[WPS]Women's Professional Soccer moves -- some would say limps -- into the homestretch. Just like last season, it has a runaway leader in FC Gold Pride and a tight playoff race for the other three berths. But with four weeks to play, doubts about the league's future grow with lousy attendance this summer and recent staff cutbacks at the league office. Here's a look at who's up and who's down ...
Who's up ...
-- First-place FC Gold Pride needs one more point to clinch a playoff berth. The Pride, who host Chicago on Saturday, is 11-3-2, made quite a turnaround from last year when it finished last with a 4-10-6 record. With seven points in its next four games, it will break the record of runaway regular-season champion Los Angeles, which went 12-3-5 in 2009. The connection between the Pride and Sol: Brazilian Marta (13 goals), Frenchwoman Camille Abily and Shannon Boxx. Marta and Abily were signed when the Sol folded; Boxx arrived from St. Louis after the Athletica's demise. Four other first-year players have started 10 or more games: free agent Candace Chapman (picked by from Boston) and college draft picks Kelley O'Hara and Ali Riley (both Stanford) and Becky Edwards (Florida State).
-- It's also been quite a turnaround for Amy Rodriguez, the No. 1 pick in the inaugural college draft. The 2008 Olympic gold-medalist scored just one goal in an unhappy season with the Breakers but has 11 in 13 games for expansion Philadelphia. She's an important reason the Independence is second in the standings
-- At 24, Jordan Angeli is finally breaking into pro soccer, and what a rookie year it's been. Angeli, who took six years to finish up at Santa Clara because of two medical red-shirt years, has been sensational for the Boston Breakers. She became the first rookie to win the WPS Player of the Month award when she scored four goals and one assist from her new midfield position to lead the Boston to a 5-1 mark in July.
-- WPS has prided itself being the world's best women's league, but it averaged only 2.14 goals a game in Year 2. Scoring is up more than 10 percent this year to 2.41 goals a game. Marta and Rodriguez have both already topped Marta's league-high 10 goals in 2009. Kelly Smith and Abby Wambach both scored twice on Wednesday to give them nine apiece.
Who's down ...
-- WPS's attendance woes continued Wednesday when the Washington Freedom drew 2,118 fans for its 2-0 win over Philadelphia -- the smallest crowd in its history and less than half its season average going into the game. Beginning the week, average attendance in WPS was 3,661 fans a game -- down almost 22 percent from last season's league average of 4,684. Much of the drop is attributable to the loss of the Sol, who averaged a league-high 6,298 fans a game, but crowds are down for each of the five returning teams.
-- WPS tried to put a positive spin on layoffsat the league level, saying "staff has been restructured" and "league marketing resources have been shifted to the team level." But the news is not good for what was already close to a bare-bones operation.
-- Washington's win over Philadelphia snapped a five-game losing streak and 10-game winless streak, but will it be enough for Jim Gabarra to keep his job? There was speculation that he'd be out if the Freedom lost, meaning both D.C. pro coaches would have been fired the same day. (Curt Onalfo was let go by D.C. United on Wednesday.)
-- In 2009, Sky Blue FC made two coaching changes and ended up winning the WPS title. This year's first coaching change has not had the same effect. Since firing Pauliina Miettinen and replacing her with assistant coach Rick Stainton, the team's fifth coach in two seasons, the New Jersey team has lost 4-1 and 2-1, extending its losing streak to four games.