By John Philip Wyllie
Atop the WUSA scoring chart with six goals, Mexico’s Maribel Dominguez paid a visit to Torero Stadium Saturday along with her Atlanta Beat teammates. Dominguez, who has been the biggest surprise in women’s professional soccer this season, was looking to add to her goal total and lift her team past the much improved San Diego Spirit. It didn’t happen.
Saturday’s hard-fought match ended in a 1-1 draw with the Beat’s Charmaine Hooper opening the scoring in the 5th minute and Julie Foudy securing a tie for the hometown Spirit on a well-placed penalty kick in the 84th. For Dominguez, who also captains Mexico’s women’s national team, it was a day of close calls and missed opportunities. The point gained as a result of the tie however, was enough to keep Atlanta in second place behind the Washington Freedom and in good position to grab one of the four coveted playoff slots. Two of those four playoff teams will vie for the Founders Cup in San Diego on August 24 when the WUSA championship game is played for the first time in America’s finest city.
While Dominguez did not score, she did keep the Spirit back line of Kim Pickup, Joy Fawcett and Lisa Krzykowski on their toes. Krzykowski, who started for Atlanta throughout its first two seasons, talked about the excitement Domin-guez has brought to Atlanta.
“She is a tricky offensive player and she moves around like crazy,” Krzykowski said. “Maribel has been an amazing surprise. She plays with the Mexican team, but she doesn’t have the players around her (there) that she has in Atlanta. Now she is just blowing up. She has brought an unbelievable (Hispanic) fan base to the Beat also.”
The Spirit had the chance to sign Dominguez last season, but like every other team in the WUSA, they passed on the opportunity. Overlooked by the WUSA, she signed with the Kansas City Mystics of the (minor) W-League where she claimed league MVP honors after scoring 17 goals and recording 12 assists. Dominguez no doubt, would have made a big splash in San Diego with its huge Hispanic population, but prior to the current season, Atlanta’s Tom Stone beat them to the punch.
“I’d be kidding you if I told you I thought she would be this good,” Stone said. “We thought about (signing) her the year before because she was the one who played well against us in an off-season game with Mexico.” When China’s Sun Wen decided to leave the WUSA to focus on her career with the Chinese national team, there was suddenly a whole in Atlanta’s vaunted attack. At that point, Stone decided to give Dominguez a shot.
“She has fit the bill,” Stone said. And how.
In week two against Boston, Dominguez recorded the first hat trick of the season and only the sixth in league history. Her three goals and one assist on that day tied a league record for points and made her a shoo-in for April Player of the Month honors.
On Saturday, she created several good opportunities but each time came up short. Her best chance came in the 64th minute when she outran the Spirit defense and latched on to a well-placed through ball. Her shot, from the right side of the penalty box, was deflected over the crossbar by a diving Jaime Pagliarulo. Afterward, Stone spoke about her performance.
“Every team is now gearing up for her and she is still getting in, so I am pleased about that. Maribel continues to create those chances. If she wasn’t creating them, I’d be worried about her, but she is still getting in there and she is still dangerous.”
Dominguez can only hope that she will get another shot this season at the Spirit on their home turf. If she does, it will most likely be in the WUSA Founders Cup championship game.