May 22, 2009

WPS Weekend Matches-May 23 and 24

This should be an interesting week in WPS as it is a regional rivalry weekend around the league. Also, all games will match teams that are fairly close to each other in the standings. The Washington Freedom hosts Sky Blue FC, trying to protect their slim one point hold on 5th place. Saint Louis travels to Chicago where they will try to catch the 4th place Red Stars. First place Los Angeles heads to Buck Shaw Stadium to take on 3rd place FC Gold Pride.

This is also a challenging week for WPS coaches as they try to juggle their lineups due to nearly 20 players missing for the upcoming USA-Canada match on Monday. Each team will have the opportunity to show off their depth, with some teams having as many as 5 changes to their starting lineups.

This weekend also marks the first WPS/MLS doubleheader at RFK stadium on Saturday. The Washington Freedom play Sky Blue in the opener, followed by DC United and Real Salt Lake.

Sky Blue FC at Washington Freedom

Although both teams are near the bottom of the table, they have shown improvement as of late. The Freedom are 1-0-2 in their last three games, while Sky Blue scored their first victory two weeks ago in Chicago and battled LA before losing on a late goal by Marta.

For the second week in a row, the Freedom will be without the services of Abby Wambach. It didn't seem to faze them last week as they tied 2nd place Boston on the road. Perhaps the biggest news in the Washington camp, though, is that they finally have their keeper. Erin McLeod looked very good last week and made a sparkling 2nd half save on Kelly Smith to preserve the tie.

Washington does a good job of spreading around the offense as 7 different players have scored this year. Last weekend, it was Rebecca Moros finding the net for the first time. Even when Wambach is present, the key player to the Freedom's offense is often Sonia Bompastor. Bompastor has two goals and an assist through just 6 games. Washington's back line is anchored by veteran Cat Whitehill.

Sky Blue will be missing several key players for the game. Christie Rampone, Heather O'Reilly, and Kelly Parker will all be playing in the US-Canada match. Additionally, Sarah Walsh is listed as unavailable due to a hamstring injury and Natasha Kai suffered an injury last week. Kai is available to play, but most likely won't be 100%. SBFC has had problems scoring all year long, tallying only 3 goals to this point. They finally seem to have settled on a goalkeeper, going with Jen Branam for the past 3 games. She has given up just two goals in those three games, unfortunately a couple of 1-0 losses. Look for 1st round draft pick Yael Averbuch to have a bigger role this week.

With so many key pieces missing, it will be an uphill battle for Sky Blue on the road. Meanwhile the Freedom, who have shown a versatile offense, now have a solid keeper to go with it and could be poised to make a run up the table.

Saint Louis Athletica at Chicago Red Stars

This match is probably the most affected by national duty call ups. Chicago will be missing Marian Dalmy, Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, and Lindsay Tarpley for Saturday's game. Saint Louis will be missing Lori Chalupny, Hope Solo, and Melissa Tancredi. Also absent for Athletica will be two other starters, Daniela and Kia McNeill, who is serving her one game suspension this weekend. So with 9 starters unavailable between the two teams, several bench players will get a chance to show what they can do.

Chicago has been suffering through a goal scoring slump, which now stretches to over 200 minutes. With Athletica missing two of their big back line players and Solo, the Red Stars should get opportunities in this match. Cristiane is yet to score, but has shown improvement each week. Karen Carney has clearly been one of the Red Star's biggest threats this season. Frida Östberg will likely command Chicago's midfield after starting the season on defense and Chioma Igwe should get a start on the back line. Brittany Klein will be asked to shoulder more of the midfield load with Lloyd and Rapinoe out. The good news is that two injured players, Danesha Adams and Heather Garriock may be ready to play. As usual, Caroline Jönsson will guard the net. Jönsson has a 0.67 goals against average for the year.

With Daniela injured and Chalupny unavailable, Saint Louis has a gaping hole in the middle. Those two players have been responsible for a large portion of Athletica's possession. Newcomer Kendall Fletcher should help after coming over from Los Angeles. Sara Larsson returned to the lineup against Gold Pride and it will be interesting to see if Barcellos will use her at defense or midfield. Saint Louis will probably look to either Niki Cross or Sheree Gray to fill in at one of the back line positions. Christie Welsh gives Athletica another weapon forward to go with Eniola Aluko and Kerri Hanks. Keeper Jillian Loyden has big shoes to fill, seeing her first action for starter Hope Solo. Barcellos is confident his backup can handle the job.

It is really hard to see Athletica mustering any offense without their two talented midfielders. Barcellos could opt to play kick and run, but that's not his style. Cristiane seems due to break through for a goal and Carney is ever dangerous. With the home field advantage, I give Emma Hayes' Red Stars the edge here.

Los Angeles Sol at FC Gold Pride

This game is a match up between backup keepers, as Val Henderson of Los Angeles and Allison Whitworth of Gold Pride will be seeing their first action of the season. They will be filling in for two top notch goalies in Karina LeBlanc and Nicole Barnhart. Both teams are coming off of 1-0 victories.

Certainly, LeBlanc will be missed as she has posted 6 shutouts in 7 outings. LA will also be without the services of Shannon Boxx, Brittany Bock, and Martina Franko. Their star player, Marta, will be there and she is sure to give the Gold Pride defense fits. She has scored 4 of the Sol's 7 goals this season. French National Team player Camille Abily has played very well for Los Angeles and assisted on Marta's goal last weekend. Aya Miyama and Han Duan are also key players in the Sol's offense. With the steady Boxx and the versatile Bock in Toronto and with Welsh and Fletcher traded to Saint Louis, the Sol's roster is razor thin. During the week, the Sol promoted Liz Bogus to full roster status and signed 36 year old Keri Sanchez to add depth.

FC Gold Pride is coming off a split on their midwestern road trip and their victory over Chicago put them in 3rd place, just 4 points behind Los Angeles. Christine Sinclair was the WPS Player of the Week for her game winning goal against the Red Stars, but she'll be with the Canadian team this weekend and Rachel Buehler will also be missing. Without Barnhart and Buehler, Gold Pride has a tough task facing them to defend against the Sol. Gold Pride will still be strong at midfield with Formiga and Leslie Osborne. Formiga is one of the most talented and steadiest players in the league. Even minus Sinclair, Bay Area has capable offensive players in Eriko Arakawa, Tiffeny Milbrett, and Tiffany Weimer.

With the offensive talent on these two teams, Whitworth and Henderson should have their hands full. Look for both teams to throw numerous shots at the net early to challenge these young, untested keepers.