May 8, 2009

This Weekend's WPS Matches-May 9th and 10th

FC Gold Pride at Saint Louis Athletica

It appears that Saint Louis will have a full roster for tonight's match...with one glaring omission. With Daniela sidelined indefinitely, Athletica acquired Kendall Fletcher and Christie Welsh from the Sol. In addition, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, both Amanda Cinalli and Sara Larsson will be available after sitting out time with injuries. Kia McNeill's suspension will be delayed by a game, so she will also be ready to go. Undoubtedly, Coach Jorge Barcellos and captain Lori Chalupny have a monumental task facing them to try to hold this team together. I don't know how much we will see of the new additions, since they have not yet practiced with the team. It will be interesting to see who Athletica will start at forward. Aluko is a given, but will he go to Tancredi, Hanks, or Welsh for the 2nd forward. Hanks sent a perfect pass through the defense for Aluko who neatly placed it in the corner of the net for the team's third goal last week (even though the assist was mistakenly given to Daniela). Chalupny will certainly be the focus, with Daniela out, much as she was the first game of the season.

For FC Gold Pride, Brazilian Adriane saw her first action of the year, just 6 minutes, but quickly contributed with an assist on Leigh Ann Robinson's winner in the 86th minute. Interestingly, Coach Albertin Montoya chose not to start Eriko Arakawa last week. Ageless Tiffeny Milbrett has been starting and has scored twice this season. Nicole Barnhart recorded her first shutout last week and made some excellent saves in the process. Gold Pride also features tough defender Rachel Buehler and solid midfielder Formiga.

One problem for Athletica is how their defense will match up with the likes of Arakawa, Milbrett, and the creative Tiffany Weimer, along with the speedy Kandace Wilson. Gold Pride's defense has been surprisingly vulnerable at times and Aluko could give them fits if she has support up front. But on her good days, Barnhart can be tough to beat. This is a tough game to call, in fact, a tough game to even guess the starting lineups.

Boston Breakers at Los Angeles Sol

This is a battle between the top two teams in the standings and a rematch of last week's game won by the Breakers, 2-1. It marked the first loss for LA and the first time they had given up a goal. The teams switch coasts for this one, which will be played Sunday afternoon at the Home Depot Center.

I'm sure that Los Angeles is glad for the immediate chance to avenge last week's loss. For the 2nd straight week they were outshot and they do not seem to resemble the juggernaut that they appeared to be in the first 3 games. Karina LeBlanc actually appeared to be human, reacting late on Kelly Smith's goal in the opening minutes of the match. There were bright spots as Brittany Bock picked up her first goal. Surprisingly, Coach Abner Rogers used only 12 players in that game, the only substitution being Katie Larkin for Camille Abily late in the game. After starting the four previous games, Allison Falk wasn't used last week. I'm not sure if she was under the weather or if the addition of Martina Franko has pushed her out of the starting lineup.

For Boston, last week's victory was a big one. A loss would have put them 7 points out of 1st. Instead, they now have the opportunity to take over the top of the table this week. Defensively, the Breakers held Marta to no goals and only two shots. This was the same defense that surrendered 4 goals to Chicago the previous week. Kelly Smith has scored in every game that she has played in (she did not play in Chicago after returning from England). Kristine Lilly added a goal in the 2nd half. Breakers' Coach Tony DiCicco is getting a lot out of players that are less than household names like Kelly Schmedes and Stacy Bishop, who have two assists each.

Boston has struggled on the road, being demolished in Chicago and losing at Gold Pride earlier in the season. They will have to lift their game in order to win back-to-back against a talented Los Angeles team. It should be an interesting game between two teams with many offensive weapons. My prediction is that the Sol will bounce back and take this one in their home stadium.

Sky Blue FC at Chicago

The NJ/NY side makes it way to Chicago for the 2nd time this season. The first match ended in a scoreless tie amidst a rainstorm in Chicago. Chicago sits in 3rd place, trailing LA by 2 points and Boston by 1, but they have a game in hand on both of those two teams. Sky Blue is tied for last with Athletica and have scored only once this season.

Chicago had their best game of the season two weeks ago as they blitzed Boston for a 4-0 decision. The Red Stars are led by what I think is the toughest back line in the league with Dalmy, Dieke, Krzysik, and Ostberg. Caroline Jonsson has been fabulous in goal, making good decisions and showing a lot of quickness. Carli Lloyd leads the midfield, but perhaps Brittany Klein has been the most pleasant surprise there. Five players have contributed goals to the Red Star offense, including young English National player Karen Carney, who is small in stature, but big in talent.

For some reason, Sky Blue just can't seem to score. Their only goal came in a 1-1 tie with Gold Pride, scored by Heather O'Reilly. Natasha Kai, who received a concussion earlier in the season, has yet to score. Given their limited offensive output, they are lucky to have gained two ties. The good news is Christie Rampone returned to the lineup last week for the first time since the opener and her field leadership alone has to help Sky Blue. Another question is whether the goalie-go-round is still going on. Jen Branam and Karen Bardsley have shared time this year, but Branam played the full 90 last week, giving up only a late goal to Leigh Ann Robinson.

One would think this would be a no-brainer, given Sky Blue's anemic offense and Chicago's rock solid defense. My prediction is a Chicago victory, however, a Sky Blue breakthrough would not surprise me.