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August 24, 2010 > FC Gold Pride clinches WPS regular season title

FC Gold Pride clinches WPS regular season title

By Giovanni Albanese Jr.

Photo by William Mancebo

In an up-and-down affair with lots of playoff implications, Women's Professional Soccer's league leaders FC Gold Pride (13-3-4, 43 points) was able to break out of its three-game goalless slump to beat the sixth-place Chicago Red Stars (5-11-6, 21 points), 3-2, at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill., on Sunday, Aug. 22.

With the win, coupled with losses by second-place Philadelphia and third-place Boston, the WPS Championship on Sept. 26 will be hosted by FC Gold Pride, who clinched the top spot. Chicago has two games left and, while still mathematically in the hunt, will need a lot of help to finish in the top four of the league.

Gold Pride will begin its prep for the championship game with its remaining four matches, starting Saturday, Aug. 28, at KSU Soccer Stadium in Kennesaw, Ga., against the Atlanta Beat.

A late penalty goal by Marta -- her second of the match -- put the Gold Pride on top for good. Both Marta and Ella Masar scored a pair of goals. Gold Pride captain Rachel Buehler had the other for the Pride. Here's look at the way the game unfolded.

First Half

It was a long time coming. Gold Pride hadn't scored a goal in three full matches heading into this tilt at Chicago. But it only took a little over seven minutes for the Pride to get on the board.

Ali Riley made a long run from her left back position, running onto a Rachel Buehler long ball to get a breakaway in the eighth minute. When Red Stars keeper Jillian Loyden committed to Riley, the rookie defender slid a pass to Marta who tapped in her 14th goal of the season for the 1-0 lead.

After the Pride got on top, Chicago fought back. In the 13th minute, Megan Rapinoe got a pass at the top of the box from Cristiane. Rapinoe turned, beat Buehler and took a strike at goal that Nicole Barnhart dove to stop.

And just five minutes later, the Red Stars did what no team had done in over three games.

On a quick counter in the 18th minute, Formiga fed Cristiane out on the left flank. The Brazilian international took a couple of touches and sent a sizzling cross into the box that Barnhart mishandled, giving Ella Masar a chance at the ball, which she tapped in to equalize the match.

Gold Pride got its first opportunity since the goal in the 28th minute. Tiffeny Milbrett was alone in the back, running onto a through ball but Loyden raced off her line to beat Milbrett to the ball and clear it away.

Buehler notched her first goal -- second career WPS goal -- in the 33rd minute off a set piece. Buehler came into the box to shield Loyden on a corner that Milbrett struck.

Milbrett low liner headed toward the top of the goal mouth and Buehler ran to the spot, contorted her body and directed it into the net for a Gold Pride 2-1 lead.

Buehler's chance was the last real action, aside from Marta (43rd) and Formiga (45th) getting yellow cards for decent and malicious tackling, respectively.

Second Half

Chicago opened the half with a defensive miscue that FC Gold Pride nearly converted into a third goal. However, the defense of the Red Stars tracked back to prevent anything from developing.

Then in the 48th minute, Casey Nogueira sent a lofted ball to the middle of the box from the right flank. Katie Chapman was on the receiving end and volleyed the cross just over the bar.

Cristiane and Rapinoe teamed up and nearly got the tying goal in the 54th minute. Cristiane had possession with space on the left side and sent a through ball to Rapinoe who was a tad slow getting to the ball, and Barnhart slid in to snatch the ball.

And with the Red Stars fighting to stay alive in the playoff race, they pulled even with the league leaders.

Formiga controlled the ball in the midfield and fed Marian Dalmy on the right side. With Marta in hot pursuit of the ball, Dalmy sent a low cross that Masar ran onto and put home her second of the match in the 61st minute.

Minutes later, Christine Sinclair dribbled around Loyden in the box and had an open net, but Lydia Vandenbergh raced back and deflected Sinclair's shot out.

Sinclair was again one on one with Loyden in the 76th minute, running onto a Becky Edwards through ball in the box. Sinclair waited for Loyden to tip her hand, but it never happened, and she took her shot, that Loyden punched out.

Two minutes later, Red Stars defender Natalie Spilger was whistled for a hand ball in her box. Marta stepped up and scored with ease, giving the Pride a 3-2 lead in the 79th minute.

Masar nearly netted her third goal, and another equalizer, in the 87th minute for Chicago. However, after Masar ran onto a chipped ball into the box and flicked it toward goal, Barnhart, a U.S. national team keeper, dove to punch the ball off the line.

That was the last chance of the day for Chicago, who is now all but eliminated from WPS playoff contention.

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