April 5, 2009

WPS Opener - Athletica vs. Red Stars

My name is KC and I will be following Saint Louis Athletica of the WPS. I will try to give match reports when I can and blog about the team and the league in general. First off, let me say I am a fan first. Hopefully, my personal bias won't show too much. So anyway, I hope the readers enjoy and on to the first game.

From anyone's standpoint, and in spite of the result, the first game had to be considered a success for Athletica and the WPS. Athletica plays at Korte Stadium on the campus of Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. The capacity of the stadium was increased to 5,000 for Athletica. The official announced attendance of the first game was 5,008. Most of the bleachers were full and there were a few hundred people standing and watching from the sides. The crowd was enthusiastic and Chicago brought a nice sized group down to watch the game as well.

The game itself was a very hard fought battle. Athletica had a fairly strong wind at their back and dominated much of the first half. Saint Louis had a few chances, however, none were particularly dangerous. One shot was deflected over the cross bar by Red Stars' keeper Caroline Jonsson and another low shot from inside the box by Kerri Hanks went a few feet wide of the far post.

In spite of the general flow of play in the 1st half, Chicago may have had the best chance of the half on a hard shot from close in, which was stopped by Solo. I believe the shot was taken by Red Stars' midfielder Carli Lloyd, but I was at the opposite end of the field, so I'm not completely sure. Solo then gobbled up the rebound before any damage could be done.

The 2nd half was more evenly played. The wind died down somewhat and Chicago appeared more confident as the game wore on. Lindsay Tarpley scored in the 78th minute to give Chicago a 1-0 lead, a perfectly placed shot, just out of the reach of Hope Solo. From that point on, Chicago went on the defensive and Saint Louis had some promising chances, but were unable to get a dangerous shot on goal. Lori Chalupny made a nice run up the left side late in the game all the way to the goal line, but her short cross was cleared.

Athletica wasted several set piece opportunities. Many of their corners went directly to Jonsson and one that eluded her, was headed clear by Megan Rapinoe. Athletica also had a couple of free kicks inside 30 yards which were shot into the wall and cleared harmlessly. Athletica built up well from the back throughout the game, but were unable to put together anything in the final third of the field, and therefore, did not get many dangerous chances.

For her part, Jonsson had excellent command of her penalty area and Chicago defense was solid throughout. Frida Ostberg stood out with excellent backline play. Megan Rapinoe made a couple of nice serves, but overall was not that much of a factor.

For Athletica, Aluko looked dangerous at times, but never could get clear for a dangerous shot. Chalupny was active, but always had a Chicago defender glued to her. Daniela did not get involved as much as I might have hoped.

Both teams were missing key players. Cristiane and Heather Garriock were out for Chicago. Attacking midfielder Amanda Cinalli missed the game with an injury for Athletica. Although the play was uneven at times, that was to be expected because many of these players had been playing together for only 2-3 weeks. I think we will see the quality improve as the season wears on.

The game was a fairly rough affair at times and the referee appeared willing to let them play. Lori Chalupny of Athletica and Karen Carney of Chicago were the targets of much of the punishment. Chalupny was taken down by a hard challenge just inside the penalty area, early in the 2nd half. The referee ruled that the Chicago defender got the ball and ruled a corner kick. From my vantage point, I could not see it clearly enough to tell one way or the other. For a few anxious moments, Chalupny remained face down on the field. She finally struggled to her feet and had somewhat of a limp for a few minutes afterward.

The diminutive Karen Carney of Chicago also received a couple of hard knocks. The 5-3 Carney got the worse of a particularly hard challenge from 5-9 Athletica defender, Melissa Tancredi early in the 2nd half. The only yellow card of the match was issued to Nikki Krzysik very late in the contest. Both sides were not pleased with calls at different times throughout the game and Athletica keeper, Hope Solo, appeared to have words with the officiating crew after the game.

Overall, it was a very good win for Chicago on the road and a tough, disappointing loss for Athletica, who had the better of play for much of the game. But more importantly, the game was a success for WPS, the fans, and women's soccer in general. It was a lot of fun, a great atmosphere, and in spite of my team's loss, a pretty enjoyable game. I hope that the fans at Saturday night's game will continue to come out and watch these talented players. I encourage everyone to give this league and these players a chance.


Anonymous said...

Great analysis. Thank you!