April 24, 2011

Beat and Flash Play to a 2-2 Draw

In the battle for the early lead in WPS, the Atlanta Beat and Western New York Flash played to a 2-2 draw at FSU Soccer Stadium in Kennesaw, Georgia. The game featured a scintillating 2nd half after a slow and fairly uneventful first half.

Western New York drew first blood and it didn't take long. Brittany Bock was able to force a turnover in the Atlanta midfield and passed it to Christine Sinclair. Sinclair unleashed a shot from 22 yards out that beat Beat keeper Ali Lipsher lower left to make it 1-0 before the match was two minutes old.

Atlanta nearly forced a penalty in the 5th minute. On a set piece from 30 yards, Cat Whitehill tried to thread a low pass through to Keeley Dowling. Dowling went down in the box, but no call was made and it was inconclusive just how much contact had been made.

The rest of the half saw little action, with the Flash getting the majority of possession and scoring opportunities, but unable to crack the Beat's defense. Atlanta was unable to mount any attack of substance and seemed content to keep the Flash from increasing their lead with strong team defense. Both Carli Lloyd and Lauren Sesselmann earned yellow cards late in the half.

Halftime substitutions brought Marta into the match in place of Gemma Davison. She was seeing her first action of the WPS season. Atlanta sent India Trotter in for Sesselmann.

The game continued at much the same pace for the first ten minutes of the 2nd half, but a hard-working Lori Chalupny started challenging the right side of the Flash back line and her hard work paid off in the 57th minute.

Cat Whitehill sent a ball from the center circle to the left side to Chalupny. Chalupny cut back to the middle of the field, beating defender Kandace Wilson. From 25 yards, Chalupny struck a perfectly placed, slicing shot that grazed the inside of the right post and into the net.

That goal seemed to ignite both teams and the pace picked up considerably thereafter. In fact, the final 35 minutes of this match were among the most exciting played in WPS.

Western New York nearly answered in the 60th minute as a high corner got loose in the box, with Ali Lipsher making a save from close range on Sinclair.

However, in the 66th minute, Marta made her presence felt and Lipsher was unable to stop that one. Christine Sinclair sent a beautiful cross from the left side to the near post. Marta was able to get inside Keeley Dowling on a run to the net and headed the ball past Lipsher with a stunning flick to put the Flash back on top 2-1.

Just when Western New York appeared to be in control again, Atlanta answered quickly in the 68th minute. Off of a throw in, Lloyd got the ball to Chalupny who in turn sent it back to Lloyd. Lloyd dribbled to within 25 yards without defenders challenging and blasted a shot just under the crossbar and out of the reach of a leaping Ashlyn Harris. The game was once again tied.

Both goalkeepers made big saves in the closing minutes of the contest. Two Atlanta 2nd half substitutions, Analisa Marquez and Kristina Larsen, nearly connected for a goal in the 78th minute. Marquez crossed the ball to Larsen at the 18. Larsen turned in heavy traffic and shot to the top center of the net with Harris making a brilliant save tipping the ball over the net.

It was Lipsher's turn to make a game-saving stop in the 87th minute as Caroline Seger shot from 12 yards appeared to be heading just under the crossbar, but the Beat goalkeeper was able to tip it over the net. Just two minutes later, a Sinclair blast was deflected either by an Atlanta defender or Lipsher and rattled off the top of the post and over.

The game ended 2-2 after a furious tempo over the final third of the match that had to exhaust all involved.

So both teams end the evening where they started it, tied atop the WPS table. Western New York is now 1-0-1 with four points. Atlanta is 1-1-1 with four points. The two teams will meet in a rematch next Sunday in Rochester.

WPS Standings after three weeks:
Western New York Flash 1-0-1, 4 pts.
Atlanta Beat 1-1-1, 4 pts.
magicJack 1-0-0, 3 pts.
Boston Breakers 1-2-0, 3 pts.
Philadelphia Independence 0-0-1, 1 pt.
Sky Blue FC 0-1-1, 1 pt.