Updated below with Hope Solo comments, expansion news
The Maryland SoccerPlex is a good bit cooler today that it was this summer. Rather than worrying about heatstroke, those of us in short-sleeve shirts wish we had brought jackets.
As the seasons change, the WPS regular season ended as well, with a thrilling finale, a heartfelt farewell and worrisome news off the field.
With the Washington Freedom possibly needing a win to reach the playoffs, depending on the result in the concurrent Sky Blue FC-Boston game, Becky Sauerbrunn and Abby Wambach found their timing in the 88th minute. Sauerbrunn’s ball put Wambach in space behind the Atlanta back line. Hope Solo, who already had a couple of good saves, came out toward the top of the box. Wambach chipped her national teammate for the goal.
“It’s not really my style of goal, but I’ll take it,” Wambach said.
As it turned out, defending champion Sky Blue never got their goal, and the Freedom didn’t technically need that goal. Wambach says the Freedom players only got a couple of updates while focusing on their own game, but the Freedom were very happy to go through on a high note.
From the pressbox and the Twittersphere, the game was played under a cloud. Anonymous sources told The Washington Post‘s Steven Goff, who was unusually present at the game, that WPS Commissioner Tonya Antonucci would step down. The league office declined comment.
More ominous from Goff’s post: “Current investors, including the Hendricks family, which operates the Washington Freedom, have yet to decide whether to continue funding the league, sources said.”
Players shrugged off the news. Solo was most insistent: “I think you’re going to see a league next season. There are always those rumors. You just go on. I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon.”
Solo and teammate Lori Chalupny started the year in St. Louis before the Athletica folded. Chalupny, icing her shin and saying she’s still awaiting word from the national team that she’s cleared to play for them after a concussion, laughed about all the drama she has endured through the year. She says she isn’t thinking ahead to anything except starting her coaching career with storied St. Louis youth club Scott Gallagher.
Solo said she’s has worse years but this one was up there. “I’ve never been on a losing team. You learn a lot. I don’t regret it. I miss St. Louis, I still have great respect for (former Athletica owner) Jeff Cooper.”
And she insists the Beat will be back stronger. “You can see that we’re going to be contenders next season.”
Meanwhile, Washington prepared a video montage to bid farewell to longtime U.S. national team goalkeeper Briana Scurry. Solo’s thoughts: “I wish her all the best. She’s had an amazing career. Everybody should be applauding.”
The Freedom battled back from a long winless streak this season. One of the changes they made was symbolic: Wambach and Cat Whitehill both wore a captain’s armband, which Whitehill said was designed to make sure everyone kept an eye on the team’s leadership.
Washington had to keep the faith during that drought. Whitehill also talked about keeping faith in WPS while the rumors swirl.
“The confidence comes from the fact that we want it. We believe in each other, we believe in this league, and we’re going to do whatever it takes. We all knew that the first five years were going to be hard. People bought into it, literally and figuratively, and it’s been great.”
Updates: One bit of news in Goff’s post that bears emphasizing is that the league also seems set on expansion to Buffalo/Rochester. Mixed messages, perhaps, or at least a sign of optimism.
Now here’s where it gets curious: A few minutes after Hope Solo told me with a smile that there would be a league next year, she Tweets the following:
Its official, the refs are straight bad. Its clear the league wanted dc in playoffs. I have truly never seen anything like this. Its sad.
A goal taken away with no explanation, one offsides call against dc, many against atlanta. An amazing all ball tackle for a red.
We play with 10, DC with 12. Players punched in the face. Free corners. I am done playing in a league where the game is no longer … In control of the players.
As I Tweeted a few times during the game, the ref had a poor night. But I saw several calls go against the Freedom — two very good shouts for penalties, including one that was as clear as it could be, plus a disallowed goal on what we’re told was an offside call even though a Beat defender joined Solo on the goal line.
Biased? No. But not good. Solo has a right to be frustrated. But is officiating that much better in the Frauenbundesliga? We’ll have to ask Jenna at All White Kit.
Worth noting: The Federation, not leagues, are in charge of refs. Officiating was a particular concern of Antonucci’s.