The inconclusive no-goal call and other MLS controversies

In today’s MLS on NBCSN game (Philadelphia-Dallas), a potential equalizer from Blas Perez was cleared off the line.

Or was it? The consensus among the Twitterati and the great commentary duo of Arlo White/Kyle Martino was that Perez was robbed.

Actually, we don’t know. Here’s why.

The ball was suspended in the air, so we can’t look for a telltale patch of green between the ball and the line, as we often see when the ball bounces down off the crossbar. What we saw was something like this (obviously, minus the batting tee):

It's a goal! The ball crossed the line!
It’s a goal! The ball crossed the line!

Now watch what happens when we put the camera directly overhead:

Um ... oh. It's on the line.
Um … oh. It’s on the line.

Don’t trust me or my ancient camera? OK, here’s it is in video form.

Perez wound up getting the equalizer a couple of minutes later, much to the dismay of Philadelphia goalkeeper Zac MacMath, who believed he was fouled. He got little sympathy from anyone not connected with Philadelphia.

Check p. 117: “It is an offence to restrict the movement of the goalkeeper by unfairly impeding him, e.g., at the taking of a corner kick.”

Now check the video. Was he impeded?

That’s a tough judgment call, honestly. At first, I thought so. Now I’m wavering.

Also a tough judgment call: The penalty kick that gave Vancouver a 1-0 win over D.C. United (game literally ended as I typed this sentence). Watch it first, then read this referee’s discussion.

The upshot is this: If a challenge is careless, reckless or used excessive force, it’s still a foul. Doesn’t matter if you got the ball. Players (and players-turned-commentators) argue this point all the time, and they’re wrong — if the referee thinks the challenge is careless, reckless, etc.

Here’s the video: Another tough judgment call.

We’ll close on one that wasn’t tough. This is a dive, folks.

Washington Spirit vs. Western NY Flash: Rock bottom

The bus ride was, by all accounts, pretty good for a change. Then the wheels came off.

You could make the case that the Spirit played better in Rochester than they did in greater Kansas City, where FC Kansas City’s wasteful finishing kept the score to a respectable 2-0 margin. Washington showed a little more offensive creativity Friday than it did on Sunday, and the Flash wasted few good chances for a 4-0 final.

But the defensive lapses that led to those chances were devastating.

– A midfield giveaway, leaving Robyn Gayle with two players on the wing, then an utter failure to track Carli Lloyd as she strolled right through the box and waited for the cross. That was reminiscent of the Kansas City goal in which Lauren Cheney could’ve caught the ball and autographed it before shooting.

– The second goal was the only one with some bad luck involved, a deflected cross. But still, Lloyd had a step on a defender.

– Another midfield giveaway, and then again Carli Lloyd runs unimpeded through the heart of the defense for a 1-on-1 with Ashlyn Harris.

– A prototypical garbage-time goal, though give Brittany Taylor credit for a superb finish.

Offensively, the passing combinations were there. Gayle, freed to play outside back with Candace Chapman going 90, got forward on the left and started some terrific sequences. But somehow, the chances wound up at the feet of players not known for their offense — Domenica Hodak and Holly King.

Conny Pohlers will get there. But she’s not a fan of artificial turf, and she has not yet adjusted to the speed of the fake grass and the defensive pressure. On her one good chance Friday, she took just a split-second too long. She has the best potential for breaking the Spirit’s epic scoreless drought, which dates back to their 4-2 win at Seattle.

That said, she still needs to get the ball. If Diana Matheson is able to return on Wednesday, that should help — defenses will have two proven scoring threats to deal with, and though they haven’t trained together, they have the veteran savvy that should help them connect.

Elsewhere on the field, the Spirit’s lineup shuffle has yet to turn up a winner. We have some evidence now that Julia Roberts wasn’t the problem in midfield. The Flash commentators raved about Stephanie Ochs from her tenure in Western New York last summer, but she wasn’t starting. Given the busy schedule over the next two weeks, the Spirit may have to rotate some players in and out of the lineup, but they’re struggling to find a combination that clicks.

I’ve almost jumped on the “Ali Krieger to midfield” bandwagon. Yes, she’s fine going forward, but I think good attacking outside backs are something teams shouldn’t give up easily. The problem that we’ve seen a couple of times is that she’s not able to get all the way back on defense. Rewind a couple of goals the Spirit has conceded, and you’ll find her caught upfield. She may be the best right back in the world, but she’s not Superwoman. Maybe she’d be better off at midfield with a defender behind her who only occasionally overlaps? Perhaps. Now who’s that defender?

And it’s fair to say Ashlyn Harris is fed up. See video part 1 and part 2 (thanks to @RocDevo for posting those).

A couple of excerpts:

Some Twitterati think she’s addressing coach Mike Jorden. But it’s clearly more than the coach. You could have me and my E license out there running the team, and the defense shouldn’t give Carli Lloyd those opportunities. In some cases, the players on the field may be the wrong players for the job. That falls on the coaches and personnel managers, but Harris isn’t one to say, “Oh, it’s OK, the coach never should’ve put you on the field.” Tori Huster never expected to be a center back marking Abby Wambach early this season, but she stepped up and did it. Harris wants the rest of the team to set the bar that high, if not higher.

The Spirit’s slide has given a lot of people a chance to say “I told you so.” But the season has really been backwards.

On May 17, the Spirit’s record was 1-2-3. The team looked clearly better than Chicago and Seattle, though the Reign had two world-class players coming in, and roughly even with Boston. And the immediate future looked bright: Young players like Caroline Miller were making progress in picking up the pro game, and Candace Chapman would surely be healthy any day now. We didn’t know the names of the reinforcements who turned out to be Conny Pohlers and Toni Pressley, but the team clearly had plans to plug a couple of holes on the field.

Now Miller is out for the season. Chapman is back but not herself. Diana Matheson, the revelation of the season’s first few weeks, has been out. Teams have to be able to react to such adversity, and the Spirit has not.

Another comment to single out:

Certainly that was the case early in the season. The alarm bells weren’t ringing when the Spirit followed up the 4-2 win in Seattle with an 0-2 loss at Portland. Travel problems and some bad luck made the 0-3 loss in Boston look worse than it was.

But since the three-week break in the Spirit’s bizarre schedule, the team hasn’t been there. In the home loss to the Flash, the Spirit played a good second half, but Jorden conceded “the team didn’t come out ready to play in the first half.” Then came KC, then this game.

If you flip the last four games with the first four games of the season, you could say the Spirit’s season has gone as expected. But as former D.C. resident Bob Mould once put it, expectations only mean you really think you know what’s coming next — and you don’t.

The Spirit should avoid falling to Atlanta Beat depths. Matheson should come back and provide the missing link between the midfield and Pohlers. Chapman and Pressley should figure it out in central defense.

But in this backwards season, “should” means nothing. And it has a nasty way of becoming “should’ve.”

Things you didn’t know about Alex Morgan

I don’t see Grant Wahl’s story on Alex Morgan online yet, so you may need to rush out to grab last week’s Sports Illustrated before it disappears from newsstands. (The cover is “A Coach’s Courage,” referring to another worthwhile read inside.) Grant’s story is a good read for all levels of women’s soccer fan, from those vaguely aware of someone named Alex Morgan to those who regularly rant about the injustice of Portland getting her AND Christine Sinclair in the allocation process.

That leads us to the first of several things we all learned from this piece:

1. Did the entire existence of the NWSL hinge on getting Morgan to Portland so that Merritt Paulson would follow through on starting the Thorns? Here’s the passage (any typing errors are mine):

Portland investor Merritt Paulson was in talks to buy into the operation. He wanted Morgan, and he had leverage: He knew that the league wouldn’t exist unless he brought in the eighth and final team. Asked if he exacted any promises — say, being awarded Morgan — Paulson laughs and offers and exaggerated wink-wink. “Oh, no, no, no … Look, when the owners put in their requests for national-team players, there’s no doubt that Alex was Number 1 on everybody’s list.”

That won’t make fans from Washington state to Washington, D.C., feel any better about the allocation process.

2. The younger players on the women’s national team have stepped up their studies of the game, watching a lot of Champions League and EPL games.

3. Morgan also sought out Mia Hamm to come out and work with her at the Complex Formerly Known As The Home Depot Center.

4. On a related note, Morgan is sick of the split between the current group of players and the old guard.

It’s been cool closing the gap with the two generations. With [the current] national team it’s almost us versus the ’99ers, which I hate. I want us all to be one team.

Taking her game and the team’s to a new level. Trying to unify all parties. Future captain?

Up for the Cups, WoSo edition

Last year, I managed to dig up some info on the U.S. Women’s Open Cup, which has existed in obscurity for a couple of decades at least. The results affected my final power rankings, pushing WPSL Elite finalist Chicago over WPSL Elite champion Western New York.

This year, things have changed a bit. The tournament are alternately called “USASA National Championships” or the “National Women’s Open Cup” and “National Women’s Amateur Cup.” One improvement: All of the details are in one place — even rosters!

But it’s hard to tell whether we can truly call this “national.” According to a Kansas City Shock press release that cites a Wikipedia page that originally drew its info from a USASA page that has since changed:

The 2013 USASA National Women’s Open will be the 18th staging of the tournament, and the first under a new format that eliminates regional qualification. The finals will include four Midwest teams and take place from June 25th to 27th, with the Amateur and U-23 competitions taking place the next three days.

Not great sourcing, of course, but the teams are indeed all Midwestern. In fact, two of those teams are from Kansas City — the Shock and the Dynamos. Three are from the WPSL — the Shock and the Des Moines Menace are in the Midwest Division, while the Houston Aces play in the Big Sky – South. The Dynamos are hard to find, though they’ve entered a lot of cup competitions in the past.

The Amateur Cup includes three more WPSL teams: ASA Chesapeake Charge, New York Athletic Club and Real Salt Lake Women (formerly Salt Lake United). Then three more teams: Olympic Club (Golden Gate Women’s Soccer League), Lady Saints (WLS), Turbo D’feeters (North Texas Women’s Soccer Association).

So that’s no W-League teams, no NWSL teams. No Open Cup teams outside the Midwest. The Amateur Cup actually has a bit more geographic diversity, at least.

That’s frustrating, sure. But that’s nothing that can be held against the teams participating in these tournaments. Ten ambitious adult teams are converging in search of trophies and elite competition. Nothing wrong with that.

Woly Award: Tyson Gay, again

This is only the sixth week of the Woly Award, the reincarnation of the U.S. Olympic Athlete of the Week honors I used to do for USA TODAY, and we already have our first repeat winner.

Tyson Gay won it a couple of weeks ago for running a 10.02 time in the 100 meters with a headwind and rain while still easing up in the last 20 meters.

This week, Gay and the rest of the U.S. track and field community was busy at the USA Track and Field Championships, which double as the trials for the World Championship team. Normally, domestic events don’t get much weight in the Woly Awards — you’re not going to see a U.S. wrestler win it for beating another U.S. wrestler, even for the titanic clash of world champion Jordan Burrough and college phenom Kyle Dake.

But track and field gives us the ability to compare times around the world. It’s not an exact comparison — Gay’s 10.02 against the wind and rain would be better than someone else’s 9.99 with a light tailwind — but it gives us a decent metric for comparing athletes.

So if we look at the top times in the 100 meters this year, updated through the weekend, the first name is: Tyson Gay, 9.75, Friday. (On the same day, Usain Bolt posted his best of the year: 9.94, though he had a slight headwind.)

Let’s check the 200 meters, in which the U.S. final was Sunday. No. 1 on the list: Tyson Gay, 19.74.

One weekend, two world-leading sprints.

Yes, Tyson Gay takes this week’s Woly Award.

And the competition was tough. Three U.S. records fell on the blue track and football-lined field in Des Moines, Iowa:

– Brianna Rollins, women’s 100 hurdles, 12.26. That beat the 12.33 set by the legendary Gail Devers in 2000. This final was fast — six of the top seven hurdlers this year were in the race (defending world champion Dawn Harper has a wild-card entry into this year’s worlds), and five of them ran their fastest times of the year. See the video.

– Amanda Bingson, women’s hammer throw, 248-5 / 75.73 meters. She actually broke Jessica Cosby’s 2012 record twice, first by 26 inches, then by four feet.

– Michelle Carter, women’s shot put, 66-5 / 20.24 meters. This was close: just 2.5 inches (6 cm) past the record shared by  Ramona Pagel (1988) and Jillian Camarena-Williams (2011).

Other top performers from the USATF meet and where they rank on the world lists this year:


400 hurdles: Michael Tinsley, 47.96, first (also: Kerron Clement, 48.06, third; Bershawn Jackson, 48.09, fourth. Johnny Dutch still holds the second spot at 48.02 but couldn’t match it in Des Moines, finishing fourth in 48.21 and failing to make the World Championship team)

Shot put: Ryan Whiting, 22.11 meters, second only to his own 22.28 in May.

400: LaShawn Merritt, 44.21, second

110 hurdles: Ryan Wilson, 13.08, tied-second


100 hurdles, Brianna Rollins, 12.26, first (and U.S. record; see above)

High jump: Brigetta Barrett, 2.04 meters, first

Heptathlon: Sharon Day, 6,550 points, first

100: English Gardner, 10.85, tied-second (Barbara Pierre matched that time in a semifinal with a barely legal wind but only finished fifth in the scorching final at 10.94)

400: Natasha Hastings, 49.94, second (leader Amantle Montsho has three faster times)

Shot put: Michelle Carter, 20.24 meters, second (and U.S. record; see above)

Hammer throw: Amanda Bingson, 75.73 meters, third (and U.S. record; see above)

800: Alysia Montano, 1:58.67, third

For more on the U.S. Championships, Daily Relay has a wrap of the meet’s best, including this great picture of shot put champ Ryan Whiting lifting the women’s 5,000-meter medalists.

In other sports …

BEACH VOLLEYBALL: You know big, bald Phil Dalhausser from his days winning the 2007 world championship, the 2008 gold medal and countless FIVB events with Todd Rogers. With Rogers’ retirement, Dalhausser has paired up with Sean Rosenthal. The pair took its first Grand Slam win over the weekend in Rome. The long-standing April Ross-Jen Kessy duo took second in the women’s competition.

GYMNASTICS: Sam Mikulak took gold in the horizontal bar and bronze in the floor exercise at the FIG World Challenge Cup in Anadia, Portugal.

SOCCER: Jozy and Abby. Enough said.

And elsewhere … U.S. paddlers won World Cup medals, and U.S. fencers won most of the available titles at the Pan American Championships.

Washington Spirit vs. Kansas City: Time to patch things up

On the surface, the Washington Spirit’s 2-0 loss at Kansas City doesn’t look horrible. Playing without five injured players, with one center back still adjusting to new teammates and a star forward barely getting time to meet the team, a loss on the road against one of the top NWSL teams doesn’t look too bad. Perhaps even one of the team’s many moral victories on the season.

But a closer look at the game turns up a grimmer picture.

Collectively, the team may had valid excuses. World-class midfielder Diana Matheson and utility midfielder-defender Tori Huster joined an injury list that already included emerging striker Caroline Miller and Mexican attacker Lupita Worbis. Center back Candace Chapman showed in the previous game that she’s still not ready to go 90 minutes. By game’s end, the Spirit had fielded all 13 healthy field players, all on a hot day on unfamiliar turf. That included the new player, Conny Pohlers.

Hi, I'm new here

Individually, the breakdowns in this game may not be as easily brushed off.

The stats say a lot. After a promising start — through 17 minutes, the Spirit had two shots to Kansas City’s zero — the Spirit had little possession and therefore no offense.

The problems started with Kansas City’s 18th-minute goal. Somehow, in the Spirit’s midfield shuffle, pesky forward Jasmyne Spencer was left to rotate from one player to the next. The “next” in this case was U.S. international Lauren Cheney, whose hard, high shot smashed off Ashlyn Harris’ fingers and the crossbar before nestling in the net.

Ashlyn Harris is Superwoman.
Ashlyn Harris is Superwoman.

From then on, Harris was busy. She finished with eight saves. Robyn Gayle saved another shot, getting behind Harris for a vital clearance. Between their heroics and some dreadful Kansas City finishing, a game that could have finished 4-0 or 5-0 was held to a respectable 2-0.

The other end of the field was hardly used for the 47 minutes between Kansas City goals. Conny Pohlers, the great German forward making her Spirit debut, claimed a loose ball in the midst of five defenders and at least forced Nicole Barnhart to make a save in the 34th minute. Spencer recorded a shot in the 57th minute, but that stat says more about the stat-keeper’s generosity than the run of play.

The Spirit’s first corner kick finally came in the 63rd minute, and Pohlers may have set herself up for a decent chance if the ball hadn’t slipped away from her on the fast turf. Instead, Kansas City countered. Then this happened:

– At the 63:37 mark, KC’s Renae Cuellar took a long pass at midfield. The Mexican star, who surprisingly came off the bench in this game, ran first at Domenica Hodak but then went to the middle against Robyn Gayle, the only other Spirit defender staying back on the set piece.

– As Cuellar drifted right, Gayle stuck to her. And Hodak drifted into the middle. That left an acre of space for Lauren Cheney to race forward on the left.

– At the 63:46 mark, Cuellar found space past Gayle and shot. Harris parried it to KC’s right.

– 63:49: Gayle has gone out to face Merritt Mathias, who has collected the loose ball. Holly King has returned to the area to mark Cuellar, who’s still in a dangerous spot. Stephanie Ochs also has made it back, but she and Hodak are gathering at the right post.

– 63:52: Remember Lauren Cheney? Yeah, she’s still wide open inside the 6-yard box, a few feet inside the left post. Hodak’s at the right post, and Ochs has just realized the danger a second too late. Ali Krieger is returning but is still 10 yards behind Cheney when Mathias’ cross lands on Cheney’s foot. Harris would need Star Trek teleportation technology to get across the goal in time. 2-0

“Where was the marking?” asked my friend in soccer and MMA, Sean Wheelock, who was soloing in the KC commentary box. I’m sure the Spirit coaching staff would like to know.

The Spirit pressed forward in the last 20 minutes, getting two chances that each flowed through substitute Colleen Williams. In the 72nd minute, they had their best sequence of the game. Spencer swiped the ball from Kristie Mewis (whom some Twitterati think the Spirit should have drafted ahead of Tiffany McCarty) and played it back to Holly King. Immediately, King played ahead to Williams in the middle of the field. Williams took a couple of touches in space and played a beautiful through ball to McCarty, whose shot beat Barnhart … and glanced off the post.

In the 81st minute, the Spirit got its sixth and final shot (third on goal). It was Williams to McCarty to Spencer, who rolled a meek shot straight to Barnhart.

A few weeks ago, the Spirit had a legitimate claim to be the sixth- or maybe fifth-best team in the league, and they had a chance of getting better with the younger players catching on and Pohlers and Pressley coming aboard. To get back in the mix, they’ll need to get healthy. And they’ll need better luck. But they’ll also need to show a bit better than they did in Kansas City.

Like the photos? See more on Latda Siharath’s Flickr feed — and thanks for permission to use them here!

Match report with quotes from the notables at Pitchside Report.

Review: Bellator’s “Fight Master”

For those who don’t know, I’ve written a book on The Ultimate Fighter. It is not yet published.

So with Bellator bringing “reality” MMA back to Spike, I simply had to check it out.

The first word that sprang to mind: Awkward.

It’s awkward in the sense that they’re trying so hard not to be The Ultimate Fighter. Bellator commentator Jimmy Smith welcomed the fighters to the cage with roughly the same speech Dana White always gives — two five-minute rounds, if we don’t have a winner, we go to sudden vic … I mean … overtime! Yeah! Overtime!

It’s awkward in the sense that the winning fighters stand in front of four coaches, sitting in chairs like the judges on The Voice, and (A) get fawned over or (B) get tepid congratulations. After these brief conversations, akin to speed-dating, the fighters pick their coaches.

It’s awkward in the sense that the coaches include the top coach in MMA (Greg Jackson), a legendary fighter who made a solid transition to coaching (Randy Couture), a legendary fighter better known for commentary than coaching (Frank Shamrock) … and Joe Warren, a former world champion wrestler who has had an erratic MMA career so far.

And it’s awkward in the sense that we’ve seen all this before. One guy was an alcoholic but has stayed sober since he turned to MMA. One guy is a self-professed geek who does this for his kid. One guy has a lot of experience, and they allude to it without saying outright that he has already fought in Bellator. One guy got in a lot of trouble in college but found God, who told him to build a gym. One guy is a brash blonde from Kentucky who’s adept at trash talk but has a wicked temper … OK, I’m kidding. Junie Browning is not on this show, as far as I know.

All that said, it’s not a bad hour of MMA programming.

The first winning fighter, Tim “Ginga Ninja” Welch, stood out. He came across as confident but amiable, proud of his Irish-Native American heritage. And he looked sharp in recording a quick knockout. All four coaches were impressed, with Shamrock trying to play up the shared Native American ties. Welch still chose the guru, Greg Jackson.

The next winner, Eric Scallon, opened on a sour note by punching when his opponent tried to touch gloves. Christopher Curtis responded with a big flurry of punches and knees, then spent the rest of the fight fending off takedown attempts.

Some coaches were open with their indifference. Jackson said Couture or Warren would be better fits. Shamrock asked the dazed Scallon if he was scared to get hit. Warren saved his lamentations for a confessional, away from Scallon’s eyes and ears. Bad move — Scallon chose Warren.

The third fight was a good one. Brendan Tierney is one of the more interesting characters introduced, a former ballet dancer who looks at fights as “active problem-solving.” He has long legs and creative submission work, along with some good knees. But Nick Barnes is a better striker, especially on the ground. He won and chose Shamrock.

The fourth winner, AJ Matthews, confesses that Shamrock fought before he was interested in MMA. Ouch. He chose Couture.

Last up was the veteran, Chris Lozano, in a fight that really should’ve been stopped. Josh Quayhagen, he who built the gym as instructed by God, was a bloody mess.

I have a lot of positives, a lot to look at. Just not the mirror right now,” quipped Quayhagen.

Shamrock pulled an interesting gambit. In confessional, he said Lozano was his man. But face-to-face, he told Lozano to pick Jackson, with whom the veteran had already worked. Somehow, it worked — Lozano thanked Jackson for their previous time together but said he’d like to learn from “two great minds,” picking Shamrock.

Next week on The Ultimate Fighter, chaos erupts in the house … oh, no, I’m sorry — a few more fights, with winners picking their coaches.

I’m not going to be recapping each week, but it’s a show worth checking out while the MMA community awaits Ronda Rousey’s TUF exploits.

The skill of Abby Wambach

Abby Wambach has an indomitable will. She has the ability to raise her game when the stakes are higher. She works hard and inspires others to do the same.

But let’s remember one thing: She’s also a danged good soccer player.

Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But it’s too easy to forget. Too easy to think of her accomplishments as a simple function of a single-minded willingness to stick her head wherever it must be to meet the ball. Just as Brian McBride was called “McHead” — sometimes affectionately, sometimes not — in deference to his ability to score goals with his noggin and take a few facial reconstructions to do so, Wambach’s general soccer skill is overlooked as people marvel over the intangibles that sportswriters and ad agencies build into mythology.

Wambach, first of all, is perfectly capable of scoring magnificent goals without her head. Heading (sorry) into 2013, she had only used her head for 66 of her 152 goals.

Look at this:

Now consider this: This year, Wambach passed (geez, another horrible accidental pun) Tiffeny Milbrett for third place on the all-time assist list. (She’s roughly 40 behind Kristine Lilly and 80 behind Mia Hamm, so let’s not restart the #ChasingMia hashtag just yet.)

Some of those were surely with her head. To repeat myself: I’m not sure TV does justice to her ability to flick the ball into the path of an onrushing teammate with her head.

So let’s finish up by talking about her aerial ability. First of all, it’s not always that high in the air. Sure, she can outjump people to score. But she’s just as likely to score on a diving header, which requires an uncanny sense of timing.

And when she makes that dive, look at what she can do.

Even if that was Wambach’s FIRST goal, not her 158th, you’d have to say she’s a skilled player.

So as U.S. Soccer (women’s and men’s) tries to change its approach to develop more skillful players, not just athletes, Abby Wambach is and will continue to be someone to emulate.

A day in the life of the WPSL’s best: Charge vs. Torino

The WPSL is a hit-or-miss league. Some clubs have noble goals of growing the game. Some clubs sign notable players who aren’t in the NWSL for whatever reason — family ties, good jobs, etc. And some clubs put together an organization that can follow through on those ambitions. Some clubs, not so much. The standings include something called “St. Louis (Forfeits)” and a club with a -34 goal difference through six games.

It’s tough to rank teams until they play each other in the playoffs, but two of the teams that fall comfortably in the “noble goals” and “notable players” categories are conveniently located about 22 miles from each other in the strip of Maryland between Washington and the Chesapeake.

They weren’t in the same league last year. The ASA (Arundel Soccer Association) Chesapeake Charge played in the WPSL Elite league. ACF Torino USA started last season as the Maryland Capitols.

Now they’re the top two teams in the WPSL’s South Atlantic division, each boasting some talented players from the nearby University of Maryland and more far-flung origins — ACFTUSA has some players from Liverpool Ladies, two of whom combined on the team’s first goal last night.

So the couple hundred fans who braved the rain and the traffic — the game was delayed by 15 minutes because players were having trouble getting there — saw an entertaining local derby. Some also enjoyed cheeseburgers from the grill ASA set up next to the Arundel High School stadium restrooms, where they also had a good selection of chips and drinks at quite reasonable prices.

It’s elite adult soccer at high school prices — not a bad deal.

The high school field isn’t great — it’s battered turf with wild bounces and a fast surface to which some players never fully adjusted, especially after an afternoon of soaking in the rain. Maryland/Charge attackers Riley Barger and Alexis Prior-Brown had several deft passing combinations that fell apart when a ball that would have held up nicely on College Park’s Ludwig Field but went skipping out of play.

Three of the goals were from dead-ball situations. The Liverpool connection of Sophie Jones to Amie Fleming put Torino in front early on a well-placed corner kick to a wide-open Fleming, who headed it powerfully to the top corner of the goal. The Charge tied it on a Laura Kane penalty kick. After Torino took the lead in the second half, Kane again delivered with a free kick that soared over the mass in the box and found Jen Gillette at the back post.

The one goal from the run of play came from the most dangerous player on the field, wily veteran Ali Andrzejewski. The 28-year-old veteran of the Washington Freedom’s W-League days doesn’t need much space to create a shot on goal, and a bad Charge giveaway gave her a 1-on-1 opportunity against the keeper.

“I still feel really good,” Andrzejewski said. “I don’t think I’ve lost a step. My approach to the game is a lot different than it was five or 10 years ago. I have an even temper through the game. Something about being an older player is relaxing.”

And it’s good for the younger players to have experienced teammates and opponents. Playing against different permutations of the same age group through youth soccer and college must get boring after a while.

The rematch is Saturday, and the winner is the likely division champion. I can’t make it, but if you can get to Hyattsville, I’d recommend it.

(Yes, I did chat with the Charge’s Heather Cooke, but I’m saving that for the Spirit book. And you can indeed see her on an upcoming MTV show in which she competes in something with a Real World castmate who really didn’t like her. More importantly, she’s still working hard to push the Phillippines national team to the next level. Castmate Naomi’s Twitter profile description is “Thug Life One Wife A Mistress And A Gf Oh Yea Ive Been On MTV.” I think Heather has been a bit more productive since her Real World days.)

Woly Award: Marti Malloy, judo

We’re not just invoking Ronda Rousey’s name for search traffic. Marti Malloy has a couple of similarities to the brash UFC champion — an Olympic judo medal among them.

Now Malloy also has a gold medal from the first Grand Prix held on U.S. soil (Miami). She clinched the title with Rousey’s favorite technique, an armbar:

(Her fight starts around the 2:49 mark. If you’re really impatient, skip from there to the last 30 seconds of the bout.)

Malloy is this week’s winner of the Woly Award, which SportsMyriad gives to the top U.S. Olympic sports athlete of the week.

The rest of the week included:

Soccer: Most of the SportsMyriad readership is surely aware that the U.S. women beat South Korea 4-1, and that Abby Wambach scored her 156th career goal.

Volleyball: Two wins for the U.S. men over France in World League play, plus a Pan American Cup gold medal for the U.S. women.

BMX: Arielle Martin finished second in a World Cup stop, while Connor Fields and Alise Post medaled in the time trials.