on the surface this may seem a disappointing result for a team that's running away with Women's Professional Soccer's (WPS) regular season title, the draw came at the end of a three-week, cross-country road trip the culminated with a game in the sweltering heat of Kennesaw. It was a relatively impressive result, especially considering Atlanta's form - riding a three match winning streak into the game - and the performance required of Beat goalkeeper Hope Solo to keep the Pride off the scoresheet.
Atlanta may still be at the bottom of the Women's Professional Soccer table, but with their unbeaten streak having run to four matches, Gareth O'Sullivan's team is showing itself more poised for a playoff run than Sky Blue or Washington, two expectant playoff contenders whose weekend losses have pushed them outside the league's top four. Sky Blue 's loss to Chicago was their fourth straight, extending their winless streak to five, having not won since before the All-Star break. Washington's loss to Boston takes their losing streak to five and their winless streak to ten, both tying league records.
Within the league's seven teams, there seem to be two distinct groups: the good (Gold Pride, Philadelphia and Boston) and the bad (Chicago, Sky Blue, Washington), with Atlanta hovering in-between.
Hence, our rankings:
#1. FC Gold Pride
- 38 points through 17 matches
- Unbeaten in six (five wins)
- Last week: 0-0 draw at Atlanta on Sunday
- Next week: hosting Chicago on Saturday
Gold Pride is 11 points up on Philadelphia and will soon have to start concerning themselves with the pitfalls that befell last year's Los Angeles Sol. Then, the 2009 regular season champions had a similar, early, insurmountable lead. As such, the Sol went the last month of the season without playing a competitive match. Their form slipped, and by the time Sky Blue went to Home Depot Center for the title game, Los Angeles's squad bared little resemblance to the team that dominated the regular season. With a number of former Sol players in the squad (Marta, Camile Abily, Shannon Boxx), coach Albertin Montoya will be tasked with avoiding the pitfalls of his predecessor.
#2. Boston Breakers
- 22 points through 16 matches
- Five wins in six matches (only loss, to Gold Pride)
- Last week: 3-1 win vs. Washington on Saturday
- Next week: hosting Atlanta on Wednesday; at Philadelphia on Sunday
Going through July where their only blemish was a loss to Gold Pride is enough to vault Boston into second in the rankings, even if they still trail Philadelphia in the standings. Consider it this way: Boston just finished a perfect month in the non-Gold Pride division. That month's worth of strong play and, nearly as important, scoring in every match since June 19 show Boston should be favorited to beat any team in the league. Gold Pride excepted, of course.
#3. Philadelphia Independence
- 27 points through 16 matches
- Two straight wins, by 7-1 margin
- Last week: 3-0 vs. Wednesday over Chicago
- Next week: at Washington on Wednesday; hosting Boston on Sunday
Lopsided wins in their last two matches is Philadelphia's case for second, but coming off a weekend where Boston convinced in their win over Washington, the Freedom's bye weekend helps pushed them into third. Come Sunday we'll have a better idea of who's the league's second best team, with Philadelphia getting Boston at Ferrell Stadium.
#4. Atlanta Beat
- 17 points through 16 matches
- Four match unbeaten streak (three wins)
- Last week: 3-2 win vs. Washington on Wednesday; 0-0 draw vs. Gold Pride on Sunday
- Next week: at Boston on Wednesday; hosting Sky Blue on Saturday
Three mid-week goals against Washington hinted the Beat had solved their goal scoring problems, but after being shutout by Gold Pride on Sunday, Atlanta still sits with 12 goals through 16 games, by far the league's worst scoring rate. Still, the opportunities were there, and should Atlanta avoid goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart going forward, goals should come.
#5. Chicago Red Stars
- 20 points through 18 matches
- Snapped three match losing streak on Sunday
- Last week: Lost 3-0 at Philadelphia on Wednesday; 2-1 win at Sky Blue on Sunday
- Next week: at Gold Pride on Saturday
Chicago gets this spot by default, their win over Sky Blue distinguishing the Red Stars from the bottom two. At the same time, their preceding three match losing streak - in which they were outscored 7-1 - puts their form far short of Atlanta's. Fortunately for Chicago, the SBN Power Rankings don't determine who makes the playoffs. Chicago sits fourth on the list that matters: the WPS standings.
#6. Sky Blue FC
- 18 points through 16 matches
- Winless since June 27
- Last week: Lost vs. Chicago 2-1 on Sunday
- Next week: at Atlanta on Saturday
In the weekend preview we highlighted the curious case of Sky Blue, a reigning champion that's played only one month of above-average soccer in their close-to-two year history. Two days later, Sky Blue made illustrated case better than we could, helping Chicago snap their losing streak. Only the historic struggles of Washington keep the defending champs from the bottom of the rankings.
#7. Washington Freedom
- 17 points through 17 matches
- Winless since May 30
- Last week: Lost 3-2 at Atlanta on Wednesday; lost 3-1 at Boston on Saturday
- Next week: hosting Philadelphia on Wednesday; at Sky Blue on Saturday
Abby Wambach remains a bright spot for the Freedom, scoring an improbable goal on Saturday while Washington's defense again sturggled. All three of Boston's Saturday goals were head-shakers, be it the training ground execution allowed by the defense or the inability to clear lose balls out of the penalty area. Washington's 29 goals allowed is seven more than the league's next-worst defense. Where defending is often more about effort and desire than pure talent, the Freedom's one-and-a-half year struggle to keep the ball out of their own net is going from curiosity to marvel.