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August 26, 2011

WPS Championship 2011

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WPS Championship – Philadelphia at Western New York (4 pm eastern, Saturday)
Sahlen Stadium, Rochester, New York.

Western New York Flash (13-2-3)
Coach: Aaran Lines

Possible Starting Lineup:
Goalkeeper:
Ashlyn Harris (18 games, 18 GS, 1.00 GAA, 5 shutouts)
Defender: Rebecca Moros (17 games, 11 GS)
Defender: Candace Chapman (12 games, 12 GS, 1 assist)
Defender: Whitney Engen (17 games, 17 GS)
Defender: Ali Riley (15 games, 15 GS, 1 assist)
Midfielder: Becky Edwards (18 games, 18 GS, 3 goals, 1 assist)
Midfielder: Caroline Seger (12 games, 10 GS, 5 goals, 1 assist)
Midfielder: Brittany Bock (18 games, 17 GS, 1 goal, 1 assist)
Midfielder: McCall Zerboni (14 games, 11 GS, 4 goals, 3 assists)
Forward: Christine Sinclair (15 games, 14 GS, 10 goals, 8 assists)
Forward: Marta (14 games, 13 GS, 10 goals, 5 assists)
Note: If Coach Aaran Lines elects to start three forwards, Morgan will likely start instead of Zerboni.

Bench Roster:
FW-Alex Morgan (13 games, 6 GS, 4 goals, 3 assists)
MF-Yael Averbuch (13 games, 8 GS, 2 assists)
DF-Kandace Wilson (13 games, 9 GS)
FW-Gemma Davison (12 games, 5 GS, 1 goal, 2 assists)
MF-Beverly Goebel (14 games, 3 GS, 1 goal, 1 assist)
DF-Gina Lewandowski (8 games, 6 GS)
GK-Brittany Cameron

Not rostered: Ashleigh Bowers, Kim Brandao, Kaley Fountain, Maurine, Alex Sahlen.

Philadelphia Independence (12-4-3)
Coach: Paul Riley
Possible Starting Lineup:
Goalkeeper: Nicole Barnhart (9 games, 9 GS, 1.11 GAA, 3 shutouts)
Defender: Estelle Johnson (15 games, 13 GS, 1 goal, 1 assist)
Defender: Kia McNeill (17 games, 17 GS, 1 goal)
Defender: Nikki Krzysik (18 games, 18 GS, WPS Sportswoman of the Year)
Defender: Leigh Ann Robinson (17 games, 17 GS, 2 assists)
Midfielder: Jen Buczkowski (18 games, 18 GS)
Midfielder: Tina DiMartino (18 games, 18 GS, 2 goals, 1 assist)
Midfielder: Sinead Farrelly (14 games, 13 GS, 1 goal, 2 assists)
Midfielder: Veronica Boquete (11 games, 10 GS, 5 goals, 4 assists, WPS Player of the Year)
Forward: Tasha Kai (17 games, 16 GS, 9 goals, 1 assist)
Forward: Amy Rodriguez (10 games, 6 GS, 2 goals)

Bench Roster:
MF-Danesha Adams (13 games, 8 GS, 3 goals, 1 assist)
MF-Joanna Lohman (9 games, 6 GS, 2 assists)
FW-Lianne Sanderson (17 games, 8 GS, 3 goals, 3 assists)
FW-Laura del Rio (15 games, 3 GS, 2 goals, 3 assists)
MF-Lori Lindsey (9 games, 1 GS)
GK-Val Henderson (9 games, 9 GS, 0.89 GAA, 4 shutouts)
MF-Gina DiMartino

Not rostered: Lauren Barnes, Allison Falk, Lauren Fowlkes, Robyn Jones.

Previous Meetings in 2011:
5/29 at Phi – Western New York 2, Philadelphia 1
6/12 at WNY – Philadelphia 1, Western New York 0
7/9 at Phi – Philadelphia 2, Western New York 1

Top Performers in Series:
Western New York – Harris (3 games, 1.33 GAA), Edwards (1 goal), Marta (1 goal-pk), Sinclair (1 goal-pk), Zerboni (1 assist).
Philadelphia – Barnhart (1 game, 2.00 GAA), Henderson (2 games, 0.50 GAA), Adams (1 goal), Kai (1 goal), Farrelly (1 goal), Sanderson (2 assists), T. DiMartino (1 assist).

For the first time, the two top teams from the regular season will meet in the WPS Championship. Western New York finished in 1st place with a 13-2-3 record and will host this match. Their only two losses this season came at the hands of Philadelphia. Philadelphia finished the regular season in 2nd place with a 11-4-3 record and then defeated magicJack in the semifinals.

17 of the 22 starters from last year’s championship game will be here for this match, although Allison Falk is not rostered and Val Henderson will likely serve as the backup goalkeeper to Nicole Barnhart. But there will be a lot of players with playoff experience on the field on Saturday.

Philadelphia won the season series, taking two of the three matches. The Independence split their two home matches against the Flash and defeated them 1-0 in the only match played in Rochester. Western New York scored three goals in those three matches against Philadelphia, but two of the three were penalty kicks. The Independence were the only team to hold the Flash to less than two goals and they did it twice.

Goalkeepers
Ashlyn Harris was the WPS Goalkeeper of the Year in 2011. She led the league in goals against with a 1.00 average and posted five shutouts, but three of those five came against Atlanta. Harris has established herself as one of the league’s top keepers in her second year. She has very good reflexes and is one of the quickest goalkeepers in WPS. Harris is one of six players in WPS to play every minute for her team. Brittany Cameron will serve as Harris’ backup.

Nicole Barnhart started only nine regular season matches due to her USWNT duty, but she did post a 1.11 goals against average with three shutouts. She was in goal for only one of the three matches against WNY and Philly lost that match. Barnhart is smart, experienced, and has good size. She also has great command of her penalty area. She posted a shutout in last year’s championship match. Val Henderson will probably be the backup, but could step in without the Independence losing much at that position.

Harris and Barnhart are very close in comparison. Barnhart has the stronger leg, better size, and more experience, while Harris is the quicker of the two.

Advantage: Very slightly to Philadelphia

Defenders
Western New York will likely start Rebecca Moros and Ali Riley on the outside, with Candace Chapman and Whitney Engen as their central defenders. Engen was the WPS Defender of the Year, an award she certainly deserved. She is a rock on the back line and has very good soccer sense as well. Engen rarely makes mistakes. Chapman gives the Flash a good speedy defender in the middle, something they will definitely need with the likes of Tasha Kai, Amy Rodriguez, and Veronica Boquete running at them.

Ali Riley is one of the best attacking backs in the league, a great two-way player to be sure. Although she only contributed one assist this season, she has great speed and will give any defense fits with her overlapping runs and accurate crosses. Rebecca Moros was picked up midseason after magicJack released her. She has proven to be a steady defender on the right side, taking over for Kandace Wilson.

The Flash have perhaps the deepest back line in WPS, with Kandace Wilson and Gina Lewandowski coming off the bench. Wilson has great speed and like teammate Riley, loves to get into the attack. Lewandowski is a veteran of the Frauen Bundesliga.

Philadelphia has no national team players to boast about on their back line. Estelle Johnson is the only one of the four that was drafted by the Independence, with the other three being picked up from other teams. Nikki Krzysik and Kia McNeill are tough, physical players that won’t back down from anyone in the center of the defense. Johnson is joined on the outside by Leigh Ann Robinson.

What these four defenders do, however, is play very well together as a unit. They have played together a lot and it shows. Krzysik played every minute for Philadelphia this season. McNeill missed only the time when she was red carded. Robinson missed only one match. Johnson started 11 of the last 12 matches. The one thing that could cause them problems is speed, because the Flash have a lot of that with Marta, Morgan, and company.

Western New York and Philadelphia tied for giving up the fewest goals this year, each giving up only one goal per game. Both have strong physical players, especially in the middle. Strangely enough, although Western New York’s defense is considered the more offensive group, they combined for no goals and only three assists for the season. Philly’s back line contributed two goals and three assists to the Independence attack.

Advantage: Slightly to Western New York

Midfielders
This match features two of the best defensive midfielders in the league with Jen Buczkowski for Philadelphia and Becky Edwards for Western New York. It also has two of the highest scoring midfielders, Veronica Boquete for the Independence and Caroline Seger for the Flash, although Boquete practically operates as a third forward.

Three likely starters for the Flash will be Edwards, Seger, and Brittany Bock. If Aaran Lines decides to go with four midfielders instead of three forwards, the other midfielder would probably be McCall Zerboni.
Seger is having a great season, with five goals and an assist in only 12 matches. She is one of the best all-around midfielders in the world. She helped lead Philadelphia on their great playoff run last season.

In only her second season in WPS, Becky Edwards is already being considered as one of the best in the league and a possible future USWNT player. Known for outstanding defense, she has showed the ability to score this season as well, with three goals and an assist. Brittany Bock is a steady, versatile player that can play nearly every position on the field. She is very physical and scored a goal and an assist this season.

McCall Zerboni has been one of the pleasant surprises of the WPS season. After spending most of 2009 on the bench with the Sol and then playing for the struggling Atlanta Beat in 2010, she has taken advantage of the opportunity to play for the Flash. She has four goals and three assists for the season. She had a great game against Boston early in the year, scoring twice and assisting on the third goal in a 3-2 victory. Again, the Flash have great depth in the midfield with Yael Averbuch and Beverly Goebel.

Philadelphia has a great midfield as well, with Buczkowski, Boquete, Tina DiMartino, and Sinead Farrelly. Buczkowski has been one of the keys to the season that the Independence are having. She will likely draw a tough defensive assignment on Saturday, marking one of the Flashes’ top players.

Rookie Sinead Farrelly was a candidate for rookie of the year and had a solid season for the Independence. She had a goal and two assists in 2011, with her goal coming against the Flash. Farrelly is a very good all-around player who is strong defensively. Tina DiMartino has very good ball skills and her distribution might well be a key factor in Saturday’s match. She will look for shooting opportunities, but will primarily focus on setting up her teammates.

Veronica Boquete was WPS Player of the Year. She scored five goals and added four assists for Philadelphia in just a little over half a season of action. When she’s in the lineup, Philadelphia plays very well with a 10-1 record. She is extremely fast and has the ability to get behind opposing defenses.

Like the Flash, Philadelphia has great depth in the midfield with USWNT player Lori Lindsey and veteran Joanna Lohman. Danesha Adams has a habit of scoring big goals in big games and can play either midfielder or forward. A second DiMartino sister, Gina, adds depth to the midfield.

Both teams have very, very good midfields. Both are good defensively as well as offensively. But it seems to me that Western New York has more all-around good players while Philly has more role players. Buczkowski is a defensive specialist, while DiMartino and Boquete are primarily offensive players.

Advantage: Call it even.

Forwards:
Even if the Flash start only two forwards, they are two of the best in the world. Marta and Christine Sinclair tied for the WPS lead in scoring with 10 goals apiece. If you add Alex Morgan as the third forward, it presents the opposing defense with a mind-boggling array of problems. Morgan started only five matches this season and Lines, like Pia Sundhage, seems to like bringing Morgan in off the bench. Morgan tied for the league lead in goals scored off the bench with three. Gemma Davison is another option off the bench for the Flash.

What can be said about Marta that hasn’t already been said? She is five time FIFA Player of the Year and has won the WPS Golden Boot in all three seasons. Her speed should cause Philadelphia some problems and she finishes as well as any player in the league. After returning from the World Cup, she scored seven goals and two assists in just seven matches. She’s scored five goals in her last three matches. Interestingly, only two of her ten goals came at home this season.

Christine Sinclair is just a consummate professional. She works hard, she plays strong, and her runs are precision in action. One might have thought that after the letdown of the Canadian World Cup effort, that she might be a bit down for the second half of the season. However, she returned as soon as possible and scored five goals and three assists upon her return from Germany. Sinclair tied for the lead in goals with 10 and led the league in assists with eight.

Tasha Kai was just one goal behind Marta and Sinclair in regular season scoring with nine. She added another in last week’s playoff match against magicJack, in what was one of the prettiest goals of the WPS season. She has great speed and determination, plus she has a championship ring. But of her 10 goals (counting the playoffs), only one has come on the road this season.

After having a very good season in 2010, Amy Rodriguez has been pretty quiet in 2011. She missed a good portion of the season with the USWNT, scoring just two WPS goals. But one of her goals came in the final regular season match and she scored another in the playoff match against magicJack, so maybe she is heating up at the right time. She needs to be able to use her speed to take defenders with her, thus opening up space for Kai and Boquete.

Depthwise, Philadelphia is very strong at the forward position. Besides the previously mentioned Adams, Philly has Lianne Sanderson and Laura del Rio. Sanderson has been kind of the unsung hero for Philadelphia this season. She lost her starting job to Boquete, but has continued to contribute to the team, scoring three goals with two of those coming off the bench. She also added three assists for the season. Del Rio is another good player coming off the bench. She scored two goals and assisted on three in 2011.

Both teams have great speed up front. Western New York’s top four forwards combined for 25 goals and 18 assists. Philadelphia’s forwards are very good, but the Flash have two of the world’s best.

Advantage: Western New York

Bench
Both teams have strong benches, although Philadelphia is a little thin at defender. You could take the 14 bench players for this match and have one heck of a soccer team.

Advantage: Even.

Coaching
Paul Riley has been WPS Coach of the Year two seasons running, but Aaran Lines would probably be considered to be a close second in this category. Riley seems to get the most out of his players and his substitutions have been timely this year.

Advantage: Slight advantage to Philadelphia

Intangibles
Western New York will be well rested and playing at home. The Flash were 7-1-1 at home this season, while Philadelphia was just 4-3-2 on the road. The Independence are the only team to defeat the Flash at Sahlen Stadium. Both teams have several players that have been in the title match before.

Advantage: Western New York because of the home field.

Prediction
Last week I had a strong feeling that magicJack might win and that proved totally wrong. Philadelphia came out and played a solid and somewhat dominating match.

Philadelphia isn’t likely to beat the Flash if this turns in to a 3-2 or 4-3 game. In spite of having a very good offense, they usually win with their defense. Containing Sinclair, Marta, Seger, and possibly Morgan for 90 minutes is not going to be easy. The Independence back line can’t match up well in speed. But they did manage to hold De Vanna and Press in check last weekend, plus McNeill did a great job in containing Wambach.

Western New York can beat you in a variety of ways. They have great finishers in Marta and Sinclair and dangerous speed all over the field. They also very strong up the center of the field, with Chapman and Engen on defense and Edwards and Seger in the midfield. Of the two matches Philadelphia defeated the Flash, Marta was gone for one match and Sinclair was gone for the other.

Beware of the trio of Adams, Sanderson, and del Rio coming off the bench. All three have contributed late goals to win games for Philadelphia. Look for Western New York to attack more from the wings, while Philadelphia tends to a more direct attacking style.

I think it will be a close match most of the way, with Western New York taking the lead in the final 15 minutes or so and then adding a goal as the Independence try to push forward late in the match.
My Prediction: Western New York 3, Philadelphia 1

August 22, 2011

WPS Award Winners

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Last week, WPS announced their annual award winners. There were several good candidates in each category and no clear cut choice in any. However, the winning candidate was certainly deserving in each case.

Michelle Akers Player of the Year - Veronica Boquete, Philadelphia Independence

Boquete scored five goals and four assists after joining the Independence in June. She scored the only goal in three 1-0 victories over a four game stretch in late July. The Independence had a 9-1 regular season record with her in the starting lineup. Boquete was definitely a major factor on Philly's strong challenge for first place.

My choice would have Boquete as well, but with Christine Sinclair almost even with her.

WPS Defender of the Year - Whitney Engen, Western New York Flash

Engen played the full 90 minutes in 17 of the Flashes' 18 matches. She was able to shut down many of the league's top forwards and helped Western New York to becoming the best defensive team in the league with a 1.00 goals against average.

My choice would have been Engen, but there were several good candidates including Engen's teammate Ali Riley and Nikki Krzysik from Philadelphia. I thought that Jen Buczkowski was overlooked in the nominating process and should have been given top consideration as well.

US Coast Guard Goalkeeper of the Year - Ashlyn Harris, Western New York Flash

Harris led the league in goals against average with 1.00 average per match. She also tied for the league lead in shutouts with five, while playing every minute of every match for the Flash. Her quick reflexes enabled her to make many great saves during the season.

My choice would probably have been Jen Branam. While her goals against was quite a bit higher than Harris', her defense was often a patchwork with players being injured or away with national team duty. However, I can't really argue with Harris, who was a deserving choice.

US Soccer Federation Rookie of the Year - Christen Press, magicJack

Press scored eight goals in her rookie season, the fifth best total in WPS. The Stanford alum is one of only four players ever to score a hat trick in league play, doing so in 4-0 victory over Boston on July 30. She uses her great speed to get behind defenses and is becoming more adept at timing her runs to greatest advantage.

Press would have been my choice as well. Keelin Winters, Sinead Farrelly, and Alex Morgan all had great rookie seasons, but to me, Press had the biggest impact on her team's performance.

WPS Coach of the Year - Paul Riley, Philadelphia Independence

Riley wins the award for the second consecutive year and deservedly so. He is one of the game's best strategists and gets the most out of his roster, one that has far fewer national team players than either Western New York or magicJack.

Riley was definitely my choice, but consideration must also go to Aaran Lines who did a fine job with the expansion Flash.

Citi Sportswoman of the Year - Nikki Krzysik, Philadelphia Independence

On the field, Krzysik was as solid as a rock, playing all 1620 minutes of the regular season in helping the Independence to finish second in WPS. Off the field, Krzysik has helped lead international philanthropic efforts that took her overseas with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes where she led clinics and shared her experience and love of the game with the participants of the women’s soccer league in Honduras. She has proven to be a leader both on and off the field.

This award was voted on by players and coaches only. But even though we could not vote on this award, I believe Krzysik was an outstanding choice.

PUMA Golden Boot Award - Marta, Western New York Flash

Marta wins this award for the third consecutive year. She scored 10 goals for the season, with seven coming in the last six matches, when the Flash were battling the Independence for first place. She edged out teammate Christine Sinclair, who played in one more match than Marta did. Interestingly, although Sinclair played in one more match, Marta actually saw one more minute of action than Sinclair.

August 21, 2011

Philadelphia Advances to Final with 2-0 Win

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The Philadelphia Independence battled to a 2-0 victory over magicJack on goals by Tasha Kai and Amy Rodriguez to advance to the WPS Final. The Independence will face the Western New York Flash next Saturday for the championship.

The return to the final was accomplished in typical fashion by Philadelphia...solid defense, good goalkeeping, hard work, and some timely finishing, a team effort to be sure. Starting just two USWNT players, plus Spanish international Vero Boquete, they were able to outplay and defeat the heavily national team-laden magicJack side.

Paul Riley's starting lineup saw only a few changes from what we saw late in the season. Sinead Farrelly returned to a starter's role after sitting out the last three matches with nagging injuries. Philly started Barnhart in goal, Johnson, McNeill, Krzysik, and Robinson across the back, with Buczkowski, DiMartino, Farrelly, and Boquete in the midfield. Kai and Rodriguez were the two Independence strikers.

Abby Wambach was forced to make one change to her lineup from Wednesday. Tina Ellertson was unable to make the start due to a hamstring injury, so Lydia Vandenbergh started at left back. Their starters were Loyden in goal, Dalmy, Rampone, Sauerbrunn, and Vandenbergh in back. The midfield consisted of Boxx, Schmidt, Huffman, and Rapinoe, with Wambach and Press as the starting forwards.

Philadelphia had the first good scoring opportunity, as WPS MVP Veronica Boquete nearly caught Jill Loyden flatfooted with her shot from 20 yards, but the ball went just wide of the left post in the fifth minute. Christie Rampone earned the first booking of the match, as she was nabbed for tugging on Rodriguez' shoulder in the 12th minute.

The first half hour saw both teams working the ball up the field well, but both sides were unconvincing in the final third and there were very few good scoring opportunities. However, the final 15 minutes of the half saw end-to-end action with multiple chances.

magicJack's first good opportunity came in the 31st minute. Christen Press was able to get free to get off a shot from 28 yards, but her blast was tipped over the net by Nicole Barnhart.

Philadelphia then had a procession of chances over the next few minutes. Rodriguez' shot from the top of the box forced Loyden to slide over to make a save in the 32nd minute. Farrelly sent Kai into the right side of the box in the 34th, but the Hawaiian striker's chip over Loyden wound up on top of the netting. Next, it was Farrelly's turn but her shot from 20 yards went straight into Loyden's hands.

magicJack nearly jumped on top in the 36th minute. Marian Dalmy crossed the ball from the right side to Christen Press, who was waiting just outside the six. She turned on her defender, but her shot hit the outside of the left post. The rebound fell directly to Wambach, whose shot dribbled wide of the right post. Two minutes later, a Sarah Huffman cross gave Philly's defense problems with the ball coming to Press, whose shot from eight yards was blocked by Farrelly.

Philadelphia came right back in the 39th minute with Boquete setting up Tina DiMartino on the left side of the penalty area, but the shot from the diminutive midfielder found nothing but Loyden's hands. In the final minutes of the half, Kai sent a shot right at Loyden from 16 yards and Boquete set up Rodriguez on the right side, but her shot went just wide of the left post.

The half ended scoreless. But this was nothing new for the Independence who were shut out nine times in the first half during the regular season, but were still able to post a 5-2-2 record in those matches. Philadelphia had outscored their opponents 18-7 in the 2nd half during the season. Meanwhile, magicJack had not won a match all year when they didn't score in the opening stanza. One halftime substitution was made as Lisa De Vanna came on for Press.

It took just 24 seconds of the second half for Philadelphia to break on top. Farrelly's serve from the right side was headed by magicJack defender Marian Dalmy to the outside of the box. Kai beat Megan Rapinoe to the ball, burst into the penalty area, deked Rampone, and finished with a curling shot from 12 yards out just inside the left post to make it 1-0. It was brilliant effort by the Independence striker.

Wambach tried to even the match just three minutes later as she settled a Rampone cross in the penalty area, but her first shot was blocked by Leigh Ann Robinson and then Barnhart made perhaps the save of the match with a sprawling effort to send the ball over the crossbar on Wambach's rebound attempt.

Philadelphia made their first substitution in the 56th minute, sending Joanna Lohman in for DiMartino. In the 65th minute, Danesha Adams came on for Kai.

Wambach once again came knocking at the door at the midway point of the 2nd half. Vandenbergh sent in a cross from the left side, with Wambach's header from in close going off the crossbar after Barnhart was able to get her fingertips on the ball. Wambach made her second substitution in the 72nd minute, with Ella Masar entering the contest for Vandenbergh.

Philadelphia continued to pressure the magicJack net. In the 73rd minute, Rodriguez sent one just wide of the right post. In the 75th minute, a Lohman cross was settled by Adams in front of the goal, with her shot glancing off the crossbar.

The Independence iced the match in the 81st minute. Jen Buczkowski passed the ball to Adams, who outfought Sophie Schmidt to win possession. Adams hit Rodriguez in stride and the USWNT striker, glimpsing Loyden off her line, chipped the ball from 22 yards neatly into the upper right hand corner of the net to make it 2-0.

Both teams made their final substitutions in the closing minutes. Philadelphia sent Laura del Rio on for Rodriguez, while magicJack subbed in Nikki Washington for Sarah Huffman.

magicJack had two final chances as the final minutes ticked away. Schmidt was able to get around Barnhart to the end line just left of the goal, but with Ella Masar unmarked in front of the net, the magicJack midfielder got twisted and whiffed on the attempted cross, with the ball rolling harmlessly out of play. In stoppage, Shannon Boxx' attempt from 22 yards was parried wide by Barnhart.

It was a well-deserved victory for Philadelphia. While the two scoring plays were well done, it was very good goalkeeping from Nicole Barnhart and excellent defending, especially from Kia McNeill, Jen Buczkowski, and Sinead Farrelly, that won the day. McNeill was superb in marking Wambach throughout the contest. This was a great team effort to be sure.

For magicJack, after suffering through a controversial year off the field, the players managed to rise up and give a very good account for themselves. They earned their way into the playoffs with solid play over the final few weeks and posted the franchise's first playoff victory. One has to wonder just how much playing two matches a week over the final four weeks of the season took their toll.

Philadelphia will now meet Western New York in the WPS Championship match next Saturday at 4 pm eastern time. Philadelphia is making their second consecutive trip to the final, losing last season to Gold Pride. It is obviously the first trip to the finals for the expansion Flash. The two teams met three times during the regular season, with Philadelphia winning two of the three. All were one goal matches.

Philadelphia 2, magicJack 0

Phi-Tasha Kai (unassisted) 46'
Phi-Amy Rodriguez (Danesha Adams) 81'

Philadelphia - Nicole Barnhart, Estelle Johnson, Kia McNeill, Nikki Krzysik, Leigh Ann Robinson, Jen Buczkowski, Sinead Farrelly, Tina DiMartino (Joanna Lohman 56), Veronica Boquete, Tasha Kai (Danesha Adams 63), Amy Rodriguez (Laura del Rio 85).

magicJack - Jill Loyden, Marian Dalmy, Christie Rampone, Becky Sauerbrunn, Lydia Vandenbergh (Ella Masar 72), Shannon Boxx, Sophie Schmidt, Sarah Huffman (Nikki Washington 85), Megan Rapinoe, Abby Wambach, Christen Press (Lisa De Vanna 46).

YC - Rampone (mJ) 12, Wambach (mJ) 86.
Shots - Philadelphia 20, magicJack 17
SOG - Philadelphia 13, magicJack 9.




August 19, 2011

Super Semifinal Preview - magicJack at Philadelphia

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WPS Super Semifinal
magicJack at Philadelphia Independence (4 pm eastern, Saturday)
PPL Park, Chester, Pennsylvania

Philadelphia Independence (11-4-3)
Coach: Paul Riley
Roster:
Goalkeepers:
Nicole Barnhart (1.11 ga, 3 shutouts), Val Henderson (0.89 g, 4 shutouts).
Defenders: Nikki Krzysik, Kia McNeill (1 goal), Leigh Ann Robinson (2 ast), Estelle Johnson (1 goal, 1 ast).
Midfielders: Jen Buczkowski, Tina DiMartino (2 goals, 1 ast), Danesha Adams (3 goals, 1 ast), Lori Lindsey, Sinead Farrelly (1 goal, 2 ast), Joanna Lohman (2 ast).
Forwards: Tasha Kai (9 goals, 1 ast), Veronica Boquete (5 goals, 4 ast), Amy Rodriguez (2 goals), Laura del Rio (2 goals, 3 ast), Lianne Sanderson (3 goals, 3 ast), Gina DiMartino.
Not active: Lauren Barnes, Allison Falk, Lauren Fowlkes, Robyn Jones.

magicJack (10-7-2)
Coach: Abby Wambach
Roster:
Goalkeepers:
Jill Loyden (1.13 ga, 4 shutouts), Karina LeBlanc (1.00 ga).
Defenders: Tina Ellertson, Christie Rampone (1 ast), Becky Sauerbrunn, Marian Dalmy (3 ast), Lydia Vandenberg.
Midfielders: Shannon Boxx, Sophie Schmidt (1 goal, 1 ast), Sarah Huffman (1 goal, 2 ast), Megan Rapinoe (2 goals, 2 ast), Nikki Washington (7 ast), Omolyn Davis (1 goal).
Forwards: Abby Wambach (9 goals, 2 ast), Christen Press (8 goals), Lisa De Vanna (3 goals, 1 ast), Ella Masar (4 goals, 2 ast).
Not active: Hope Solo (injured), Lindsay Tarpley (injured).
Playoff stats: Wambach (2 goals), Rapinoe (1 goal), Huffman (1 ast), Press (1 ast), Loyden (1.00 ga).

Previous Meetings in 2011:
5/1 at mJ – magicJack 2, Philadelphia 1
6/18 at Phi – Philadelphia 6, magicJack 0
6/25 at Phi – Philadelphia 3, magicJack 1
8/14 at mJ – magicJack 2, Philadelphia 1

Just one step away from the WPS Championship match, magicJack and Philadelphia meet in the Super Semifinal in Chester, Pennsylvania on Saturday. The match will be played at PPL Park, home of the Philadelphia Union. This will be a rematch of a game played less than a week ago, when magicJack defeated Philadelphia 2-1 in Boca Raton.

The two teams split their regular season matchup, with the home team winning all four matches. However, it must be noted that Philly’s wins, while lopsided, came with the national team players away. magicJack suffered two blowouts in late June while missing a good portion of their roster.

magicJack had very little problem with their semifinal match, defeating Boston 3-1 on Wednesday. The question is whether or not fatigue could creep into the magicJack camp with just two days between matches and travel to boot. They have won five of their last six matches and have played consistently well over the past three weeks.

Philadelphia probably heads into this match as the slight favorite. They will be at home and they finished in second place, pretty well ahead of magicJack in the standings. The Independence has won 9 of their last 11 contests and held first place for a time in the second half of the season.

Most point to Philly’s explosive offense as the key to this team’s success. However, a closer look reveals otherwise. Fifteen of Philadelphia’s 31 goals for the season came in just four games in the middle of the season while most of the league’s top players were away. The Indepedence scored just 16 goals in their other 14 matches, a shade over a goal per match. True, they were shut out just twice this season, but many of their victories came via 1-0 and 2-1 scores, not by wild scoring blowouts. In fact, Philadelphia has averaged just a goal a game over their last six matches, with three wins coming by a 1-0 margin.

Philadelphia has been a very strong home team this season, going 7-1-1 on their home turf. This will be the first time that their home field will be the larger PPL Park instead of Leslie Quick Stadium. magicJack has not fared well on the road, with a 2-5-2 record away from home. In their first seven road matches, they gave up 21 goals, but they did post shutouts in their last two.

Goalkeepers

The goalkeeper matchup will pit the second and third goalkeepers on the USWNT against one another. Nicole Barnhart has been Hope Solo’s backup for some time on the national team. She has had a pretty good season, posting three shutouts for the season. But Barnhart was in goal for three of Philadelphia’s four losses, including a pair of 2-1 losses to magicJack.

Barnhart has good agility and the experience she received playing in high pressure USWNT matches while Solo was out has been invaluable. She appears calmer in big game situations than she used to be. She also has a WPS championship match under her belt.

Loyden now has a playoff win on her resume’. She played reasonably well against Boston on Wednesday, but was not tested all that often. Saturday should be different. She has not faced Philadelphia all season. She did post four shutouts for the season and her season’s performance was superior to her 2010 play. This match might be the biggest of her career.

Both teams have excellent backup keepers and strangely enough, both were starters at Philadephia last year. Val Henderson actually has a better goals against average than Barnhart. She earned four shutouts, including a stretch where she posted three in a row. Veteran Canadian keeper Karina LeBlanc is magicJack’s backup keeper. In 2009, she led the league in shutouts and goals against average.

Barnhart has an edge in experience and probably has the better skills than Loyden. But Loyden has shown the ability to rise to the occasion in some instances.

Advantage: Slightly Philadelphia.

Defenders

When talking about Philadelphia’s defense, sturdy and physical are two words that come to mind. One other major factor is that the Independence have had the best continuity of any defense in the league this season.

Nikki Krzysik has played every minute of the season. Leigh Ann Robinson missed just one match. The only time when Kia McNeill wasn’t on the field was because of a red card and the subsequent suspension. And Estelle Johnson has been a starter for the last two-thirds of the season. This continuity even extends to Philly’s best defensive midfielder, Jen Buczkowski, who has also played every minute. This is one of the key reasons why the Independence are where they are.

There isn’t a national team player among them and most came from other teams. Krzysik and McNeill are hard-nosed defenders who just get the job done. Krzysik was named Citi Sportswoman of the Year. Robinson is an outside back, who loves to make overlapping runs. Estelle Johnson has shown great improvement in her second season in WPS. There is nothing flashy about this group. They’re blue collar, hard-working defenders. They helped lead Philadelphia with seven shutouts and a 1.00 goals against average.

Unlike Philadelphia, magicJack has a world of USWNT experience on their back line. Christie Rampone and Becky Sauerbrunn are current members of the national team and Tina Ellertson played on the 2007 World Cup team. Marian Dalmy also has experience with the national team. Ellertson and Rampone have very good speed and three of the four starters are excellent in the air.

magicJack got a bit of a scare on Wednesday as Tina Ellertson went down with a hamstring that has given her problems for the past few seasons. She was not listed in the injury report, so I assume she will be starting on Saturday.

magicJack has given up quite a few goals this season, but eight were in three contests against Western New York and another nine came against Philadelphia when they were without Rampone and Sauerbrunn. magicJack is now 9-2-1 with Rampone in the starting lineup and their goals against average in those games is a miniscule 0.75.

I think that Philly’s forwards against magicJack’s back line will be the most interesting matchup of the game. My question about Philadelphia’s back line concerns speed. They appear to have the size to perhaps deal with Wambach, but do they have the speed to deal with De Vanna and Press.

Advantage: Slightly to magicJack.

Midfielders

Jen Buczkowski could almost be called Philadelphia’s fifth defender. Paul Riley has given her a great deal of credit for her part in the great season that the Independence has had and rightfully so. She has been on the pitch for every single minute of the 2011 season. She is very defense-minded, but has gotten better with distribution and ball control. What Buczkowski brings to the Independence doesn’t show up in box scores. She has played in the WPS final the last two years and will be looking to make this three straight.

Tina DiMartino is one of the most skilled midfielders in the United States. She is very good in tight space and has gotten better at pinpointing her passes. She will occasionally have an off game, but those occasions are becoming fewer and fewer. Her job is to link up with the talented front line of the Independence.

Then it basically depends on what formation that Coach Paul Riley elects to use. If he decides to go more defensive with five midfielders, we might see Joanna Lohman joining Buczkowski as a holding mid. Danesha Adams has seen more and more playing time at a variety of positions, with attacking mid being the most likely. She scored three goals this year, two of them against magicJack. Sinead Farrelly, who had a very good rookie season, started for most of the year, but now is slotted in as a sub. USWNT midfielder Lori Lindsey has also been used primarily as a substitute this season.

For magicJack, Sarah Huffman played a very large role in Wednesday’s victory. Her cross set up Abby Wambach’s first goal and she was tripped up in the penalty area, which gave Wambach her second goal. She was a constant threat on the right side of the magicJack attack.

Shannon Boxx gives magicJack a physical presence and experience in the midfield. She has played for the championship the last two years. Canadian Sophie Schmidt has played very well the past few weeks, now that she has acclimated to her team after missing the first half of the season.

Megan Rapinoe has been the biggest addition to this team. She has been a major part of the success they have had lately and her goal put the match away on Wednesday. In spite of having missed a good part of it, she is having her best professional season. Nikki Washington was another acquisition that has made her mark with magicJack and she will likely be one of the first players off the bench on Saturday. Omolyn Davis has scored one goal for magicJack in limited playing time.

With Rapinoe and Huffman on the wings, magicJack’s midfield is at the top of their game right now. Philadelphia’s midfield is having a fine season as well. While Riley might start Vero Boquete in the midfield, she is, for all intents and purposes, a striker as far as I’m concerned. I think at this point that Philadelphia is better defensively in the midfield, while magicJack’s midfield is better on the offensive end.

Advantage: Even.

Forwards

Start with Tasha Kai, who scored nine goals this season. Then you have Veronica Boquete, the league’s Player of the Year with five goals and four assists. Then add last year’s leading scorer for Philly, Amy Rodriguez of the USWNT. Then there are Laura del Rio and Lianne Sanderson, both of whom are a threat to score or set up their teammates. You have a pretty potent offense there.

But the offense hasn’t been as overpowering lately, averaging just a goal a game over their last six. It may well take more than one goal to win Saturday’s match. Kai has scored just once in her last six matches after scoring six goals in four games in the middle of the season.

Boquete has been the sensation of the WPS season. She is very fast and very determined. Philadelphia has only lost once with her in the starting lineup. She has very good vision and works especially well with her Spanish teammate, del Rio. del Rio has done some scoring of her own with two goals and three assists in just 471 minutes played.

Riley is hoping that Rodriguez will find her form from a year ago, when she scored 12 goals for the Independence. Her goal in the season finale against magicJack should give her a boost in confidence. With the arrival of Boquete, the return of Rodriguez, and with Adams getting more playing time, Lianne Sanderson’s minutes have suffered the most. Lost in all the hoopla around Kai and Boquete is the contribution she has made with three goals and three assists, plus getting the game winner against Sky Blue just two weeks ago.

Most of magicJack’s scoring comes from the fearsome foursome of Abby Wambach, Christen Press, Lisa De Vanna, and Ella Masar. Wambach has been on a scoring binge lately. She has scored seven goals in the last five matches in which she has appeared. The strongest player in the league with her head, she scored two goals with her feet on Wednesday, with one being a penalty kick.

Rookie of the Year Christen Press has been one of the most exciting new additions to this league. She scored eight goals and showed on Wednesday night that she can also set up teammates, cutting back against the defender to assist on Rapinoe’s goal. Her speed will give Philly’s back line problems.

And speaking of speed, there is Lisa De Vanna, one of the fastest players in the world. She has just three goals this season, but all three came against Philadelphia. Ella Masar has been a consistent performer who has scored four goals for magicJack this year.

Advantage: Even.

Coaching

Paul Riley was named Coach of the Year for the second consecutive season in WPS. He knows his stuff and generally gets the most out of his players. He has an all-time regular season record of 21-13-8 and a playoff record of 2-1. He is a great tactician and very good at making subtle changes during the match.

Abby Wambach now has a playoff victory to add to her coaching resume'. She has done a very good job since taking over as player/coach for magicJack. But it has to be hard coaching and playing at the same time. Her teammate, Christie Rampone did it in 2009 for Sky Blue, but it isn’t easy.

Advantage: Philadelphia.

Intangibles

Philadelphia is playing at home, where they have a 7-1-1 record. But this is a different field for them and sometimes playing in a larger stadium can take away some of the home field advantage. magicJack has struggled on the road at 2-5-2, but they did post shutouts in their last two road matches.

magicJack will have less than 72 hours to recuperate from Wednesday’s match. They are the hot team right now with five wins in their last six matches, but Philadelphia has won nine of their last eleven. With national teamers on the field, magicJack has won both matches against Philly.

Edge: Philadelphia

Things to Look for

1) Fatigue – Wednesday’s match had to take something out of magicJack. They have less than 72 hours between matches and they have had to travel. It may not be apparent until late in the match, but watch to see if magicJack doesn’t appear to be a bit worn out as the 2nd half wears on.

2) A Tale of Two Halves – magicJack has scored in the first half of all ten of their victories this season, including the playoffs. Once again, they scored in the early stages of Wednesday’s match against Boston. Philadelphia is the opposite. They have outscored their opponents by only 13-11 in the first half, but by an astounding 18-7 margin in the second half. They have scored 11 goals after the 70th minute, with four of those coming in the 90th minute or stoppage.

3) Possession - Especially considering the fatigue factor, possession becomes even more important in this match. If Philadelphia can make magicJack chase, they could wear them down.

4) Physicality – Both teams can be very physical, so expect there to be a lot of pushing and shoving at both ends, as well as hard fought battles for the ball. Also note that two players we are likely to see hit the turf a lot are Tasha Kai for Philadelphia and Abby Wambach for magicJack. If either one is able to draw a call at a key juncture in the match, it could be a deciding factor.

5) Speed – Both teams have a lot of speed on the offensive end of the field, especially Boquete for Philadelphia and Press and De Vanna for magicJack. magicJack has more speed and experience on their back line and are probably more apt to handle opposing speed better. Watch to see, however, if Press and/or De Vanna is able to get behind Krzysik and McNeill in the Independence central defense.

My Prediction

This may be as tough a match to predict as there has been all season. Trying to compare two teams with many attacking options and how the opposing defenses will cope with them can be pretty complicated. Will a mistake decide the match or possibly a penalty kick? Could the game go to overtime, which should favor the more rested Independence? Who would have the advantage should the game go to penalty kicks?

In comparing the two teams records, considering only games before mid-June and after mid-July when rosters were at full strength, their records aren’t that different. Philly was 6-4-3 in those matches. magicJack was 9-5-1 over the same time frame.

This is more a hunch than anything else...

magicJack 2, Philadelphia 1

August 17, 2011

magicJack Advances to Semifinals

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In a very strong performance, magicJack defeated the Boston Breakers 3-1 on Wednesday evening to advance to the WPS semifinal on Saturday. magicJack will meet the Philadelphia Independence in Chester, Pennsylvania.

There were no surprises in the magicJack lineup for the match. Tony DiCicco elected to start Taryn Hemmings instead of Stephanie Cox on the back line, with Amy LePeilbet playing left back.

magicJack came out of the blocks fast, putting pressure on the Breakers' net from the opening whistle. Sophie Schmidt's shot from 25 yards sailed over the crossbar in just the second minute of action.

magicJack broke on top just a few minutes later. Sarah Huffman hit a cross from the far right side. The ball curved away from Boston goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, eluding her and finding a wide open Abby Wambach just eight yards out on the back post. She easily finished into the open net and magicJack was up 1-0 in just the sixth minute.

magicJack continued to pressure the Breakers' defense. Shannon Boxx put one just over the crossbar from 20 yards in the 8th minute. Later, Christen Press' shot from 18 yards was deflected wide by Naeher.

Boston's first good chance came in the 29th minute as Amy LePeilbet's pass found Lauren Cheney cutting across the box, but her shot went just wide of the left post.

Both teams suffered injuries in the first half. Meghan Klingenberg took an awkward fall landing on her arm in the 15th minute. She came off with what appeared to be an arm or wrist injury and was replaced by Elli Reed. Tina Ellertson suffered a hamstring injury later in the half. It was while Ellertson was off the field that Boston evened the score.

LePeilbet took a free kick from 40 yards out, sending it to the center of the penalty area. magicJack managed to head the ball clear but not out. Leslie Osborne nodded the ball back to the center where Keelin Winters volleyed it one-time inside the right post from nine yards out to tie the score. Ellertson was quickly subbed out for Lydia Vandenbergh after the goal.

magicJack nearly retook the lead in the 37th minute as Megan Rapinoe's shot from the left side beat Naeher, but struck the left post and was cleared by Boston. Just a minute later, Rapinoe had another chance as Huffman sent a pass to Press who headed it to Rapinoe, but her shot rolled just wide of the right post.

Boston had a good opportunity right before intermission, with another LePeilbet free kick into the penalty area. But Winters couldn't quite get into position to head the ball on goal and her attempt sailed well wide of the net. The match was tied at the half.

magicJack started the second half right where they left off as Rapinoe sent Press through the Boston defense, but her shot hooked just wide of the right post. But in the 56th minute, things began to fall apart for the Breakers.

Huffman received the ball just to the right edge of the penalty area and made a one-on-one move against Hemmings. Hemmings reached out her right foot and tripped the magicJack midfielder. A penalty was awarded and Abby Wambach scored her second goal of the match, with Naeher guessing wrong, to make it 2-1 for the home team.

Press had another chance just a minute later, but she skied a shot over the bar on a good opportunity from 18 yards out. Rapinoe set up Huffman just minutes later, but her shot also went well over the bar.

magicJack put the game away in the 61st minute as Press was making a run into the right side of the penalty area. She cut back on Hemmings and with Naeher bearing down on her, she hit a beautiful cross that caught Rapinoe in stride and USWNT midfielder headed the ball into the net from six yards to make it 3-1.

With their backs against the wall, the Breakers attempted to insert some offense into the match. Hobbled Kelly Smith came in for Hemmings in the 69th minute. Nikki Marshall subbed in for Aya Sameshima in the 79th minute. For awhile after Smith came in, Boston appeared to be dangerous and Smith definitely gave them a temporary spark, but the English striker is not nearly 100% healthy and her abilities were limited.

In 75th minute, Kelley O'Hara's shot from 22 yards was on frame, but easily handled by Jill Loyden. After that, Boston looked exhausted and really offered no significant threat.

magicJack outshot Boston 17-8 and led in shots on goal by an 8-2 margin. It was fairly dominating performance by the women from south Florida, who had been one of the toughest home teams in the league during the regular season.

magicJack will now travel to Philadelphia where they will meet the second place Independence at PPL Park in Chester at 4 pm on Saturday.

magicJack 3, Boston Breakers 1

mJ-Abby Wambach (Sarah Huffman) 6'
Bos-Keelin Winters (Leslie Osborne) 31'
mJ-Abby Wambach pk 57'
mJ-Megan Rapinoe (Christen Press) 61'

magicJack-Jill Loyden, Marian Dalmy, Christie Rampone, Tina Ellertson (Lydia Vandenbergh 33), Becky Sauerbrunn, Shannon Boxx, Sophie Schmidt (Omolyn Davis 86), Megan Rapinoe, Sarah Huffman (Nikki Washington 86), Abby Wambach, Christen Press.

Boston-Alyssa Naeher, Alex Scott, Rachel Buehler, Taryn Hemmings (Kelly Smith 69), Amy LePeilbet, Leslie Osborne, Keelin Winters, Meghan Klingenberg (Elli Reed 16), Aya Sameshima (Nikki Marshall 79), Lauren Cheney, Kelley O'Hara.

YC-Buehler (Bos) 17, Hemmings (Bos) 35, Winters (Bos) 81.
Shots-magicJack 17, Boston 8.
SOG-magicJack 8, Boston 2.

August 16, 2011

Playoff Preview - Boston Breakers at magicJack

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WPS First Round Playoffs
Boston Breakers at magicJack (7:30 pm eastern, Wednesday)
FAU Soccer Field, Boca Raton, Florida.

magicJack (9-7-2)
Coach: Abby Wambach
Roster:
Goalkeepers: Jill Loyden (1.13 ga, 4 shutouts); Karina LeBlanc (1.00 ga)
Defenders: Tina Ellertson, Christie Rampone (1 ast), Becky Sauerbrunn, Marian Dalmy (3 ast), Lydia Vandenbergh.
Midfielders: Shannon Boxx, Sophie Schmidt (1 goal, 1 ast), Sarah Huffman (1 goal, 2 ast), Megan Rapinoe (2 goals, 2 ast), Nikki Washington (7 ast), Omolyn Davis (1 goal).
Forwards: Abby Wambach (9 goals, 2 ast), Christen Press (8 goals), Lisa De Vanna (3 goals, 1 ast), Ella Masar (4 goals, 2 ast).
Not active: Hope Solo (injured), Lindsay Tarpley (injured).

Boston Breakers (5-9-4)
Coach: Tony DiCicco
Roster:
Goalkeepers: Alyssa Naeher (1.33 ga, 5 shutouts), Ashley Phillips.
Defenders: Alex Scott, Rachel Buehler (1 goal), Amy LePeilbet, Stephanie Cox, Taryn Hemmings, Elli Reed.
Midfielders: Leslie Osborne, Keelin Winters (3 goals, 2 ast), Meghan Klingenberg (1 goal, 2 ast), Aya Sameshima, Katie Schoepfer (2 goals, 2 ast).
Forwards: Lauren Cheney (3 goals), Kelley O'Hara (4 goals, 1 ast), Kelly Smith (1 goal, 4 ast), Nikki Marshall, C. Zimmeck (1 ast).
Not active: Jordan Angeli (injured), Leah Blayney, Liz Bogus, Niki Cross, Kelsey Davis (injured), Ifeoma Dieke, Kasey Moore (injured), Katie Jo Spisak.
Injury notes: Kelley O'Hara (probable), Kelly Smith (questionable).

Previous Meetings in 2011:
4/23 at mJ - magicJack 1, Boston 0
6/5 at Bos - Boston 2, magicJack 1
7/30 at mJ - magicJack 4, Boston 0
8/6 at Bos - magicJack 2, Boston 0

The first round of the WPS playoffs will be played on Wednesday evening, with the fourth place Boston Breakers traveling to Boca Raton to play third place magicJack. The two teams met four times during the regular season with magicJack winning three, all by shutout. Boston's lone victory in the series came on June 5 in a 2-1 victory.

The Breakers have a new-found life after getting into the playoffs on the last day of the season in what has otherwise been a pretty lackluster campaign. The Breakers suffered seven shutouts, most of those in the second half of the season. They did have a five game unbeaten streak in the middle of the year, when they earned nine of their 19 points for the season.

It was an injury plagued season for the Breakers, starting from the first game when Jordan Angeli suffered a season-ending injury just moments after scoring Boston's first goal of the season. The Breakers defeated Sky Blue in the final game of the regular season to edge into the playoffs, after getting a little help from Philadelphia the previous week.

magicJack started out of the gate very well, then floundered through the middle of their schedule, before finishing very strong by winning four of their last five matches. Abby Wambach has been the driving force down the stretch. The return of their national team players has helped and the key acquisitions of Megan Rapinoe and Nikki Washington have paid big dividends for magicJack.

magicJack have been very strong at home, going 7-2, while the Breakers are only 1-6-2 on the road, with the only road victory coming in the season opener against Atlanta. Boston has been shut out in five of their nine road games, while magicJack has posted shutouts in five of their nine home games. magicJack has averaged scoring over two goals per game at home.

Goalkeepers

Alyssa Naeher has played every minute of the season in goal for the Breakers. She was consistently among the league leaders in goals against average for most of the year, until suffering a three-game stretch when she gave up eight goals toward the end of the season. Her five shutouts is tied for the best in WPS. Naeher led WPS in saves in 2011. Note though that her five shutouts came against only two teams, Sky Blue and Atlanta.

Jill Loyden played in the season opener for magicJack, getting a shutout over Boston and then didn't play again until July 20. After she returned from the World Cup, she took over the starting job with Hope Solo being injured. She posted four shutouts in just eight matches, but she also gave up two or more goals in four matches. Three of Loyden's four shutouts came against Boston. Keep in mind that Karina LeBlanc is an outside possibility to play in this match.

Naeher is probably the more agile of the two, with Loyden having the advantage in size and experience. Naeher lost her only start in the playoffs in 2010. Loyden has never played in a playoff match, but she seems to have Boston's number this year. This matchup is very, very close.

Advantage: Even

Defenders

Boston's back line are national teamers all, but at times, they haven't performed as such. The Breakers gave up 24 goals this season, quite a lot with the world's best guarding your goal. Part of that can be explained away by World Cup fatigue, but not all of it. In the 11 matches when Boston's starting defense was intact (or nearly so), the Breakers went 2-8-1, giving up 17 goals. The low point was a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of magicJack on July 30.

The Breakers do have a lot of talent defensively. Amy LePeilbet has been two-time Defender of the Year. Alex Scott is one of the best attacking outside backs in the world. Rachel Buehler is regarded as one of the toughest tackling defenders in soccer. Stephanie Cox is a very steady performer at outside back. Taryn Hemmings filled in nicely when several of the national teamers were away. Elli Reed got in some quality minutes in her rookie season.

After an adjustment in formation, magicJack seems to have steadied what was an early season roller coaster ride on defense. Like Boston, they have plenty of national team experience on their back line. But magicJack's defense has been the antithesis of the Breakers. For instance, in games in which Christie Rampone started, magicJack has a sparkling 8-2-1 record. All six shutouts posted by magicJack came with Rampone and Becky Sauerbrunn in the lineup.

Besides national teamers Rampone and Sauerbrunn, magicJack has two former USWNT players on their back line in Tina Ellertson and Marian Dalmy. Ellertson has consistently been ranked as one of the league's best defenders. Dalmy is very good at getting into the attack and assisted on three goals this season, although it should be mentioned she played a lot of midfield this year. Lydia Vandenbergh provides depth for magicJack.

Based on names, I would give Boston the edge, but based on performance, magicJack has an obvious advantage. The Breakers finally came through with a shutout in the last game of the season, with everything on the line. Again, it's almost too close to call.

Advantage: Slightly to magicJack

Midfielders

Outside of Naeher, the only two players that played in all eighteen matches for Boston were Leslie Osborne and Keelin Winters. Osborne is a very well respected player, a tough-tackling, strong-defending veteran who has played many WPS and USWNT matches. She was one of the keys to Boston's turnaround in 2010. Winters has had an exceptional season in her first season, good enough to be nominated for Rookie of the Year honors. She has contributed three goals and two assists to Boston this year.

The other two Boston midfielders weren't even with the team at the start of the season. Aya Sameshima was signed in June and only saw 45 minutes of action before leaving for the World Cup to play for the champion Japanese team. Coach Tony DiCicco has moved Sameshima from her outside defender role she plays for Japan to the midfield. So far, Sameshima seems to be adopting her new position rather well.

Meghan Klingenberg was obtained from playoff opponent magicJack in early June and scored a goal and two assists after her arrival. She has proven to be a very good player from the wing. Katie Schoepfer can fill in at either midfielder or striker. She had her best WPS season with two goals and two assists. One of her two goals came against magicJack, as did Klingenberg's goal. In fact, they are only two Boston players to score against magicJack this season.

Three of magicJack's four midfield starters are national teamers, led by veteran Shannon Boxx. Boxx played on regular season champion LA Sol in 2009 and the WPS champion FC Gold Pride side last season. She knows how to win and although she isn't as dominating as she once was, she is still a very strong player.

Midseason acquisition Megan Rapinoe has been key to magicJack's success down the stretch. In just four starts, she scored a goal and assisted on two others for magicJack. She helped add a new energy to this mostly veteran magicJack team. Another national team player, Sophie Schmidt, is having a fine rookie season after missing the first half of it with Canada. She had a goal and an assist in the last four matches.

Sarah Huffman is another veteran player. She has been with this franchise back before it's WPS inception with the W-League Freedom. She is a steady performer, who defends well and can provide offense if needed. Another midseason acquisition, Nikki Washington, has provided a lot of offense from her wing position. With the national teamers back, she may be used more in a substitute role, but expect to see her in the match at some point.

Once again, this is a pretty close call. magicJack's midfield is probably more offensively inclined, while Boston is more defensively inclined.

Advantage: magicJack

Forwards

Kelley O'Hara has been Boston's leading scorer in 2011 with four goals. She really plays almost a hybrid attacking midfielder/forward position, but with Kelly Smith sidelined by injury, the inclination is to call her a forward. No doubt about O'Hara, she has speed to burn. Out of all of the USWNT players, she missed the fewest WPS matches and scored twice in her first game back against the Flash.

Injuries at the World Cup has hobbled two of Boston's star performers. Lauren Cheney hurt her ankle in the final against Japan and is just now getting back to full health. She scored only three goals this season, but two of those came in the season finale against Sky Blue. She is one of the best players in the league with her back to the goal, using her body to turn on a defender and get off a quick shot.

The other injured forward is Kelly Smith, who has played only 45 minutes since returning for Germany where she aggravated an injury in the quarterfinal match against France. Smith has a goal and four assists, but until this season, she was perennially among the leaders in scoring. She is listed as questionable for this match and one wonders if Boston can get at least some minutes out of this great veteran. Boston's depth at forward includes Nikki Marshall, also acquired from magicJack, and Claire Zimmeck.

If it is the end of the season, it must be Abby Wambach time. She scored five goals in three key victories down the stretch to lead magicJack into the playoffs. Three of those goals came against the Breakers. As has often been said, Wambach is simply the most dangerous weapon in the air in women's soccer. Not that she can't score with her feet, but she is absolutely deadly with headers.

If Wambach likes playing Boston, Christen Press absolutely loves it. She score four of her eight goals against the Breakers, including a hat trick in the 4-0 victory in late July. Press is the odds-on-favorite for Rookie of the Year and among the league leaders in goals. The rookie out of Stanford is very fast and is fast developing into one of the best forwards in the league.

magicJack certainly has quality depth at the forward position. Ella Masar and Lisa De Vanna have been starters before and both have shown the ability to score. Masar was Chicago's leading scorer a year ago and she put four in the net for magicJack this season, as well as assisting on two goals in the final match of the season. De Vanna is one of the fastest, most determined forwards in the world. She showed off her skills for the Australian national team, before returning to the states to score two goals in magicJack's season finale.

magicJack has gotten 24 goals out of their four forwards for the season, five more than Boston's entire team scored. If Smith were fully healthy, it might be a different story, but it would be hard to not give magicJack an edge here.

Advantage: magicJack

Coaching

Tony DiCicco is a former national team coach and is the only person ever to coach the WPS Breakers. He has more experience than probably any other coach in this league. Abby Wambach, on the other hand, is a novice at coaching. A great player to be sure, but she'll need a bit more coaching experience before I can compare her to DiCicco.

Advantage: Boston

Intangibles

magicJack has the home field advantage and they are 7-2 at home. The Breakers have not been a good road team at all. They did not score a goal in their two matches at FAU. magicJack closed the season very strong, winning four of their last five, while Boston suffered a four game losing streak, before defeating Sky Blue to squeak into the playoffs.

Neither team has ever won a playoff match. The Washington Freedom (magicJack's previous incarnation) lost in the first round both in 2009 and 2010. The Breakers lost in the semifinals to Philadelphia last year in their only playoff action.

Advantage: magicJack

Things to Look for:

1) The First 25 Minutes - In three of their five victories, the Breakers scored a goal in the first seven minutes of the match. In a fourth, they scored in the 18th minute. The only exception to this was a 1-0 victory over Sky Blue where they scored the game's only goal in the 2nd half. Meanwhile, Boston was 0-8-1 when giving up the first goal of the match.

magicJack is 8-0-1 when scoring the first goal. They have outscored their opponents 15-12 in the opening stanza, while being outscored in the 2nd half overall. Of their nine wins, they scored a goal in the first 26 minutes of the match in eight of them. They scored a first half goal in every match they won or tied, except a scoreless draw against Atlanta. magicJack did come from behind to win one match against Philadelphia, back in April.

Obviously, coming out of the gate strong is very important to both teams.

2) Set Pieces - When the most dominant player in the air is on the field, set pieces become a big factor in the match. Abby Wambach is exceptional at putting her head on the ball and finding the back of the net. Boston must limit the number of set pieces they give up, plain and simple.

3) Speed - magicJack is loaded with speed up front with Christen Press and Lisa De Vanna. Boston's defense cannot afford to be caught flat-footed by these forwards. De Vanna can be especially dangerous, coming on late when defenders are tiring. Press already has had success against Boston and her confidence has to be brimming entering this match.

4) Goalkeeping - If the match is close, it could come down to a goalkeeping mistake to decide the match. Both goalkeepers, Alyssa Naeher and Jill Loyden, are fairly inexperienced in playoff action. Both have been prone, at times, to making the occasional mistake. Neither can afford to do so in this match.

5) The Midfield Battle - magicJack has the edge in my opinion, but if Boston can hold their own, it could turn the tide of the match. It will be interesting to see how the inexperienced Boston midfield with two rookies and young Aya Sameshima will hold up under playoff pressure. Leslie Osborne has to be the leader here.

Meanwhile, magicJack's midfield is very experienced. While Sophie Schmidt is a rookie in name, she is hardly that with a long list of caps for the Canadian National Team. Boxx has been in this position before, with the Sol in '09 and Gold Pride in '10.

6) Backs Getting Forward - It will also be interesting to see which team can get their outside backs involved in the offense. Alex Scott is one of the best for Boston. Coach DiCicco even tried her out up front this season. Marian Dalmy is also strong in this regard for magicJack. Whichever team can get the backs forward on overlapping runs might have the advantage.

My Prediction:
magicJack is the hot team and are playing at home. With Smith still iffy because of her injury, Boston's attack may be severely limited. The Breakers absolutely need to keep this game low-scoring and close. magicJack just has too much experience and too many weapons overall.

magicJack 2, Boston Breakers 0

August 14, 2011

Cheney Leads Boston to Playoffs

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Boston Breakers 2, Sky Blue FC 0

Lauren Cheney scored just 14 seconds into the match and then added another to lead the Boston Breakers to a 2-0 victory over Sky Blue. The victory moved Boston into a fourth place tie with Sky Blue, with the Breakers winning the final playoff berth by tiebreaker. The Breakers won the head-to-head matchup with Sky Blue for the season.

Cheney, who had just one goal entering the contest, wasted no time in putting Boston in the lead. Keelin Winters sent a cross to Cheney, who volleyed it one-time past Jen Branam and the Breakers led 1-0.

Cheney scored her second of the match in the 18th minute. Meghan Klingenberg sent a cross into the penalty area with Cheney getting a piece of it to redirect it into the goal for a 2-0 lead.

Sky Blue attempted to get back in the match by making early substitutions for offense. Coach Jim Gabarra brought Casey Nogueira in for defender Petra Hogewoning late in the first half, going to a three back formation. Later, Adriana subbed in for Danielle Johnson with Sky Blue going to a two back formation. But in spite of all efforts, they had dug themselves too big of a hole.

Alyssa Naeher picked up the shutout for Boston. It was her fifth of the season tying her with Jen Branam and Ashlyn Harris for the league best.

Boston ended a four game losing streak with this victory. They finish the regular season with a 5-9-4 record. It is the worst record of any team ever to make the WPS playoffs. Only two other teams with a losing record have made the playoffs. The 2010 Washington Freedom finished at 8-9-7 and were eliminated in the first round. The 2009 Sky Blue team finished 7-8-5, but went on to win three straight in the playoffs to capture the championship.

Sky Blue finishes the season with an identical 5-9-4 record, after coming within a couple minutes of clinching a playoff berth last weekend against Philadelphia.

Boston will now travel to Boca Raton to face magicJack in the first round of the playoffs on Wednesday at 7:30 pm eastern time. The game will be televised on Fox Soccer.

magicJack 2, Philadelphia Independence 1

The duo of Lisa De Vanna and Ella Masar hooked up for two goals and magicJack was able to hold on for a 2-1 win over Philadelphia. The loss ended Philly's quest for first place in WPS.

Both teams rested several regulars for the match. Karina LeBlanc got her first start in goal for the season after being a mainstay in the league the past two seasons. She rewarded coach Abby Wambach with a victory.

De Vanna was making only her third start of the season as coach Abby Wambach elected to not start herself. She opened the scoring ten minutes into the match on an assist by Masar. De Vanna added another goal in the second half, once again from Masar, to make it 2-0.

Philadelphia cut the lead to 2-1, as Amy Rodriguez scored in the 79th minute, assisted by Laura del Rio. It was Rodriguez' second of the year.

MagicJack finishes the season at 9-7-2, making the playoffs for the third time in franchise history. They made the playoffs the previous two years as the Washington Freedom, but were eliminated in the first round on each occasion. Philadelphia drops to 11-4-3 and finishes in second place.

MagicJack will now host the first round playoff match against the Boston Breakers on Wednesday evening at 7:30 pm eastern. Philadelphia will host the winner of that match next Saturday in the semifinal match.

Western New York Flash 2, Atlanta Beat 0

Western New York clinched the regular season title and then went on to defeat Atlanta 2-0 on Sunday evening in Rochester. About a third of the way through the match, the Flash knew that Philly had lost to magicJack, thus giving the Flash the regular season title.

After Atlanta had played very well early on, Western New York took the lead in the 37th minute as Caroline Seger volleyed in a Alex Morgan cross to give the Flash the lead before the intermission.

While Atlanta had played tough for most of the first half, the second was literally dominated by the Flash who created chance after chance. Only a few offsides calls and some dicey finishing kept Atlanta in the match.

The Flash finally put the game away in the 75th minute as Christine Sinclair sent a through-ball to Marta who raced onto it and touched it past Allison Whitworth. For Marta, it was her 10th goal of the season, drawing her even with Sinclair for the league lead in that category.

The Flash finish with a 13-2-3 record and will now host the WPS Championship match on August 27. Ashlyn Harris picks up her fifth shutout of the season, tying her for the WPS lead in that category. The Flash became the first WPS team to average more than two goals per game, scoring 40 times in just 18 matches.

Atlanta finishes the season with 1-13-4 record, not having scored in the last 757 minutes of the season. Their last goal was in a June 11 game against magicJack and they failed to score a goal on the road during the season.

Final WPS Regular Season Standings
(1) Western New York 13-2-3, 42 pts; (2) Philadelphia 11-4-3, 36 pts; (3) magicJack 9-7-2, 28 pts; (4) Boston 5-9-4, 19 pts; (5) Sky Blue FC 5-9-4, 19 pts; (6) Atlanta 1-13-4, 7 pts.

magicJack was penalized a point during the season.

Boston won the tiebreaker over Sky Blue based on head-to-head points.

August 13, 2011

WPS Weekend Preview: August 14

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We enter the final weekend of WPS regular season play with some issues yet to be decided. Western New York needs just a single point at home to wrap up first place and home field advantage for the WPS Final, with Philadelphia still having a faint hope of moving up. The real drama will be in Cambridge where the 5th place Breakers will host 4th place Sky Blue, with Boston needing a victory to overtake the team from New Jersey.

Sky Blue FC at Boston Breakers (4 pm eastern, Sunday)
Harvard Stadium, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Boston Breakers (4-9-4)
Coach: Tony DiCicco
Roster:
Goalkeepers: A. Naeher, A. Phillips.
Defenders: R. Buehler, A. LePeilbet, A. Scott, T. Hemmings, I. Dieke, E. Reed.
Midfielders: L. Osborne, K. Winters, M. Klingenberg, A. Sameshima, K. Schoepfer.
Forwards: L. Cheney (probable), K. O'Hara (probable), K. Smith (questionable), N. Marshall, C. Zimmeck.
Not active: J. Angeli (injured), L. Blayney, L. Bogus, S. Cox, N. Cross, K. Davis (injured), K. Moore (injured), K. J. Spisak.

Sky Blue FC (5-8-4)
Coach: Jim Gabarra
Roster:
Goalkeepers: J. Branam, K. Bardsley.
Defenders: A. Asante (probable), K. Fletcher, B. Taylor, D. Johnson, M. Wenino, P. Hogewoning.
Midfielders: C. Blank, T. Heath, A. Long, H. O'Reilly, T. Sjogran.
Forwards: E. Aluko, Adriana, C. Nogueira.
Not active: K. Arnold, J. Clark, C. Dew (suspended), S. Gray (injured), E. Guthrie, L. Johnson (injured), L. Kalmari, A. Kerr, A. Mautz.

Previous Meetings in 2011:
5/1/11 at Bos - Boston 1, Sky Blue 0
5/28/11 at SB - Sky Blue 2, Boston 1
6/12/11 at SB - Sky Blue 0, Boston 0

With a 4-9-4 record, the Breakers have to consider themselves lucky to be in contention for anything at this point. A combination of injuries, World Cup absences, and lackluster play has led to a disappointing season from Boston. Had it not been for a last minute goal by Philadelphia last weekend, they would be out of it. Instead, a victory against Sky Blue in this match and they will start the second season with a clean slate.

The Breakers enter this match with a four-game losing streak, one they would love to end on Sunday. They've only scored one goal in the last four matches, that one by Keelin Winters coming in a 2-1 loss to Western New York. But just as glaring is the fact that they have given up eight goals over the past three matches. It's time to start seeing some results from all of those national team players.

The forwards have been pretty dinged up. Kelly Smith is still listed as questionable for this match and Lauren Cheney has been nursing an injury since the World Cup. Those two have combined for just two goals this season after scoring 16 between them last year. Kelley O'Hara has been the biggest offensive threat for Boston with four goals, followed by rookie Keelin Winters with three.

Boston has rarely had their defense intact this year, but that isn't the only problem here. They haven't stopped anybody since posting three consecutive shutouts during the World Cup.

Like the Breakers, Sky Blue has been struggling as of late, losing their last three matches. The toughest of all came last weekend as a late goal by Lianne Sanderson dealt Sky Blue a 2-1 loss with the playoffs in their sights.

One player that has been hot lately is Eniola Aluko, who has scored three goals in the last two matches. The English striker has refound her form and has led Sky Blue in their last few contests. Casey Nogueira was having a fine season, but has been a bit quiet as of late. Her five goals leads New Jersey in goal scoring. Tobin Heath seems to be more involved in the offense since returning from Germany.

Defensively, Sky Blue has to be disappointed to lose their last two games on late goals by their opponent. They will face this week without Carrie Dew, who will be serving her red card suspension. Anita Asante should be back from the injury that has sidelined her. Jen Branam, as always, will be one of the keys for Sky Blue in this match. She leads WPS with five shutouts and one here would put Sky Blue in the playoffs.

Sky Blue needs just a tie to secure fourth place and the final playoff berth. If it comes to a decision, the loser will be through for the season and the winner will be headed to Boca Raton for a first round playoff match against magicJack.

Philadelphia at magicJack (4 pm eastern, Sunday)
FAU Soccer Field, Boca Raton, Florida.

magicJack (8-7-2)
Coach: Abby Wambach
Roster:
Goalkeepers: J. Loyden, K. LeBlanc.
Defenders: T. Ellertson, C. Rampone, B. Sauerbrunn, M. Dalmy, L. Vandenbergh.
Midfielders: S. Boxx, M. Rapinoe, S. Huffman, S. Schmidt, N. Washington, O. Davis.
Forwards: A. Wambach, C. Press, E. Masar, L. De Vanna.
Not active: H. Solo (injured), L. Tarpley (injured).

Philadelphia Independence (11-3-3)
Coach: Paul Riley
Roster:
Goalkeepers: N. Barnhart, V. Henderson.
Defenders: K. McNeill, N. Krzysik, L. Robinson, E. Johnson.
Midfielders: J. Buczkowski, L. Lindsey, C. DiMartino, J. Lohman, D. Adams.
Forwards: T. Kai, V. Boquete, A. Rodriguez, L. Sanderson, L. del Rio.
Not active: L. Barnes, G. DiMartino, A. Falk, S. Farrelly, L. Fowlkes, R. Jones.

Previous Meetings in 2011:
5/1/11 at mJ - magicJack 2, Philadelphia 1
6/18/11 at Phi - Philadelphia 6, magicJack 0
6/25/11 at Phi - Philadelphia 3, magicJack 1

Philadelphia enters this match with an outside chance to win the regular season title, but they will need help from Atlanta to accomplish that. MagicJack comes in with third place secure, but with maybe a few lingering memories of a couple of losses to Philly in June.

One has to be at least a little impressed that magicJack earned their way into a playoff berth rather than relying on other teams losing. They won three straight matches, earning nine points against their closest rivals, Sky Blue and Boston. Their streak was snapped by Wednesday's loss to Western New York.

As has been her tradition the past couple of years, Abby Wambach has gotten the scoring touch down the stretch. This year, she's netted five goals in her last four matches. She now has nine on the year, with many coming via her favorite weapon, the header. Rookie Christen Press perhaps has the inside track for Rookie of the Year with eight goals, including a hat trick against Boston. Ella Masar and Lisa De Vanna give magicJack excellent depth up front.

Sophie Schmidt scored her first WPS goal on Wednesday. Megan Rapinoe has been a fine addition to magicJack. She has been a very big part of their offense since returning from Germany. Shannon Boxx is the veteran of the group.

MagicJack seems to have finally gotten things sorted out on the defensive end, with a change in formation being a big part of the solution. Another plus was the return of veteran Christie Rampone. Jill Loyden has been magicJack's goalkeeper since her return from the World Cup.

There have been lots of good stories on this Philadelphia team and the Independence has had outstanding contributions from much of their roster. However, the addition of Vero Boquete seems to be what makes them a championship contender. Philadelphia is a perfect nine for nine with her in the starting lineup. She has five goals and four assists since her arrival. Tasha Kai is also having a great season with nine goals, just one behind the league lead in that category.

But the Independence have gotten contributions from a lot of players. Last weekend's hero was Lianne Sanderson, who scored the game winner in stoppage. Danesha Adams has also scored three goals and Laura del Rio has added two. And all of this is in addition to last year's leading scorer, Amy Rodriguez.

The defense has been the surprise for Philadelphia. They have given up less than a goal a game, all without the benefit of a national team player on their back line. The goalkeeping has very strong with Nicole Barnhart and Val Henderson.

To be realistic, this game means very little to either team. Philadelphia's chances at the regular season title are very slim. Still, there has to be some pride on the line here. MagicJack took a couple of big losses to Philly earlier in the season, including a 6-0 shellacking. I'm sure they would like some measure of payback for that loss and to send Philadelphia a message in what could be a semifinal matchup between the two teams next week.

Atlanta at Western New York (6 pm eastern, Sunday)
Sahlen Stadium, Rochester, New York.

Western New York Flash (12-2-3)
Coach: Aaran Lines
Roster:
Goalkeepers: A. Harris, B. Cameron.
Defenders: C. Chapman, W. Engen, A. Riley, R. Moros, G. Lewandowski, K. Wilson.
Midfielders: Y. Averbuch, B. Edwards, C. Seger, B. Bock, M. Zerboni, B. Goebel.
Forwards: Marta, C. Sinclair, A. Morgan, G. Davison.
Not active: A. Bowers, K. Brandao, K. Fountain, Maurine, A. Sahlen.

Atlanta Beat (1-12-4)
Coach: James Galanis
Roster:
Goalkeepers: A. Whitworth, A. Lipsher.
Defenders: C. Whitehill, K. Reynolds, A. Marquez, H. Mitts, C. Flanagan.
Midfielders: C. Lloyd, M. Jesolva, K. White, K. Wright, A. Salem.
Forwards: L. Chalupny, K. Parker, L. Sesselmann.
Not active: B. D'Agostino, K. Dowling (injured), K. Fraine, M. Lenczyk, J. Sitch, I. Trotter.

Previous Meetings in 2011:
4/24/11 at Atl - Atlanta 2, Western New York 2
5/1/11 at WNY - Western New York 3, Atlanta 0
8/6/11 at Atl - Western New York 2, Atlanta 0

Western New York needs just a tie in this match to clinch the regular season title. That should not prove too difficult given that Atlanta has not scored on the road all season and haven't hit the net in their last 667 minutes.

Christine Sinclair still leads WPS with ten goals, but Marta has scored four goals in the last two games, putting her at nine for the season. Rookie Alex Morgan, Caroline Seger, and McCall Zerboni have all scored four this season. Becky Edwards is having a very good season in the midfield, scoring three goals and playing very well defensively.

Defensively, the addition of Rebecca Moros at midseason has given the Flash even more depth on their back line. Whitney Engen and Ali Riley are both candidates for Defender of the Year. Ashlyn Harris easily leads the league in goals against average.

I don't know what else can be said about Atlanta. The effort is there, but there are just too many young players and not enough overall talent. The Beat tried to add more experience midway through the season with Kacey White and Kelly Parker, but it just hasn't been enough. White's goal for Atlanta, the last one they have scored, is now a distant memory.

Goalkeeper Allison Whitworth has kept her team in several games and her defense is improving, but there is just too much to overcome here. The Beat have a lot of work ahead of them in the offseason.

Western New York will be looking to clinch an automatic berth to the finals, while Atlanta will be looking for a goal, something to salvage what remains of the 2011 campaign.

Wednesday Result: Western New York 2, magicJack 1

Western New York moved to the verge of clinching the regular season title with a 2-1 victory over magicJack on Wednesday. Marta scored both goals for the Flash, while Sophie Schmidt netted her first for magicJack.


August 7, 2011

Last Second Goal Lifts Philly over Shorthanded Sky Blue

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Lianne Sanderson scored in stoppage time to give Philadelphia a 2-1 victory over Sky Blue FC on Sunday. It was the third goal of the season for the English striker, who came into the match as a substitute in the 77th minute of action. The victory brings the Independence level with Western New York, but the Flash still have the inside track for first place with two games remaining to Philly's one.

Sky Blue played a player down for almost the entire second half as Carrie Dew picked up a second yellow card for taking down Danesha Adams early in the second half. She had picked up her first in the opening minutes of the first half.

Philadelphia came out buzzing and put good pressure on the Sky Blue goal in the opening minutes of the match. Veronica Boquete's free kick from 24 yards was heading just under the crossbar, but Jen Branam managed to tip the ball over the net in the 2nd minute. On the ensuing corner kick, Boquete started back in the center circle and found herself wide open as she charged toward the penalty area unmarked. But her shot from just outside the box went over the crossbar.

The Independence broke on top in the 17th minute. Leigh Ann Robinson sent a beautiful long ball up the center of the field for Tasha Kai. The ball had spin on it and took a hop to the right. Kai took time to measure it and then placed a beautiful shot in the upper left side over Branam to make it 1-0.

Sky Blue tried to pull even just three minutes later, but Eni Aluko's shot from a tough angle was saved by Nicole Barnhart. However, four minutes later, Tobin Heath made a run up the center of the field. Drawing the defense toward her, she pushed a nice little through pass to Aluko, who finished with her right foot past Barnhart and into the right side of the net to tie the score.

Branam made a nice save on Boquete a few minutes later as Kai's header hit the Spanish striker in stride. Boquete's blast from 20 yards was saved by the agile Branam. In the 41st minute, Adams laid the ball off for Tina DiMartino, whose shot from 22 yards was also saved by Branam.

Sky Blue nearly took the lead just before intermission. A Heather O'Reilly cross went over the head of several players to bounce right to Brittany Taylor. She flicked a header just wide of the left post.

Dew picked up her second yellow card of the match as she slid late into Adams who was dribbling up the center of the field. It did appear that Dew attempted to put on the brakes, but it was too late and Adams went tumbling over the Sky Blue defender and referee Ted Unkel pulled out the yellow and dismissed Dew from the match.

Sky Blue caught a bit of a break in the 67th minute, as Amy Rodriguez chipped a shot over a diving Branam into the right post. With Branam laying on the ground, the ball bounced right back into her lap.

Philadelphia continued to pressure as the half wore on. Laura del Rio hit a hard shot from 15 yards, but Kendall Fletcher headed it clear. In the 77th minute, Branam made a nice save on Rodriguez' shot inside the near post. Branam later made two big saves in one-on-one situations with del Rio to keep the game level at one.

But just when it appeared that Sky Blue might hang on for the tie, one that would have clinched a playoff berth for them, Philadelphia got the game winner. Amy Rodriguez nodded a header forward from the edge of the eighteen. The ball appeared to deflect slightly off of Tobin Heath's head to the front of the goal where three Philly players were waiting against one defender and Branam. Joanna Lohman was able to touch the ball past Branam to Sanderson who finished just before a lunging Kendall Fletcher could get there and the Independence had scored the winner.

For Sky Blue and especially for Jen Branam, it was a harsh result. They needed just a tie to clinch a playoff berth, but were denied in the closing moments. Branam certainly made several great saves to keep her team even until that last second goal. They now face a one game do-or-die contest in Boston next week, still needing only a tie to advance to the playoffs.

Philadelphia's record goes to 11-3-3, good for 36 points and tied with Western New York. They have clinched second place and still have an outside shot at the top position, but the Flash have the inside track with an additional match remaining. The Independence close the season next Sunday in Boca Raton against third place magicJack.

Note: Philadelphia is a perfect 9-0-0 with Veronica Boquete in the starting lineup.

Correction: It was Danielle Johnson, not Kendall Fletcher, who was the last defender trying to block the shot on the game winning goal.

WPS Standings
(1) Western New York 11-2-3, 36 pts; (1) Philadelphia 11-3-3, 36 pts; (3) magicJack 8-6-2, 25 pts; (4) Sky Blue FC 5-8-4, 19 pts; (5) Boston 4-9-4, 16 pts; (6) Atlanta 1-12-4, 7 pts.

Schedule:
Wednesday, August 10
Western New York at magicJack

Sunday, August 14
Philadelphia at magicJack
Sky Blue FC at Boston
Atlanta at Western New York

Playoff Scenarios:
Sky Blue needs a tie or win against Boston to clinch 4th place. Boston needs to win in order to clinch 4th place.

Philadelphia and Western New York are tied for 1st place, with Philadelphia owning the tiebreaker at this point. Western New York has a game in hand.

magicJack has clinched 3rd place and will host the first round of the playoffs.