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Sep 3, 2009

Rampone the story of the year in WPS

The inaugural Women's Professional Soccer season is in the books. Sky Blue FC defeated the Los Angeles Sol 1-0 for the title on Aug. 22, and the WPS All-Stars topped Umea IK 4-2 in the final WPS game of the year on Sunday.

WPS also handed out its end-of-season individual awards to several deserving recipients. Sol star Marta was named Player of the Year and her coach, Abner Rogers, was named Coach of the Year. Goalkeeper of the Year honors went to Saint Louis Athletica keeper Hope Solo, while Amy LePeilbet of the Boston Breakers was named Defender of the Year.

Here are a few more players and moments that deserve top honors.

Story of the Year: Christie Rampone deserves her own action figure. Not only did the 34-year-old Sky Blue FC captain, arguably the best defender in the world, play all 90 minutes in five straight matches as interim player/coach, all coming after emergency surgery to repair a ruptured ovarian cyst -- but she did it while three months pregnant. Rampone informed her team, and the world, about the pregnancy only after she had rallied her team from the No. 4 playoff spot to the WPS championship. Rampone was named Sportswoman of the Year by her fellow players for her efforts. It's hard to imagine many athletes topping Rampone's end-of-season performance.

Goal of the Year: Cristiane's third goal when she scored the first-ever WPS hat trick. On a night in Chicago when Brandi Chastain was being honored for her historic penalty kick in 1999, Cristiane torched the FC Gold Pride defense, including Chastain. She faked the FC Gold Pride midfielder with a step-over before launching a left-footed rocket far post. Red Stars coach Emma Hayes later called it "to die for." Cristiane's backflips after several of her goals this season also deserve credit for the best celebrations of the year.

Save of the Year: Solo's diving save on Kerri Hanks' shot in the fourth minute of the Super Semifinal game with Sky Blue FC. Though the Athletica eventually lost 1-0 to Sky Blue FC, Solo kept her team in the match during a very flat start for Saint Louis. Honorable mention should go to the Freedom's Erin McLeod, whose two huge saves on the Breakers' Kelly Smith this season (one to preserve a 1-1 draw and the other to save a 1-0 win) kept Washington in the playoffs and Boston out of the playoffs.

Game of the Year: Any game involving the Freedom. Washington was involved in the five highest-scoring games of the year and three of the four games in which teams came from behind to win. All four regular-season red cards in WPS came in games in which the Freedom received the player advantage. They also gave up the most goals (32) and scored the most goals (32) this season. It's no surprise that Washington's 2-1 playoff loss to Sky Blue FC ended up being the highest-scoring playoff game.

Rookies of the Year: The league didn't hand out a Rookie of the Year award, but there were plenty of potential nominees for the award who were just out of college with limited or no international experience. Two Los Angeles rookies deserve to share the honor, much the way they shared defensive responsibilities in the center of the field for the Sol for much of the season: Allison Falk and Brittany Bock. Bock moved positions several times for the Sol but excelled wherever she played, especially on defense. Falk received a controversial red card in the title-game loss to Sky Blue FC, but she was a rock on defense for the Sol.

European Championships update

While the action on the field is done for WPS, its players continue to take part in high-pressure soccer as the European Championships take place in Finland. Three countries with WPS players -- England, France and Sweden -- have advanced to at least the quarterfinals, with England beating Finland 3-2 Thursday to reach the semis.

England, which boasts six WPS representatives, has had the game of the tournament so far. After falling behind 2-0 just 22 minutes into its second game against Russia, and knowing a loss would've meant elimination from the tournament, England rallied for a 3-2 win. Three WPS players scored in the first half for England to lead the comeback -- Karen Carney (Chicago Red Stars), Eniola Aluko (Saint Louis Athletica) and Kelly Smith (Boston Breakers). Smith's goal was the game winner, a spectacular goal from just outside the center circle, about 45 yards away. Smith collected a punt from Russian goalkeeper Elena Kochneva and then launched a left-footed volley into the back of the net. (Smith's goal is at the 3:10 mark.)

"I have seen Kelly score goals like this before, so I think for our team it was no big shock," England and Boston Breakers defender Alex Scott wrote in an e-mail from Finland. "She truly is one of the best. ... I think UEFA already has their highlight of the tournament."

England and Sweden (with Sara Larsson of Saint Louis Athletica) tied 1-1 in the final group game, assuring the Swedes of the top spot in the group. France, led by Washington's Sonia Bompastor and Los Angeles' Camille Abily, was able to advance despite losing 5-1 to heavily favored Germany, thanks to a win over Iceland and a tie with Norway. Scott says the tournament has provided plenty of drama so far.

"This tournament has been great and one that is very hard to call," Scott wrote. "No one would have predicted that England was to lose their opening game to Italy. No one would have thought that one of the tournament favorites Denmark would not even make it out of the group. We all watched in amazement at the France vs. Germany game. We thought France would give the Germans a good game but Germany run away with the win 5-1. When everyone watched England go behind 2-0 to Russia, no one would have ever thought we would pull it back and win 3-2."

Scott also shared her thoughts on some recent WPS news, as her Breakers teammate Amy LePeilbet was named Defender of the Year. "I think I said after the first couple of matches playing alongside Amy that I think she really is one of the best defenders I have seen. She has had a great season and she deserves all the credit she gets. Well done Amy!"

Jacqueline Purdy covers women's soccer for ESPN.com. She also is an editor for ESPNRadio.com. She can be reached by e-mail at jacquelinepurdy@gmail.com and friended on ESPN's fan profiles.

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