Fun, Flair on Display as Marta XI Wins 2010 WPS All-Star Game

Posted on 03 July 2010 by lbarker

As the world focuses on the World Cup in South Africa and takes in every match in crisp, clean high definition, it’s easy to forget summer days playing in the park.  As the debates rage on about referees and instant replay and goal-line technology, it’s easy to forget games with garbage cans as goalposts.  As fans fill stadiums and complain about (or embrace?) the vuvuzela and as players complain about (or embrace?) the Jabulani, it’s easy to forget middle-of-the-street games stopped not by a referee’s whistle, but by the simpler sound of someone yelling “car!”  On Wednesday night as the 2010 Women’s Professional Soccer All-Star Game took place, it was about remembering.  This year’s game came to KSU Soccer Stadium in Kennesaw, GA with a very unique format and a very simple goal; a return to the playground, schoolyard or middle-of-the-street roots where so many first found soccer, a tribute to why and how we came to love this game back when.

No good playground game is complete without picking teams and on Monday night in downtown Atlanta the two team captains, FC Gold Pride’s Marta and the Washington Freedom’s Abby Wambach picked their starters in a public event.

On Wednesday night it was game time.  Of course, the players weren’t playing in the street, but rather at the brand new KSU Soccer Stadium, which serves as the home for the Atlanta Beat when it’s not filling the role of “nicest schoolyard you’ll ever see.”  The 4,610 fans that filled KSU’s bright yellow seats saw Marta XI, the team whose starters included four-time FIFA World Player of the Year (Marta), the greatest Canadian Women’s player in history (Christine Sinclair) and the most capped player, male or female, of all-time (Kristine Lilly)  post a 5-2 victory over Abby XI.  Not a bad result considering the Abby XI starters included the woman many consider the world’s best goalkeeper (Hope Solo), the 2009 WPS Defender of the Year (Amy Lepeilbet) and scorer of 107 international goals (Wambach).

In keeping with paying tribute to soccer’s roots, it was only fitting that US National Team legend Michelle Akers delivered the first kick.  Older WPS fans likely know Akers (and know that without her and what she contributed to the game WPS probably wouldn’t be around), but some of the younger fans needed a little educating, which they got courtesy of current US National Team and Washington Freedom star Abby Wambach.  “The little girl next to me, who was walking out with me, she says ‘is she as famous as Mia Hamm was?’  And if you know anything about soccer you know, I mean MIa earned every credit that she deserved, and she did it with hard work, but I think that she would be the first one to say that Michelle was the star, the heart, the soul of the National Team, and she was the one that I was looking up to so I kind of was a little star-struck when I saw her” said Wambach.  And while the younger fans may not fully grasp Akers significance to the women’s game, Wambach certainly does, “To see her here to support us, she’s still ripped, she probably could still kill anybody.  To see her supporting this league, it’s special.”

Once the opening whistle blew, it took just minutes for Marta XI to put pressure on their opponents, forcing Abby XI ‘keeper Hope Solo to make a save in the 4th minute.  Three minutes later, Marta would put her side up 1-0.  English International and Boston Breakers midfielder Kelly Smith fed a ball through the Abby XI defense to the Brazilian superstar, who put the ball past Solo in the 7th minute.

One minute later Marta XI doubled their lead, again courtesy of their captain.  This time the FC Gold Pride star was able to slip a ball past Solo near post.  “I tried to beat my defender and brought the ball to my [sarcastic] powerful left foot.  And all I could see is that space there and I tried to hit it in that space and that was it” said Marta of the goal after the game.  The Marta XI had earlier in the week nicknamed themselves ‘The United Nations’ due to their international heavy roster.  Seven different countries were represented by the ‘white and teal team’ – the US, England, France, Switzerland, Brazil, Canada and Japan.

Neither Abby XI coach Paul Riley or Marta XI coach Albertin Montoya put much emphasis on defending early in the week (both teams had just three true defenders in their starting lineups), but come game time the Marta XI back line was up to the task, stopping an Eniola Aluko pass destined for Lauren Cheney in the 9th minute.  In the 18th Abby XI was able to break through the Marta XI defense, but Cheney shot the ball across the open net and wide.

As the opening half wore on, things calmed down, as both teams, who had had only one 90 minute practice session together prior to the match, seemed to settle in. But in the 31st minute ‘The United Nations’ found the back of the net again.  Solo made a save on a low, hard shot from Marta XI and Philadelphia Independence defender Allison Falk but the rebound landed at the feet of an open Christine Sinclair, who tapped in the ball to put her team up 3-0.  “At 3-0 I was getting a little frustrated, I’m not gonna lie.  As a competitor and somebody who doesn’t like to lose, from the time I was five years old I would storm off in a fit because my brothers would never let me win, being the youngest of seven,” said Abby Wambach after the match about her team going down early.

Abby XI began to pressure late in the half.  In the 33rd Eniola Aluko was beaten to the ball by Marta XI ‘keeper Erin McLeod.  A minute later Wambach sent a cross through the box, but it was again McLeod who got there first.  In the 35th the pressure paid off and Aluko put her team back within two.  US National Team and Sky Blue FC midfielder Heather O’Reilly crossed the ball to Wambach, whose point blank header was blocked by Freedom teammate McLeod.  Aluko, who plays for the English National Team and the Atlanta Beat, collected the rebound for Abby XI’s first goal of the night.

The night’s most egregious foul (and one of just seven in the game) came near the end of the half, as Marta XI and Atlanta Beat forward Ramona Bachmann went in for a very late tackle on O’Reilly, after being ‘megged by the Abby XI midfielder.  The two had several battles in the midfield on the night.  After the match O’Reilly laughed it off.  “I guess I don’t really know what to say to that” she said, before ultimately coming up with the diplomatic answer.  “I didn’t quite know what, uh–  Yeah, you know I think that we’re all competitive and even if it’s an all-star game, you know, there’s some competitive moments out there.”

Marta XI’s ‘United Nations’ went into the halftime break up 3-1 on the decidedly more US based Abby XI (just one starter and two reserves for Abby XI were not domestic players).

At halftime WPS Commissioner Tonya Antonucci spoke about the game.  “I think it’s fantastic.  As a fan I’m enjoying it myself.  You know, there’s not a lot of defense being played and that’s fine.  We’ve seen, what, four goals so far?  And I think we’ll see many more before the night’s out and it’s just fun to see the creativity and the flair and the flow and also, some of these players, they just don’t normally play together, it’s the nature of an all-star game,” the Commissioner said.  “I think also, unique about this year is having 34 of our players.  Last year we played Umea, a club team, so we had fewer all-stars involved.  This time we have more of the great players from our league getting to go head-to-head and I think they’re having a lot of fun and the fans are too.”

In the 53rd minute Solo came up with what was the game’s biggest save, sliding in to pull the ball away from her Atlanta Beat teammate Bachmann on a breakaway.  Two minutes later the US National Team goalkeeper made another save, this time on second half sub and Brazilian International Cristiane.

Both teams made a flurry of changes in the second half, as in true schoolyard fashion unlimited substitutions were allowed.  Apparent lobbying from other WPS coaches worried about their players legs for this weekend’s league matches also led to a late rule change that allowed players who were subbed out to re-enter the match.  Although not originally part of plan, the change only further captured the spirit of the playground game.

After each side had a share of opportunities it was again Marta XI that got on the scoreboard in the 74th minute.  Japanese International and Atlanta Beat midfielder Aya Miyama took a shot that beat second-half Abby XI ‘keeper Jillian Loyden.  Philadelphia Independence and US International forward Amy Rodriguez brought the ball into the area before feeding a pass back to Miyama, who took a fired a shot from distance to put Marta XI up 4-1.

Abby XI tried to make a comeback, getting their second goal on the night care of Lauren Cheney in the 79th minute.  The US National Team and rookie Boston Breakers forward headed an O’Reilly cross past Marta XI second half ‘keeper Nicole Barnhart to put her team back within two.  But just a minute later Marta XI would score again, the goal coming from Rodriguez.  The recent WPS player of the week went 1 v. 1 with Abby XI defender Tina Ellertson and then chipped the ball over Loyden for the night’s final goal.

Abby XI’s Natasha Kai scored for her side in the 88th, but the Sky Blue FC forward’s tally was called back for offsides.  The match ended two minutes later, final score: Abby XI 2 – 5 Marta ‘The United Nations’ XI.

After the match, the players and coaches, whether on the winning or losing side, all agreed on one thing: it was fun.

“It’s just all about attack, it’s all about scoring goals.  I’m not used to a 5-2 game, but I think it was a lot of fun.  I mean, world class talent out on the field, it’s an honor to be with a lot of those players.  Great crowd here so, all in all great night.  I wish I could be on the winning end of it, of course as a competitor, but this game is about the fans and just about celebrating WPS and the wonderful league that it is” said Heather O’Reilly.

Marta XI captain Marta agreed, “I think the game was a great game.  I think we gave the fans what they came for, which is to have fun, enjoy.  And of course I’m really happy because we won the game.”  And like O’Reilly she too  was thrilled to be playing with the league’s best.  “When you get together that many good players, it makes it easier for anybody on the field.  And right now, if you can see everybody on the field, there’s probably the top players in the world right now.  And it’s easy to play and enjoyable to play” the FC Gold Pride forward said through a translator. “It was a celebration.  The All-Star Game was celebrating the soccer here.”

Abby Wambach also had a good time, “I thought today was a perfect environment for people to come, enjoy themselves, see good soccer, see great goals, see individual flair and talent and obviously by the scoreline their team was better than ours, but all in all it was a fun day.  I’m proud to be a part of it, obviously honored to be named the captain, but you know, everybody on that field is a captain in my opinion” she said.  “I think that that’s obviously what we come here– as individuals to create an all-star team there’s not gonna be a lot of fluidity, there’s probably not gonna be great tactics, it’s just gonna kind of be individual flair and I thought that, obviously Marta’s the best in the world at individual flair, so, they got successful at getting in behind us early on and you know it’s just a matter of getting everybody off the field with no injuries, giving the fans something to cheer about and having some fun along the way” Wambach continued.  The Abby XI captain also acknowledged the fans, “Not too often do you get to play with some of these players and it was fun.  It was exciting and a lot of the kids out there were just telling me how much fun it was to see everybody on one field.”

Everyone also agreed that KSU Soccer Stadium was indeed a sight to see.  “My first time here and this is unmatched, anywhere else.  I haven’t seen a facility this incredible.  It’s just, it’s perfect for a women’s game.  It’s not too big and the field is, I mean this one of the best fields we’ve played on this year,” said Marta XI coach Albertin Montoya.  “The locker rooms.  I mean, to tell you the truth, I got lost in there today.  And I’m like ‘this is.. come on, this is out of this world.’  Things that they provide for the players.  And that’s how it should be.  I mean, it’s great that these players feel – that they feel like professionals.  And that’s how it should be.”  Commissioner Antonucci agreed, “The stadium is tremendous.  It’s the first of its kind in our league and as a women’s soccer specific stadium it’s really kind of groundbreaking for the sport.  And I think it’s just a real testament to the quality of play, the players on the field and what they bring in terms of their world class talent, for them to have a stadium that fits what they bring.”

Let’s let Abby Wambach bring it home:  “Nobody likes to lose, but, this is an all-star game, and like I said before, as long as everybody had a good time, we saw some great goals, some great individual talent and if everybody’s healthy coming out of this game, that’s what’s important.  And you know, obviously the fans getting something for them to cheer about – I think it happened tonight.”

Photos from the Pick ‘Em Event, Training and the All-Star Game here.

FUN FACTS AND OTHER NOTES:
The six Sky Blue FC players taking part in the All-Star Game – O’Reilly, Kai, Christie Rampone, Karen Bardsley, Brittany Taylor and Laura Kalmari – had a whirlwind few days of travel, taking a red-eye from the Bay Area to Newark on Sunday night after defeating Gold Pride and then flying to Atlanta in time for Monday night’s Pick ‘Em event.  After Wednesday’s game they had an early morning flight to Washington DC, where Sky Blue was being honored by President Barack Obama for their 2009 Championship victory.  “Luckily I have a bye-weekend this weekend coming up.  So I tried to keep that in mind as I was running up and down those flanks.  But tomorrow I’m off to meet the President with Sky Blue FC, so you don’t need legs for that, right?” O’Reilly joked after the match… Sky Blue goalkeeper Karen Bardsley was originally named as an All-Star starter and was selected to Marta XI, but couldn’t play in the match after injuring her clavicle in a collision with Cristiane during Tuesday’s training session – reserve Erin McLeod replaced her as a starter and FC Gold Pride’s Nicole Barnhart, who was in Atlanta ahead of Gold Pride’s match against the Beat this weekend, was named a reserve.  Bardsley is out indefinitely for Sky Blue and her injury will be reevaluated when the team returns to NJ… Marta XI coach Albertin Montoya did triple-duty on Wednesday, first playing, a scoring a few goals, for the PR and New Media team in the Media Game that morning (final score TV & Radio 8 – 6 PR & New Media), then holding a training session for FC Gold Pride in the afternoon and finally coaching Marta XI to a victory that night… Marta was named All-Star MVP, but was humble about the award “Before I even played professional I always dreamed to play for the Brazilian National Team.  And I always dreamed to be playing at such a high level and today I was not the MVP.  The whole team was the MVP.  And it’s nice to be playing at this level.  And I don’t think like everyday the stuff that I’m getting, I just go with it” she said…WPS Commissioner Tonya Antonucci talked expansion at halftime: “I think it’s very likely that we’ll be in a position to announce by the end of the year a new expansion team…More likely for 2012” the commish said.  “We’re talking to enough interested parties for 2012 that by the end of this year we’ll probably be in a position to announce that one will be coming for 2012.  And we have a particular focus on west, west coast, middle-to-west.  We just want to balance out the national footprint for sure” she said… The Commissioner also talked about the possibility of WPS taking a break during the 2011 World Cup next summer “Potentially yeah.  We’re just starting to engage with US Soccer and the other federations to try to – best plan for next season.  Obviously we want to do right by the national programs and make sure the Women’s World Cup is the pinnacle of the sport as far as an event so we want to work together with them but we also want to preserve as much of WPS’s regular season as we can.”… Antonucci said that the unique Pick ‘Em format for the All-Star Game actually came from a fan’s suggestion in an online forum… Because of the unlimited subs and the late rule change to allow re-entry there were 18 substitutions made in the match.

MATCH FACTS:
Abby’s XI vs. Marta’s XI
Wednesday, June 30, 2010 — KSU Soccer Stadium
FINAL

SCORING SUMMARY:
Team                    1                    2                    F
ABY:                    1                    1                    2
MRT:                    3                    2                    5

MRT: Marta (Kelly Smith) 7′
MRT: Marta 8 (Unassisted) 8′
MRT: Christine Sinclair 5 (Unassisted) 31′
ABY: Eniola Aluko 5 (Unassisted) 35′
MRT: Aya Miyama 1 (Amy Rodriguez) 74′
ABY: Lauren Cheney 2 (Heather O’Reilly) 78′
MRT: Amy Rodriguez 7 (Cristiane) 80′

ABBY’S XI — Hope Solo (Jillian Loyden, 56′), Cat Whitehill (Heather O’Reilly, 63′, Kelley O’Hara, 52′), Amy LePeilbet, Tina Ellertson, Lori Chalupny (Cat Whitehill, 66′, Heather O’Reilly, 63′, Kelley O’Hara, 52′), Lori Lindsey (Laura Kalmari, 57′), Shannon Boxx (Angie Kerr, 57′), Lauren Cheney (Karen Carney, 52′), Heather O’Reilly (Kelley O’Hara, 52′), Eniola Aluko (Tasha Kai, 52′), Abby Wambach (Lauren Cheney, 73′, Karen Carney, 52′)

Substitutes Not Used: n/a

MARTA’S XI — Erin McLeod (Nicole Barnhart, 57′), Brittany Taylor, Allison Falk (Christie Rampone, 49′), Rachel Buehler (Becky Sauerbrunn, 49′), Sonia Bompastor, Kelly Smith (Alex Scott, 49′), Kristine Lilly (Aya Miyama, 69′, Cristiane, 48′), Ramona Bachmann (Kristine Lilly, 78′, Aya Miyama, 69′, Cristiane, 48′), Aya Miyama (Cristiane, 48′), Marta (Rachel Buehler, 69′, Becky Sauerbrunn, 49′), Christine Sinclair (Amy Rodriguez, 47’)

Substitutes Not Used: n/a

TEAM STATS:
ABY           MRT

Shots     15     23
Shots on Goal           6     8
Fouls     2     5
Offsides     5     5
Corner Kicks     3     3
Saves     3     4

MISCONDUCT SUMMARY:
none

Referee: Margaret Domka
Referee Assistants: Amy Mahan, Patrick Baker
4th Official: Felisha Mariscal
Attendance: 4610

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