May 29, 2009

WPS Weekend Matches-May 30-31

Saint Louis Athletica at Los Angeles Sol

When these two teams last met, Saint Louis hadn't scored a goal, much less won a game and Los Angeles was in first place. The two teams played to a scoreless tie on April 25th. The Sol is still at the top of the table, solidifying their hold by defeating FC Gold Pride 2-0 last week. However, Athletica's fortunes have changed, earning 8 points in their last four games. Back in April, Kendall Fletcher and Christie Welsh wore LA Sol kits against Saint Louis, but they have traded in those for Athletica green. One important thing to remember is that Marta didn't play in the first contest.

The addition of Fletcher has definitely helped Athletica. She was involved in both goals against Chicago, getting an assist on one. After playing only 45 minutes for the Sol, she has played 123 minutes in just two games since arriving in Saint Louis. Although she still appears a step slow at times, probably due to her lack of playing time, she has proven to be a hard worker for Athletica.

However, the real offensive spark for the past month has been Eniola Aluko, the talented English striker. Aluko scored her first goal against the Freedom early in the month and scored a goal and caused another against the Red Stars last weekend. She's fast and has the skill to beat defenders one-on-one. The problem is that outside of Aluko and the injured Daniela, Athletica doesn't create a lot of scoring chances. A skilled defensive team like the Sol can neutralize one player.

Meanwhile, the Sol just keep clicking. They have shut out 7 of their 8 opponents, giving up just 2 goals for the year. They didn't miss a beat last week with Val Henderson replacing Karina LeBlanc, who was in Canada for her national team. LeBlanc will be back and she has a fine back line in front of her including Cox, Falk, Franko, and either Bock or Makoski. Marta has provided most of the offense, but others are starting to chip in. Last week, Aya Miyama forced a penalty which Camille Abily converted and Han Duan scored her first goal of the year.

If Saint Louis is to have a chance, they must score first. If the Sol get the lead, then their defense can blanket Athletica as they wait for opportunities to spring their lethal counterattack, either with Marta or as was the case last week, with Han Duan. Athletica is most likely going to attack from their wings on the outside, which is when they appear to be most dangerous. Hope Solo will have to be on her game and her defense cannot afford mistakes.

FC Gold Pride at Washington Freedom

These two teams met a month ago in a wild scoring affair that saw Washington edge Gold Pride 4-3 on an Abby Wambach goal in stoppage. This time, the game sets up as a battle for 3rd place as FC Gold Pride enters the game with 10 points, while Washington has 9 points.

Since then, Canadian Erin McLeod has taken over in goal for the Freedom and the difference has been noticeable. Before McLeod, Washington was giving up 2.4 goals per game. Since then, they have allowed only 1 goal per game. Most opposing teams concentrate on defending Wambach and rightfully so, but the Freedom have several weapons and eight different players have scored a goal. Much of the Freedom's offense comes through the midfield, especially from Sonia Bompastor and Lori Lindsey. Gold Pride must beware of set pieces in their own end. Washington can be dominating in the air and 8 of their 12 goals have come on headers. Last week, Cat Whitehill put one away off of a corner kick.

If things hold true, Gold Pride should get some chances of their own. Even in last week's 2-1 Freedom victory, Sky Blue had several opportunities. FCGP is going through a scoring slump with only one goal in their last 3 games. After missing last week due to national team duty, Christine Sinclair returns to the lineup, joining Tiffeny Milbrett as Bay Area's biggest offensive threats. After getting off to a fast start, Tiffany Weimer has been quiet as of late, with no goals and only one shot during that three week scoring slump. It has also been a long time since Eriko Arakawa has entered the scorer's book and one would think she is due. The injury to Kandace Wilson is a huge blow to Gold Pride. She is a speedy outside defender who can give opponents fits when she goes forward. She will be missed on both ends of the field.

The keys for Gold Pride are to not give any fouls in their own end and to try to control the midfield with their passing game, as they did in the 2nd half against Athletica two weeks ago. Formiga may be the player to watch there. McLeod has been a breath of fresh air for the Freedom, but they still need to tighten their defense as they give up way too many chances. The Freedom will use overlapping runs from Gilbeau when they can and get the ball to Bompastor to work her magic. I don't think we'll see 7 goals as in the first meeting, but expect there to be plenty of scoring.

Boston Breakers at Sky Blue FC

Sky Blue returns home for the first time since April 11th and a lot has happened since then. Ian Sawyers is out as head coach and assistant coach Kelly Lindsey has been installed as the interim head coach. Lindsey has the unenviable task to bring this team together and reverse course for the last place Jersey team. The 2nd place Breakers come calling on a televised FSC matchup on Sunday evening.

In spite of their 1-4-2 record, Sky Blue has been competitive and have only lost one game by more than a goal. They have had to deal with a number of key injuries including Christie Rampone, Sarah Walsh, and Natasha Kai. Kai has fought injuries all year, but the tough Hawaiian has played in every game in spite of it. She is one player that Lindsey must look to for a bigger impact. Yael Averbuch is another. Averbuch started just one game under Sawyers, but Lindsey had the 1st round draft pick in the lineup last week and she may be ready for a breakout performance.

Sky Blue has generally played solid defense, employing the offside trap to its fullest. The defense is led by Rampone, Anita Asante, Megan Schnur, and Keeley Dowling. The problem has been scoring and they have netted just four in 7 games. SBFC has been getting more chances as of late and the key for them may be the play of a talented group of midfielders headed by Heather O'Reilly and Collette McCallum.

Boston needs to avoid letdowns like the 4-0 loss to Chicago in order to maintain their hold on 2nd place. They can be inconsistent on defense, playing very well against LA and Marta, but giving up 4 goals to Chicago and 2 to Gold Pride. There's not much question about their offense, though, as Kelly Smith is leading the league in scoring and is always dangerous. Breakers' fans are still waiting for Amy Rodriguez, who certainly must be frustrated. Other players have stepped up though, including Kelly Schmedes and Stacy Bishop. The Breaker defense is led by Alex Scott, who is having a very good season, Amy LePeilbet and Heather Mitts. Note that at the time of this post, Kelly Smith and Heather Mitts are both listed as questionable for the match.

The Breakers had better not take Sky Blue lightly. Adversity can have a way of bringing a team together, much as it did for Saint Louis after Daniela's injury. It could come down to a battle of veteran goalkeepers, Kristin Luckenbill for Boston and Jen Branam for Sky Blue.


S.G. on May 29, 2009 at 8:47 PM said...

Nice work, KC.