After last week’s thumping defeat to the Red Stars, and with the first-place Los Angeles Sol in town for their first facedown, Breakers fans came ready. Blue jerseys spotted the landscape as soon as you passed over the bridge over the Charles River to Harvard Stadium, with Union Jack flags to honor the WPS’s most valuable player for the month.
But as soon as the bridge was crossed, with the wind dropping from my ears, I heard it. The drumbeats. The maracas. And soon I could see it—the sea of yellow jerseys, the movements to the music all synchronized, right in front of the stadium gates. A throng of Massachusetts’ Brazilian community had come to cheer on their girl, their three-time FIFA world player of the year.
And this got me thinking: The game was about more than just the first-place, undefeated, non-goal-allowing Sol coming to town to see if they could pull one from the home team. This game was about seeing which side had the player who could contribute the most, do the most damage, and get the job done—Kelly Smith or Marta.
Forgive me as I drop some facts that most of you already know. Going into Saturday night’s game, the Breakers’ Kelly Smith and Sol’s Marta were tied for goals scored in the six-week-old WPS. They both wear number 10. They’ve both represented their national teams at the Women’s World Cup. Their presence on the field is unquestionably solid and effective—and missed. Just consider last week’s scorelines for both teams. The Breakers suffered an ugly defeat in Chicago with Smith off the pitch. And wouldn’t you imagine the league leaders could dismantle a frustrated and disconnected St. Louis Athletica, a team then still waiting on its first goal? But without their Brazilian superstar, the Sol had to settle for a scoreless tie.
A month down, there’s just one thing that sets Smith and Marta apart: The Englishwoman got the MVP nod. (Oh—this, and the differences in their paychecks, no doubt.) Of course, we also don’t see Smith’s face featured on the WPS home page banner, nor in that Puma ad that runs on Fox Soccer Channel. Smith doesn’t get the face time because she’s not targeted as the league savior, the player to watch, the woman who can fill the stands.
Last night, when both teams took the pitch, Smith and Marta were clearly under the microscope. The Brazilian flags waved and drumming continued. The Breakers faithful waved their blue-and-white checkered banners, with the Riptide keeping its promise to make Boston the most difficult place for visiting teams to play. Marta fans called out to her in Portuguese, and when she turned her head in their direction, she was greeted with vociferous cheers. In fact, every time she put her foot on the ball, Marta was given the Mia Hamm treatment: Girls and boys filled the stands with squeals of anticipation.
But it was Kelly Smith who left the field with a smile. After ninety minutes of aggressive play, she had accomplished two new firsts: She put one past Karina LeBlanc and did so within two minutes of play. She was instrumental in the Breakers attack and was undoubtedly the woman marked for Shannon Boxx and Ally Wagner to take down from behind in an attempt to slow her quick and deft playmaking.
Marta left the field without a goal scored. Smith raised her hands in the air and applauded the fans in the stands. And at least for supporters of the winning side, there was no question whom should be recognized as—or who was most deserving of—the league’s most valuable player for April or the months to come.
Angela Tavares, Goal.com
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