Photo by ISIphotos.com
By CHRISTA MANN
Women's Pro Soccer is 14 weeks, 42 games, and just over halfway through its inaugural season. With a good sample of matches to try and judge the teams, styles of play, and ability of players, now seems like a fair and appropriate opportunity to compare the world's best in women's soccer.
Overall, the U.S. tops all countries with 43 goals scored; however, individually, the international players lead in seven of nine major statistical categories.
It's no surprise that Marta is still one the biggest and most talked about players in the WPS. So to say that she has five goals and two assists despite most teams' efforts to mark her out of the game, is to say that she is indeed the best player in the world. She may only rank second on her team and in the league for goals scored, but her contributions on a game-by-game basis are creating offensive opportunities for other Sol attackers.
One such player reaping those benefits is the Sol's French international, Camile Abily. Abily leads the league with seven goals scored and has a recent goal-a-game average. She has finished five goals in the last five games and has far exceeded everyone's expectations.
England's Kelly Smith has also enjoyed her fare share of success with five goals, a naming as Week Three WPS Player of the Week, and as April's WPS Player of the Month. Smith began the season strongly, but has wavered with a few knicks, bumps, and tweaks throughout the season. For fans' sake and for the Breaker's, Kelly Smith needs to get back to being "The Kelly Smith."
As much as scoring has become a major factor in separating players, preventing those goals is usually just as important. In fact, the Sol's Canadian goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc is worthy of some serious recognition midway through the season. She has recorded a league-best nine shutouts, and has allowed just four goals in 12 games.
Other notable international performers include: England's Eniola Aluko (St. Louis Athletica), Alex Scott (Boston Breakers) and Anita Asante (Sky Blue FC), French star Sonia Bompastor (Washington Freedom), Sweden's Caroline Jonsson (Chicago Red Stars), Australia's Lisa DeVanna (Washington Freedom) and Collette McCallum, Brazilian forward Cristiane (Chicago Red Stars) and Canada's Christine Sinclair.
These internationals have done well to establish themselves in the league, with many meeting high expectations, and with some exceeding their expectations.
As far as the the Americans… there have been shining moments here and there, but it seems that many U.S. players have failed to live up to the hype.
Yes, Abby Wambach (Washington Freedom) returned from an injury, Kristine Lily had a baby, and Briana Scurry (Washington Freedom) is past her prime, but let's hear excuses for the number one draft pick and some U.S. Women's National Team stars?
The league's number one overall pick, Amy Rodriguez, netted her first professional goal in her 11th appearance as a Boston Breaker. It seems that A-Rod has found that standing out at USC and standing out in the WPS are two completely different challenges. After the draft, many were excited about what she could do in the WPS; but at this point in the season Rodriguez has underperformed in her first 10 games of the season.
The same is true for the Athletica's Kerri Hanks who was the number six overall and number one St. Louis draft pick. Hanks had started six out of ten games for St. Louis, going goal-less in those first 10 matches. A two-time M.A.C. Herman Trophy Winner, Hanks came off the bench and scored her first career goal on Wednesday, which will hopefully provide the spark she needs to starting proving that she belongs in the league and in the Athletica's starting lineup.
There's no time like the present for these two former college stars to break out of there shells because there are only six more weeks in the regular season. Now with time, pressure, and opportunity on the line, they must begin to finish.
Young players sometimes struggle making that transition, but what's the case for the experienced American heroines.
Carli Lloyd (Chicago Red Stars) and Natasha Kai (SBFC), stars on the U.S. Women's National Team have been major disappointments this season. Kai put on a great performance against Boston in Week 10, but her two goals in that game are her only two goals in 11 games this season. Lloyd's injury gave an excuse for her poor play and minimal playing time in recent weeks, but honestly, she has only played well one game this season.
Thankfully, Shannon Boxx (Sol), Hope Solo (Athletica), and maybe one or two others are holding things down for the U.S. reputation.
Boxx wins the air battle every week for the L.A. Sol and provides spot-on distribution with every through ball and ball in over the top. The midfielder has one goal, two assists, and has played every minute of the 12 games possible.
In goal, Solo ties Chicago's Caroline Jonsson for second most clean sheets (4) as her 42 saves rank the St. Louis keeper fourth among all GK's in the league.
Other notable U.S. National Team players include: Heather O'Reilly (SBFC), Marian Dalmy (Chicago Red Stars), and Lori Chalupny (Athletica).
There is no question that the internationals are far more dominant than the Americans in WPS. It's no so much that the internationals are heads and shoulders above the U.S. players, it may be because the American stars only make plays on a very inconsistent basis.