Atlanta Beat draws 0-0 tie with FC Gold Pride

Marta, the league’s most dangerous striker, did not pose much of a threat for the Beat on Sunday, but it was only thanks to the play of the league’s best goalkeeper that her team did not take home a win.

Relying on the critical saves of the Beat’s Hope Solo, Atlanta (4-7-5) drew a 0-0 tie against the league’s top-ranked FC Gold Pride (12-3-2).

The tie brought the last-place Beat, which was 2 points out of playoff contention heading into the match, closer to the postseason with eight games remaining in the season.

“Unfortunately, we weren’t able to put one in, but it’s a good point,” said Beat Coach Gareth O’Sullivan, “and there’s not too many people taking points off this team.”

FC Gold Pride’s forward Marta, the league’s leading scorer, was limited to two shots for the game, a stark change from her two goals in the team’s last 4-0 win over the Beat on July 3.

Still, fans lined the field after the match, screaming for an autograph from the player who is widely regarded as the best player in women’s soccer.

The only place she may have been more marked was on the field.

The Beat employed a three-back formation, while Beat defender Kia McNeill was given the sole assignment of neutralizing Marta.

And for 65 minutes she did just that, employing aggressive man-to-man defense against Marta.

“We asked her to be extremely disciplined,” O’Sullivan said. “We told her she probably wouldn’t the touch the ball much today, but just to give us as much as she could.”

Despite the attacks from dangerous FC Gold Pride strikers Christine Sinclair and Kelley O’Hara, Solo preserved the shutout with six vital saves.

The league leader in saves exhibited acrobatics in the 41st minute, when O’Hara struck a line-drive header that was deflected by Solo’s hand as she dove to her right.

As she came down, the ball bounced toward the goal before Solo sprang on top of the ball for the save.

“Defenders helped me do my job by making it predictable,” Solo said. “They recovered back at a good angle to where I could read shots, and that was huge.”

The Beat failed to capitalize on a few early scoring opportunities of its own, beginning with a shot fired wide by Beat forward Eniola Aluko in the third minute.

Aluko received another opportunity three minutes later, sending a close range shot in the expectant hands of FC Gold Pride goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart.

Due to a lingering rib injury sustained in a match against New England, Aluko did not return in the second half of the game.

In the 78th minute, Beat forward Ramona Bachmann delivered a shot wide after receiving a cross with an open look on goal.

“There was about a 10-minute span in the second half when they were really dangerous,” said FC Gold Pride coach Albertin Montoya, “but we regrouped and pulled out a tie in a tough place to play with a team that has a little bit of a hot streak right now.”

The Beat entered the match off a three-game winning streak, the first of its season, after beginning with a record of 0-5-2.

“We’re starting to click,” Solo said. “We’re starting to possess the ball more and attack with numbers. It took a long time to get to this point, but now we’ve got some confidence and we’ve just got to keep chipping away at the standings.”