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Smith, Marta share spotlight in tie

Kelly Smith isn’t Marta. She doesn’t claim to be.

But as far as soccer-playing ability goes, the England national team forward is every bit the player that the Brazilian national team striker is.

To some, she might be even better.

Whereas Marta is flashy -- even dazzling -- with her speed, footwork, dribbling and finishing, Smith is what in cricket terms is known as an all-rounder.

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She is as effective on defense as she is on offense.

Marta is the star. Smith is the more complete player.

On Sunday afternoon at the Home Depot Center, the two players came face to face for the second time in eight days as Marta’s Sol played host to Smith’s Boston Breakers.

The first game in New England ended in a 2-1 Boston victory, with Smith scoring in the second minute. Sunday’s game ended in a 0-0 tie, but the argument over the respective merits of Smith, 30, and Marta, 23, continued.

“They’re similar in some ways,” said Boston Coach Tony DiCicco, who led the U.S. to an Olympic gold medal in 1996 and to a world championship in 1999. “Obviously, Marta has tremendous acceleration and pace. She’s skillful.

“Kelly is the more sophisticated player. Marta is incredibly exciting. She’s 23, so she’s only going to get better. She doesn’t read the game quite well enough yet.”

Marta was held in check by Boston’s defense, which held her without a shot on goal Sunday.

Teammate and Chinese national team star Han Duan had the best scoring chance for the Sol, but banged her close-range effort off the foot of the left post with only goalkeeper Kristin Luckenbill to beat.

Smith had two shots, as the Sol defense was playing an equally stingy game, having been burned in New England.

“We knew coming into the game that they would probably change their formation a little bit to try to stop me, because I was more of an attacking threat in the game at home,” Smith said.

“I was on the ball quite a bit.”

Boston midfielder Kristine Lilly, the U.S. national team veteran and the world’s all-time appearance leader, said Smith can fill several roles on the field.

“Play-making through her is important because she’s so good with the ball,” Lilly said.

Could Smith have played for the U.S. when it was winning its world and Olympic titles?

“Definitely. No doubt,” Lilly said. “I think she’s one of the best players in the world. She could be the best player in this league right now.”

Sol Coach Abner Rogers sees different qualities in Marta and Smith.

“They’re two different players,” he said. “Marta is just so explosive. You look at Kelly Smith, she doesn’t look that explosive but she really is. She just pulls away from you, and she’s got great vision.

“She’s got much more experience playing at a high level, playing for a number of years. Marta has the potential, absolutely, to become outstanding.”

Smith, a Seton Hall graduate, played for years with Arsenal Ladies in London, in a first-class professional environment and immersed in the soccer culture of one of the world’s top clubs.

“For me, that’s what makes a player,” Rogers said. “You can coach all day long, but if they don’t watch the game and they don’t watch the best players play and recognize the movement and when to pass and when to dribble” it won’t matter. “I think she does that better.

“Then you’ve got someone like Marta, who can be tripled-teamed, beat all three players and score a goal. Her goal ratio all around the world, with the national team and clubs teams, is truly amazing.

“But Kelly is absolutely world-class.”

For her part, Smith is delighted to be playing in Women’s Professional Soccer.

“I’m loving it. It’s great. It’s the life to live,” she said. “Obviously, playing at Arsenal was a great time for me, but being a professional footballer again is a dream come true. I’m living every day and enjoying it.”

Having beaten and tied the Sol (3-1-2), the Breakers (3-2-1) must be the better team.

Smith wasn’t so sure.

“If you look at it like that, then maybe you can say that,” she said. “But we’re not really interested in who’s the better team. We’re happy that we got a point here today.”

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grahame.jones@latimes.com


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