April 26, 2009

Athletica and Sol Battle to a Scoreless Tie

Some things don't change. Saint Louis Athletica entered Saturday's game with the Los Angles Sol at Robert R. Hermann Stadium having been scoreless in their two previous contests. The Sol had not allowed a goal in three contests. Neither of those things changed. What did change was Athletica managed to earn their first point of the season, playing to a scoreless draw with Los Angeles.

Los Angeles was playing without a large portion of their offense as Marta, Han Duan, Camille Abily were all playing internationally this weekend. Athletica was without the services of defender Sara Larsson and midfielder Francielle, who were facing off against each other in Sweden.

It's certainly a game that shouldn't have ended scoreless. The game included two failed penalty kicks and several other scoring opportunities, especially for Athletica. They had the better of the play for much of the game and for the third straight game, they outshot their opponents, this time 17-8.

Both teams had a couple of good opportunities in the first half. Athletica midfielder Daniela sent a cross toward the Sol net early in the game that had their keeper Karina LeBlanc desperately leaping to keep the ball out of the net. The ball hit the top of the cross bar and bounced back onto the field of play, but Athletica were unable to muster a rebound attempt on the play. Later in the half, it was Daniela again sending a free kick into the box that Tina Ellertson slid to get her foot on, only to pop the ball straight into the air and go wide.

Shannon Box of the Sol let go a shot from about 25 yards out that Hope Solo made a nice diving stop on. Later in the half, Aya Miyama hit a shot that deflected off of an Athletica defender and went narrowly wide of the right post. After being outplayed most of the first half, the Sol was able to dominate play for the last 10 minutes of the half, but were unable to score in spite of a strong wind at their back.

The 2nd half started with Saint Louis subbing Sheree Gray for Nikki Cross, who was making her first start for the team. Not far into the half, Kerri Hanks sent a hard shot that also went just wide of the right post. At the 53 minute mark, Coach Jorge Barcellos subbed Eniola Aluko for Hanks. Aluko had just traveled from England where she had helped her national team to a 3-0 victory over Norway. She seemed to provide a spark for St. Louis, who became stronger as the half wore on. They continued to apply pressure and in the 70th minute, Aluko fired a shot that went high and wide right from the 18 yard mark.

However, in the 74th minute, Tina Ellertson was whistled for bringing down Katie Larkin in the Athletica penalty area. Athletica protested the call to no avail and Aly Wagner of the Sol stepped forward to take the penalty. Her low shot to the left side of the net was fairly well placed, but did not have enough pace to beat Solo, who anticipated correctly to make the save. It certainly didn't appear that Wagner had struck the ball very well.

Athletica quickly countered following the save and seconds later, Daniela received a cross about 12 yards out and just left of the Sol goal. She was unmarked, but her shot sailed well left of the goal and her frustration was evident as she pulled her jersey over her face.

Saint Louis continued to control play and in the 82nd minute, Sol defender Allison Falk was whistled for a hand ball on a cross from Aluko. Athletica captain Lori Chalupny attempted the penalty, but it was definitely not one of her best and LeBlanc saved the shot that was only a few feet to her left.

Several more Athletica opportunities followed. Daniela shot just wide of the net in the 86th minute, followed by Chalupny's diving attempt at a header directly in front of the LA net, that she just missed connecting on. A minute later, it was Angie Woznuk settling the ball from about 25 yards and sending a shot toward the upper right side of the goal that was nicely saved by LeBlanc. After that, two more dangerous crosses from Aluko failed to produce results. One was deflected over the net by a Sol defender and the other eluded Athletica players and rolled harmlessly through the box.

Both goalkeepers played very well, although LeBlanc was more tested. She was able to run her scoreless streak to 4 games. Daniela played her best game so far, after having some injury problems early in the season. Aluko once again provided energy to the front line, this time as a 2nd half substitution. Athletica's backline played well, with the exception of the penalty.

Martina Franko made her debut for the Sol on the backline. Katie Larkin and Christie Welsh filled in up front for Marta and Han Duan, but were unable to create any serious chances, outside of the penalty on which Larkin was tripped. Boxx, Wagner, and Miyama were most active for Los Angeles, but the absence of Marta obviously affected the team.

Next week, Los Angeles travels to Boston to meet the Breakers, who were 4-0 losers to Chicago on Saturday. Saint Louis heads to Washington to face the Freedom in a Sunday night match on FSC.


AthleticaYetToScore said...

Really like the analysis, KC. Amazing that both keepers had to go up against PKs and both players made saves. When will Athletica score?

KC said...

Thank you for the kind words. I think both Aly Wagner and Lori Chalupny would tell you that neither of them struck the ball very well on the penalties. LeBlanc has been great so far, Solo has been the victim of some defensive breakdowns. Athletica's problem seems to be that they have scorers, but not many creators. Daniela has been injured, Chalupny has just been shadowed everywhere, so Aluko is really the only person who can create chances on her own. I'm hoping this changes soon!