Brazil’s Marta captured soccer’s World Player of the Year award for the fourth year in a row. The 23-year-old playmaker beat teammate Cristiane, Kelly Smith of England, and Germans Birgit Prinz and Inka Grings.
“I’m really surprised,” Marta said of winning the award again. Tearful but happy she described the accolade as “a landmark in my career and in my life”.
She was honored at the FIFA World Player Gala, during which former and current soccer stars and celebrities made appearances and Italian pop star Laura Pausini performed.
When asked how it felt to hear her name called once again, the 23-year-old replied, “It’s incredible. You can never prepare what you’re going to say and I just came out with the first words that came into my head.”
The prestigious FIFA award is voted for by the coaches and captains of each national side. With this year’s win, Marta becomes the record winner of the honor awarded by football’s world ruling body.
The dynamic striker, widely regarded as the best female to play the game, was a favorite last season in the revamped U.S Women’s Professional Soccer League, where she won the Golden Boot and was elected league MVP with the Los Angeles Sol.
American Mia Hamm won the inaugural women’s award in 2001, winning again in 2002.
Germany’s Birgit Prinz then picked up the award three years in a row from 2003-2005.
The men’s award when to Lionel Messi who added FIFA’s World Player of the Year award to his growing list of accolades, completing a nearly perfect campaign in which his club won an unprecedented trio of Spanish and European titles.
We were at the first game of the WPS season as well as the last (and many inbetween). And what a season’ it’s been.
Sky Blue FC completed its storybook rise from bottomfeeder to league champion with a dramatic, 1-0 victory over a valiant, 10-woman Los Angeles Sol side, whose remarkable season ended in bitter disappointment at their home park.
Heather O’Relly earned MVP honors by scoring the match’s only goal in the 16th minute and later contributing a dazzling slide tackle to dispossess Aya Miyama during a dangerous sequence early in the second half of the inaugural WPS Championship Match.
“It’s a special team we have here with Sky Blue,” said Christie Rampone, who began the season as team captain and ended it as the interim player/coach. “It was a great run for us just battling back to get into the playoffs.”
In ideal conditions at The Home Depot Center, the match began evenly with neither side producing much in the way of dangerous possession through the first quarter hour. Sky Blue FC earned a deep throw-in in the 17th minute and Keeley Dowling began the season’s most important series of passes by floating a well-meant cross into the box aimed at Natasha Kai. Back in the starting lineup after coming off the bench for playoff victories in Washington and St. Louis, Kai flicked the ball to the back post where Heather O’Reilly had shed Sol right back Manya Makoski and the U.S. National Team star did not miss her mark, beating Karina LeBlanc to put the underdog visitors on top.
For LeBlanc, who had posted a dozen clean sheets in 19 starts, the goal against was the product of a rare miscue from her backline which lost track of O’Reilly.
“It came pretty quickly,” LeBlanc said. “I was just trying to get something on it. The coaching staff said that it was pretty point blank. It came pretty hard.”
The Sol then set their sites on the equalizer, and nearly had a chance in the 24th minute but Jen Buczkowski, who has started throughout the playoffs for the Euro-bound Anita Asante, swooped in to tackle the ball away from Shannon Boxx.
Three minutes later, controversy ensued when Natasha Kai made a long run on the ball and was fouled from behind by Allison Falk. Referee Kari Seitz reached for her pocket and pulled out a red card on the basis that Falk was the last defender back to deny Kai an opportunity to score.
“I didn’t feel it was a red card. I thought it was a poor decision,” Sol coach Abner Rogers said. “Stephanie Cox was a recovering player so (Falk) wasn’t the last defender. And it wasn’t a blatant tackle.”
The loss of manpower was rarely evident. The Sol spent almost the entire second half assaulting the Sky Blue FC goal, but continued to fall just short of finding the equalizer. O’Reilly’s moment of defensive magic came in the 51st minute when Marta held the ball and laid it off for Aya Miyama on the right side of the penalty area. O’Reilly charged in to win enough of the ball to force a corner kick. The crowd—7,218 strong—gasped in anticipation of the equalizing red card, but there was no such call.
“I did get the ball, but that’s a scary play especially with what happened early in the game,” O’Reilly said. “She’s a sneaky player and she slipped right behind me. I know that as an outside midfielder, that’s my mark.”
Moments later, Marta ran on to a ball in space and Buczkowski, Dowling, and Meghan Schnur all made outstanding defensive plays over the next two minutes to keep the Sol at bay.
“They did a great job,” Rampone said of her defense, of which she is the fourth member. “They did a good job of being mindful of where (Marta) was and dropping when they needed to and stepping when we needed to. Just trying to play that game with her instead of man marking her, basically trying to frustrate her.”
The Sol never let up. They had two great chances in the 61st minute, the first a backheel by Han Duan that did not have enough on it, and the second a twisting ball by Miyama that Jenni Branam went up high to corral.
Shannon Boxx ripped off a shot in the 72nd minute that Branam spilled for a corner kick, but the corner went to Cox who sent a chip harmlessly over everyone.
The last dangerous moments of the season for the Sol commenced six minutes from time when Branam had to make a tough touch on a Marta cross intended for Miyama. The ensuing corner kick went to Boxx who slipped a pass in to substitute Lyndsey Patterson near the top of the six-yard box. Branam fell on it at the last moment.
“Amazing,” Rampone said of Branam, who has battled injuries and illness and thrived with a frenetic, high-risk style that has given Sky Blue FC fans many anxious moments during the season. “Jenni was a huge part of our success. She allows the backline to hold a higher line at times because she comes off her line. She basically won a lot of these games for us. She does get hit and she goes down, but I know nothing is going to keep her off the field.”
Sol players remained on the field after the match while Sky Blue FC celebrated, and LeBlanc addressed the fans, who helped the Sol lead not only the standings but the attendance table. Still it was a tough pill to swallow for a team that raced to the head of the pack in April and never looked back.
“When the season started, we had a lot of goals. And we accomplished all of them but one,” said Boxx, the team captain. “I’m not disappointed in our whole season. I think we played very well all year. Does this one hurt? Yeah, it hurts a lot.”
“I thought it showed a lot of character to play the way the second half that we played with ten players,” Rogers said.
The inaugural WPS season concludes on Sunday, Aug. 30 with the WPS All-Star Game presented by the Coast Guard. The match will pit the WPS All-Stars against Swedish Champions Umeå IK and will be played at The Anheuser-Busch Soccer Park, Saint Louis Athletica’s home field, in Fenton, Mo.
Los Angeles Sol striker Marta plays with the baseball as if it were a soccer ball before throwing out a ceremonial first pitch in Dodger Stadium at the MLB National League baseball game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, California, August 17, 2009.
The WPS Championship Game will take place this Saturday, August 22, at 1pm Pacific at the Home Depot Center. The Los Angeles Sol will host the Sky Blue FC (Watch on Fox Soccer Channel at 7pm EST).
Women Talk Sports’ Ann Gaffigan will be there to see the action in person and get updates to those of you without Fox Soccer Channel (or those of you who have it and would like to join the conversation!). Go to this link on Saturday at 1pm Pacific and she’ll be there letting you know what’s happening. We’re excited to see the final game for the league’s inaugural season.
Come back and join the conversation on Saturday! Would love to have you!
Today was one of the few home games I didn’t attend at the Home Depot Center, and the No. 1 ranked LA Sol suffered a loss at the hands of the Saint Louis Athletica. Would the outcome have been different had I been there? Probably not but I still feel a bit guilty.
Despite the loss, the Sol remain in first place the WPS standings at 11-2-4 (37 points), while the Athletica tighten their grasp on second with a 23 points and 7-5-2 record.
According the league’s game report:
Saint Louis took the lead just 11 minutes into the match when midfielder Amanda Cinalli slotted home a pass from Eniola Aluko past a helpless Karina LeBlanc in the Sol net. The Sol nearly equalized in the 20th minute – Marta hit a low, first-time shot towards the goal that the Athletica’s Hope Solo dove to her left to smother.
Chinese forward Han Duan almost drew the Sol even in the 31st minute after collecting a pass from Marta and eluding a couple of defenders in the penalty area, but Solo knocked her low shot out of danger. Neither team threatened for the remainder of the first half and the visitors clung to the slimmest of margins at the interval.
In the opening minutes of the second half, the Sol threatened a couple of times in rapid succession, but were unable to break through the Athletica defense and the visitors remained in the lead.
Marta nearly equalized for the Sol in the 58th minute, but Solo parried her curling corner kick out of danger. Defender Brittany Bock got her head to a corner five minutes later, but Solo reacted quickly, covered the near post well and punched the ball off the line.
Miyama collected a pass from Marta in the box in the 67th minute, but she hesitated before taking a low shot and Solo cut off the angle and again made the save to preserve the victory.
This was the last home game of the 2009 season for the Los Angeles Sol. Their next match will be on Thursday, July 23, when they take on FC Gold Pride at Buck Shaw Stadium at 7pm PT / 10pm ET in Santa Clara, Calif.
I am looking forward to a play-off game back at HDC. And I’ll be sure to be in attendance and cheering for the home team.
Just prior to the start of the Women’s Professional Soccer season, global sport lifestyle brand PUMA and WPS announced an exclusive partnership making PUMA an official founding partner of the new league and an official sponsor of all WPS franchises.
The multi-year partnership makes PUMA the official sport and lifestyle apparel, footwear and equipment supplier of WPS, including the official WPS Match Ball. In addition to on-field performance wear, PUMA will outfit the athletes and teams at all WPS-related events, activities and WPS appearances in sportlifestyle apparel. This partnership kicked off last month and will see PUMA collaborating with WPS to enhance the game of women’s soccer and will act as the foundation in the PUMA Women’s category.
That’s just the start for PUMA, which will have its name and logo on the league’s balls, uniforms, goalkeeper equipment, even sports bras. “Women’s soccer is on a tremendous growth pattern in the U.S.,” says Jochen Zeitz, chief executive of PUMA. “This is a huge opportunity for us.”
PUMA’s decision to join forces with WPS is part of an effort to target its marketing to young women. The company already has a footwear deal with Brazilian star Marta Vieira da Silva who is widely recognized as the best female soccer player in the world and currently playing for the Los Angeles Sol. PUMA also has a deal with U.S. national team player Leslie Osborne, who will be playing for FC Gold Pride.
Given PUMA’s name recognition and reach in soccer, the deal is a milestone for the new women’s league especially amid a global recession so kudos to PUMA.
CARSON, CALIF. – Wednesday, May 13, 2009 – The Los Angeles Sol (Women’s Professional Soccer) today unveiled a bobblehead doll depicting Sol forward and Three-time FIFA Player of the Year, Marta.
“The Marta bobblehead is sure to quickly become a collectors’ item,” said Los Angeles Sol General Manager Charlie Naimo. “It is not only the first-ever bobblehead in WPS, but also is the first time Marta has been depicted in this fashion.”
The unique, limited-edition bobblehead will only be available to fans who purchase the Sol’s Marta Bobblehead Ticket Package, which includes one ticket to both the Sunday, June 7 home match and the Saturday, June 27 game versus the Chicago Red Stars. Packages begin at just $29.99.
“I am honored to be chosen for the first bobblehead in WPS history,” Marta said.
The Los Angeles Sol play Sky Blue FC (NJ/NY) this Friday, May 15 at 7:30 pm at The Home Depot Center. For more information or to purchase Los Angeles Sol tickets today, please call toll free at 1-877-4-SOL-TIX (467-5849) or visit www.LosAngelesSol.com.
Los Angeles Sol fans were hoping for a win this afternoon so they could double their pleasure by getting free tickets to the June 3rd Chicago match but it wasn’t meant to be.
Today’s game marked the second meeting between the Sol and the Boston Breakers. LA lost to the Breakers 2-1 last Saturday at Harvard Stadium and the Sol were looking to rebound from their first lost of the season.
Despite the league’s top two goal scorers on display, Boston’s Kelly Smith (four goals this season) and Los Angeles’ Marta (three), both defenses kept a clean sheet. Boston’s Amy LePeilbet and the Breakers back line were instrumental in warding off the intentions of Sol forwards Marta and Han Duan, while Los Angeles kept Smith off the scoresheet for the first time in WPS play.
The Breakers held an 11-8 shot advantage in the game, with the most pressure coming in the second half. The Sol outshot Boston, 7-5, in the first half, although both teams managed to hit the bars.
The Sol had the best early chance in the sixth minute when Marta’s through ball found fellow forward Han Duan in stride outside the penalty area. Duan dribbled around a defender before putting a low shot on the Boston goal that was steered aside for a corner by Breakers keeper Kristin Luckenbill. The Sol also created a chance a minute later, but a scramble in front of the goal did not result in a clear shot on goal.
Duan had another chance in the 24th minute but her glancing header off a Martina Franko cross sailed clearly over the bar. The Chinese national team standout also had an opportunity in the 38th minute when Shannon Boxx played a long ball over the Boston defense but Duan’s effort banged off the left post with only Luckinbill to beat.
Just before the break, Boston’s Christine Latham hit the top of the crossbar with a header that went out of bounds.
“I thought we played a good first half but we lacked quality finishing,” said Los Angeles Sol Head Coach Abner Rogers. “Boston is a very good team and you’re not going to get many opportunities to score against them. The chances were there today, but we need to finish better.”
After the halftime break, the Breakers came out strong. They had the first look at goal but midfielder Kelly Smith’s dangerous ball into the box was cleared by the Sol defense. The Sol nearly hit home in the 68th minute when Marta again found Duan but she never really got off a great effort with her left foot and the game remained scoreless.
During the second half, the Breakers looked close to grabbing a late winner on one of a series of set pieces. LePeilbet had a ball cleared off the line after a header with less than five minutes remaining. Kristine Lilly, Kasey Moore and Smith each also got on the end of services late, but were all defended successfully by the Sol.
In a nod to Mother’s Day, several Sol players had quotes about the best gift they ever gave their mom highlighted on the score screen. And a bunch of happy fans went overboard on their foghorns in obvious displays of affection. Next time guys, go easy on the noisemakers. All in all (despite the Sol loss), a pleasant afternoon.
LA and Boston will face each other once more in the final match of the regular season, August 9 in Boston.
In other WPS matches this weekend:
Chicago Red Stars v. Sky Blue FC 0 – 2
St. Louis Athletica v. FC Gold Pride 1 -0
A highlight of the afternoon was no doubt Los Angeles forward Marta, named as the Women’s World Player of the Year for the past three years by FIFA, soccer’s worldwide governing body.
The Home Depot Center crowd greeted the diminutive 23-year-old player from Brazil like a rock star. There was even a corner of the stadium staked out for “Marta’s Maniacs.”
And for the most part Marta didn’t disappoint though it’s clear that her electrifying skills will have to be woven into the Sol as they develop as a team.
The first strike came 5 minutes, 26 seconds into the match. Sol defender Allison Falk, who never achieved more than second-team All-Pacific-10 honors at Stanford, tipped a long ball from Japanese star Aya Miyami into the net with a flick of her head. Sol Goooal!
One bright star for the Washington Freedom was Abby Wambach, the U.S. national team star who was playing competitively for the first time since breaking her leg last July 16. The nearly six foot tall forward made a couple of good runs but couldn’t get through the Sol defense.
While the game lacked some of the intensity I would have liked, it was an admirable start to what I hope is a long and successful run for the league. Once the teams work out the kinks and get a rhythm going, the entertainment value should increase and rivalries will become better established to add to the drama.
For now, watching Marta’s explosive play up close and in person was enough.
Check out some highlights from the day: