May 5, 2009

Observations-Athletica vs. Freedom

I was fortunate enough to be able to make the trip to Germantown, Maryland for this game. Since it was televised on FSC, I'll dispose with the normal game report and just share some observations from Sunday night's 3-3 tie between Saint Louis and Washington.

The Game

There were six goals in the game and quite frankly, several more could have been scored. It wasn't always a well played game, but it certainly was an exciting match. Athletica dominated early in the game, but then the Freedom took over and had the better of play for the rest of the 1st half and most of the 2nd half.

Obviously, the serious injury to Daniela overshadowed the result of the game. She was clearly the woman of the match for Athletica and at times, dominated at midfield. Her 2nd goal of the match was one of the best strikes of the year, a laser just inside the far post from 25-30 yards out. Unfortunately, it may well be the last we see of the talented Brazilian midfielder for the season, as it appears
her injury is season ending.

Sonia Bompastor had another great effort for the Freedom. She has played consistently well this season and against Athletica, she managed to put away two headers, both of which brought her team even after they had fallen behind. The French National Team star has clearly been one of the best players in the league to this point.

Athletica had defensive lapses on several occasions, but were usually able to recover. However, it was in the air that they lost the game. All three Freedom goals were headers, surprisingly none of which came from Abby Wambach. Second half substitution, Kerri Hanks, finally made her offensive presence felt placing a nice pass through the middle which Eni Aluko finished with a low shot in the corner. As always, Aluko was dangerous and her hard work paid off with her 1st goal of the season. Tina Ellertson also had a strong game.

For the Freedom, I thought Jill Gilbeau had a nice game, earning an assist on Bompastor's first goal and making several nice overlapping runs up the right side. Lisa DeVanna scored her 1st goal of the season, a header that Hope Solo was unable to react to. The Freedom's goalkeeping adventures continued as they allowed 3 goals for the third consecutive game. Kati Jo Spisak, a St. Louis native, was very good at times and made a couple of sparkling saves. She was certainly not to blame on the 1st goal as she made a great kick save off of a Melissa Tancredi shot, before Daniela buried the rebound. However, she may have played a bit of a bad angle on Aluko's goal and on a couple occasions, she looked shaky allowing balls to elude her grasp which could have been costly.

Lineup Changes

Coach Jorge Barcellos decided to start Francielle on the outside of the backline, instead of at midfield. The 19 year old Brazilian seemed ill-suited for the new position, as she gave Bompastor too many easy runs up the left side. To his credit, Barcellos recognized this early on and switched Lori Chalupny back and moved Francielle up to her normal midfield spot. Unfortunately, Daniela's injury forced Barcellos' hand and he was forced to move Chalupny back to midfield and insert Niki Cross on the backline for the final minutes of the game. Cross is a capable defender, but she had played only 45 minutes this season and to be inserted in a pressure situation with so little playing time under her belt had to be tough. The winning header by Bompastor was made in the middle of a trio of Athletica defenders, Lisa Stoia, Elise Weber, and Cross.

Chippy Play

There have been several matches marked by physical play so far this season. This game was most certainly one of them. Athletica seemed intent on not letting Wambach have a replay of the previous game where she dominated Gold Pride in the air. There were definitely some nasty shots dished out in the 1st half by Saint Louis, most notably by Kia McNeill who received a card for one such effort. This has probably been brewing since the first match of the season, when Athletica thought Lori Chalupny was roughed up. Additionally, Wambach collided hard with Athletica keeper Hope Solo on one play.

The physical play culminated on Wambach's late challenge on Daniela which resulted in a serious injury. I'm sure there was no intent to injure Daniela, but in my opinion, it could easily have been a red card for a "serious foul play." The league really needs to reel in some of the physical play on all sides, before further injuries happen.

The Wounded

Barcellos is now in the unenviable position of trying to juggle his lineup yet again. He was already missing defender Sara Larsson and attacking midfielder Amanda Cinalli due to injuries. Now he has to deal with the loss of Daniela, arguably his best player for the last two games. Adding to his problems, Stephanie Logterman is completing her studies in Texas and Tina Ellertson came out of Sunday's game with what appeared to be a mild injury.

According to Tom Timmerman of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, two options that Athletica are exploring are a trade or
a foreign signing. But with so many key players injured, do they really have anybody they can afford to trade? The only good news is that Saint Louis has a bye week after this week's match against FC Gold Pride. Hopefully, that will give Larsson and Cinalli time to heal.

Maryland SoccerPlex and the Hall of Freedom

Overall, I think the Maryland SoccerPlex is a nice facility and there was an enjoyable atmosphere at the game. The only thing I might want to add is some goal line seating on each end, thus adding maybe a couple hundred seats. The official attendance for the game was 5,149 and Freedom fans are to be commended for supporting their team in yet another evening of soggy weather.

Former USWNT players Mia Hamm and Siri Mullinix were honored by induction into the
Hall of Freedom at halftime. Both players were members of the WUSA version of the Washington Freedom and led their team to the 2003 WUSA championship. Mullinix starred in goal for the Freedom and was the starting keeper for the 2000 US Olympic Team that won a silver medal. Hamm, of course, is a soccer legend. Among her accomplishments, two Olympic gold medals (1996, 2004), two World Cup championships (1991, 1999), and two FIFA Player of the Year awards (2001, 2002).


S.G. on May 5, 2009 at 8:44 PM said...

I am glad you were able to make it to the game -- excellent insight, KC.