- The Washington Times - Monday, March 30, 2009

CARSON, Calif. | Allison Falk isn’t used to playing in front of large crowds. The nearly 15,000 at Home Depot Center didn’t bother her, though.

Falk and Camille Abily each scored and the Los Angeles Sol blanked the Washington Freedom 2-0 on a blustery Sunday in the inaugural game of the Women’s Professional Soccer league.

The Sol (1-0) and Freedom (0-1) were the first to play their games in the seven-team WPS, a league in the works for nearly three years before being finalized in late 2008.

“The whole game was surreal. It was an amazing experience,” said Falk, who graduated from Stanford in 2008. “I think this is probably one of the bigger crowds I have played for, but you just have to get out there and just play.”

Girls held up flags from every country before the game and soccer great Mia Hamm was part of the pregame hoopla. Hamm, who has twin daughters, was excited about the new league.

“As a mother of twins, who one day might be out on the field themselves, the opportunity for young girls and women to play world class professional soccer in their country is something very special,” she said.

“What was the attendance?” Sol coach Abner Rogers asked.

It was 14,832 at the Home Depot Center — which has a capacity of 27,000. The Sol were initially expecting somewhere around 10,000.

“That’s great. Everyone’s been waiting a long time for this. Hopefully they enjoyed it,” Rogers said.

Most came out to watch Marta Vieira da Silva, the three-time FIFA World Player of the Year, and the forward didn’t disappoint. Marta, who was welcomed by the largest cheering ovation during team introductions, was aggressive from the tipoff and threw around her 5-foot-4 frame onto bigger defenders while diving and dodging for open gaps.

“The public certainly helped our team. I’ve played in international games with bigger crowds, and the final of the UEFA cup last year had 25,000 people but other than that I haven’t played in a bigger crowd on a club level,” Marta said.

She didn’t score, but did give the Sol opportunities when she drew fouls in the box. Her footy skills drew raves from the crowd whenever she did touch the ball in transition.

Marta, who was bothered by a right hip flexor throughout, also had an assist on Abily’s goal in the 87th minute.

Falk tipped in a pass in the sixth minute, giving Los Angeles all the scoring it needed.

“The goal was an amazing ball from Aya. I just went up for it, wasn’t sure I was going to get it but just went for it and I think it kind of hit the side of me and went in,” Falk said.

Miyama’s reason for finding Falk: “I thought she was the tallest, so I was looking for her.”

After a foul was called on the Freedom, Miyama was awarded a free kick from about 20 feet out. She cleared the ball over traffic to just in front of the net and Falk, who clashed with goalie Briana Scurry, found the back of the net with the header.

The Freedom had chances to score, but couldn’t connect. Lori Lindsey played a ball off a corner kick and had a clear shot at the net in the 63rd minute, but hit the left crossbar.

Abby Wambach, playing in her first game since missing the Olympics with a broken leg, had two solid shots in the first, but Sol goalie Karina LeBlanc made impressive stops to keep Los Angeles ahead 1-0 at the break.

“Obviously, the result isn’t what I had hoped for but I don’t care. At this point, that is so far from my mind,” Wambach said of her July injury. “More importantly, we have a league. I feel more privileged to have been able to play in this inaugural game having come back from a broken leg. I’m flying high today, no matter what.”

Defensively, the Sol limited the Freedom, using a 4-4-2 setup and not allowing Wambach to get many touches inside. Falk pressured Wambach throughout and had help from Stephanie Cox, Brittany Bock and Kendall Fletcher.

“We just know how dangerous she is and we didn’t want to leave her alone for a minute,” Rogers said. “If she’s not in the game and you lose her for 10 seconds, the ball could be in the back of the net.”

Wambach’s two shots on goal were half of what Washington could muster in that category in the first while the Sol had seven in the first half.

General manager Charlie Naimo and midfielder Aly Wagner kept fans updated on their game thoughts on their Twitter logs, something the league encouraged before the season started.

Wagner, who sat out because of a sore hip, kept the updates to a minimum and twittered about how cold she was before the game while Naimo was busier throughout.

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