FC Gold Pride 4, Washington Freedom 1

Cat Whitehill tried in vain to laugh off the fact that she was standing on the field afterward in a goalkeeper jersey, and the Washington Freedom center back offered a quick disclaimer: the goal she allowed while finding herself wearing both the goalkeeping jersey and gloves Saturday evening wouldn’t have been stopped by a real netminder.

But Tiffany Milbrett’s shot into the upper corner, the final blow in the Freedom's 4-1 loss to FC Gold Pride, was the least of their problems. The damage had already been done by the best player on the best team in Women’s Pro Soccer, Marta, who rammed a pair of counterattack goals down Washington's throat in the second half and claimed starting goalie Erin McLeod as collateral damage en route to extending the Freedom’s winless streak to eight matches.

“We’re hoping that it doesn’t get worse than this because we’re feeling pretty bottom right now,” said Whitehill. “We haven’t won in a while, we’re really going through some growing pains on this team, and a lot of us have our heads down.”

McLeod’s right knee buckled when the Brazilian superstar cut back on her in the 84th minute, and if as serious as it looked, the injury could cost her a place in Washington lineup as well as her crucial spot on the Canadian national team when it comes time for 2011 World Cup qualifying this fall.

“It breaks my heart with Erin,” said Gold Pride forward and Canadian teammate Christine Sinclair.

A season-high Maryland SoccerPlex crowd of 4,089 – which included a host of Freedom alumni who were honored at halftime, including Mia Hamm and Jennifer Grubb – was also stunned. Despite the oppressive heat, the Freedom (4-6-5) dictated most of the match and were on level terms at half thanks to a 43rd minute goal from Abby Wambach that erased a 1-0 deficit just before halftime.

Washington was lively with the ball, finished the half with a 7-3 shot advantage and pressed forward throughout. But while they were hesitant and ineffective in the final third, the Gold Pride (12-3-1) were clinical and fortunate, with Milbrett scoring first in the 19th minute from point-blank range. McLeod actually saved Milbrett’s initial chance only to see it deflect right to the striker’s head for an easy putback.

The Bay Area squad went back in front in the 59th minute when Sinclair found a streaking Marta on the counter. The Brazilian took her strike partner’s pass in stride, then hit another gear before slotting the ball between McLeod’s legs.

“I think for us, coming out of the first half with a 1-1 tie was a little bit of a victory for us,” said Sinclair. “I think they had the better chances, and we knew that they weren’t going to be able to last for 90 minutes with the high pressure that they put on in the first half.”

Marta’s league-leading 13th goal, off another counter, put the game out of reach and may have ended McLeod’s season. The luckless Freedom thought they were denied a call. Instead, having already used three substitutes, they had to send Whitehill into the net for the game's final minutes.

“As long as Marta and Sinclair are on the field, you need at least three [goals],” said Freedom head coach Jim Gabarra. “I felt like on the [third] goal, I looked from my angle, and it looked like Sinclair fouled Cat, but [referee Felisha Mariscal] lets it go, and then we get our keeper hurt. It’s not a fair game sometimes. We need a break, and it didn’t come tonight. That’s for sure.”