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Women's Professional Soccer Preview: The Continuing March Of FC Gold Pride

Women's Professional Soccer is approaching its two-thirds, and with recent signs of strength from Chicago and Atlanta, all seven of the league's teams remain alive for playoff spots.

"Alive" would be an understatement concerning the league leaders, FC Gold Pride, whose mid-week win over a previously hot Breaker team served as further evidence of their distance from the pack. That Breaker team looks to rebound against Chicago in Sunday's crucial match, race-for-fourth-place match, while current fourth place club Washington's next to try and hold-off the Pride.

That and Philadelphia-Sky Blue's third meeting of the season (with second place on the line) highlight this weekend in Women's Professional Soccer:

 Washington Freedom (4-5-5, 4th place) versus FC Gold Pride (11-3-1, 1st place), 7 p.m. Eastern, Saturday, Maryland SoccerPlex

For the second season in a row, WPS has one team running away with the league, and for the second season in a row, that team is led my Marta. The Brazilian attacker scored her 11th goal of the season on Wednesday while Gold Pride impressively defeated a Boston Breaker team that carried a three match winning streak into the game at Harvard Stadium. The three points put Gold Pride on 34 for the season, 13 ahead of second place Philadelphia - not bad for a team that finished last season in the basement.

While Gold Pride have reversed fortunes from last season, Washington's experiencing a second season of mid-table success. Though they have Abby Wambach, arguably the league’s second best player, Washington has been unable to distinguish themselves from the gaggle of teams who’ve spent the campaign clustered in the third-through-fifth spots. With the pack growing such that the second and sixth spots are separated by only five points, Washington’s regular season remains undefined.

Having not played mid-week, Washington can hope to start bringing their season into focus with an upset against a Gold Pride squad in the middle of a three match, East Coast swing.

Philadelphia Independence (6-5-3, 2nd place) versus Sky Blue FC (5-6-3, 3rd place), 7 p.m. Eastern, Saturday, Farrell Stadium

Sky Blue FC just changed coaches. Again. Rick Stainton has taken over for Pauliina Miettinen, becoming the fifth coach in the club’s one-and-a-half year history.

Miettinen had disappointed with a team that, coming off a championship and a number of significant off-season acquisitions, inspired hope that postseason success would translate into regular season riches. That hasn’t happened, but with Miettenen having paid the price with her job, it’s worth considering whether those expectations were ill-placed. After all, Sky Blue is performing as well as (if not better than) they did last season, when you look at the league table.

Though Philadelphia has lost track of Gold Pride at the top of the league, the Independence have exceeded their expectations. Paul Riley’s team was expected to be stout at the back yet have trouble scoring goals, but the expansion club has found 21 goals through 14 matches, the second best rate in the league. Their gamble of trading the second overall draft pick for Amy Rodriguez has paid off, with A-Rod’s 7 goals the league’s best non-Pride total.

This will be Philadelphia’s third meeting of the year with Sky Blue, having taken six points from the defending champions with a June 6, 2-1 result in West Chester and a 4-1 win at Yurak Field (two weeks later).

Chicago Red Stars (4-6-5, 5th place) versus Boston Breakers (4-6-4, 6th place), 4 p.m. Eastern, Sunday, Toyota Park

Perhaps Sky Blue’s dismissal of Miettenen was inspired by Chicago’s early season coaching change, replacing Emma Hayes with Omid Namazi. Since, the Red Stars have gone from a team protected from the cellar by Atlanta to a squad which, with a result on Sunday, could be in a playoff place at the final whistle. While the end of the Hayes era hinted that the problem might be personnel - with the squad playing hard but to few results - Namazi has show that’s not the case.

Boston, on the other had, has been more enigmatic. Yes, they just ended a three match winning streak, but a team with this talent continues to search for reasons why they’re staring at finishing a second consecutive season outside of the playoffs. Looking at the numbers, the easy answer is goals (having scored only 15 this season), and with rookie Jordan Angeli unlikely to keep-up a pace that’s seen her score in each of the last three matches, coach Tony DiCicco is running out of time to solve Boston’s two year problem finding the net.