June 25, 2009

Match Report-Los Angeles 2, Saint Louis 1

Saint Louis dominated play, outshot Los Angeles 25-12, outcornered them 12-2, but in the only statistic that really matters, they fell to the Sol by the score of 2-1. Second half goals by Han Duan and Marta gave LA a 2-0 lead and then they held on for dear life to gain the three points. Karina LeBlanc was the difference, making 8 saves to give the victory to the Sol. Los Angeles is now 13 points clear of 2nd place Boston, who defeated Washington 1-0 in Wednesday night's other contest. Meanwhile, Athletica is clinging to the 4th and final playoff spot with 14 points.

The first half started with the Sol getting the first real chance of the game 5 minutes in. An Aya Miyama free kick from about 25 yards out got through to Shannon Boxx in front of the goal, with Athletica apparently thinking she was offsides. However, the ball somehow got through Boxx into the waiting arms of Saint Louis keeper Hope Solo. It was one of the few chances LA would have all night.

At about the 10 minute mark, Lori Chalupny hit a shot that LeBlanc made a diving save on. Several more chances followed, with shots going either wide or handled by LeBlanc. In the 28th minute, Amanda Cinalli set up Chalupny whose header was low to the left corner, but LeBlanc again slid to her right to make the save. In the 34th minute, LeBlanc made another nice save on Eniola Aluko's shot. The first half ended scoreless.

Early in the 2nd half, LA coach Abner Rogers made what was probably the key substitution of the match, sending in Han Duan and it quickly paid dividends. Han got the ball just outside the box, flipped the ball over the Athletica defender, outraced her to the ball, and finished with a shot in the upper right hand corner of the net to give the Sol a 1-0 lead. It was a great individual effort by the Chinese striker.

If Athletica's pressure in the 1st half was intense, they turned it up a notch after that goal. The chances were coming almost every minute at one point. The best of the chances was in the 62nd minute as Angie Woznuk struck a free kick which found Chalupny who hit a hard shot that LeBlanc made a great save on. Aluko was just late to get to the rebound. This was followed over the next 5 minutes with shots from a Melissa Tancredi header (saved by LeBlanc), a hard shot from Woznuk (just wide), a Christie Welsh shot (blocked at the defense), another Tancredi shot (saved by LeBlanc), and another Welsh shot (high and wide).

But as has happened so often this year, a quick counterattack and a Marta goal got the Sol out of trouble. Marta appeared to finish with a flick from the outside of her foot past Hope Solo to put the Sol up 2-0. The goal seemed to temporarily dishearten Saint Louis and Los Angeles controlled the next five minutes.

Coach Jorge Barcellos decided he had to go all out in the offensive end, subbing in forwards Kerri Hanks and Ashlee Pistorius. The Hanks substitution paid off with a goal. In the 80th minute, Hanks received the ball just outside the box and dropped a pass to Aluko, who struck a nice through ball to Hanks. Hanks made no mistake in blasting home the shot, bringing Athletica to within one goal. It was Hanks' first goal of the season.

Saint Louis continued to put pressure on for the final 10 minutes. Pistorius manoeuvered for a shot, but struck it well wide. A long ball into the box saw Hanks go up with LeBlanc in an attempt for a header, with the ball getting through LeBlanc's hands, only for the Sol's defense to clear it away. Another shot by Athletica was briefly fumbled by the Sol's keeper, but she recovered just in time to hold on. In stoppage, a Stephanie Logterman cross into the penalty area saw an Athletica player nearly get ran over, but there was no call and the Sol once again cleared. It was the last good chance of the match.

After the game, Barcellos was quoted as saying
"we missed a goal almost from inside the goal", which was an apt description of Athletica's finishing and frustration. Finishing has been a problem for Saint Louis all season and it was never more evident than in this game. Set pieces were wasted by Athletica all night, whether it was a couple of corners going behind the net or sailing long of their target.

For the Sol, LeBlanc saved the day with several great stops. Han Duan's brilliant effort gave the Sol their first goal and Marta sealed the deal with the Sol's second goal. Allison Falk headed quite a few of Athletica's many corner kicks clear. Give coach Abner Rogers a big thumbs up for making a key substitution with Han at a pivitol point in the game.

For Athletica, several players played well in spite of the disappointing result. Woznuk easily had her best game of the year. Hanks finally got her first goal, lifting the weight of the world off of her shoulders. Christie Welsh was dangerous, getting off seven shots for the match and constantly putting pressure on LeBlanc. Kendall Fletcher and Kia McNeill did a great job of shutting down Marta and company in the 1st half. But as has been the case too often this year, just one or two mistakes by the defense cost them dearly.

Both teams return to action this weekend. Los Angeles doesn't have much time to recover from the heat and exhaustion in Saint Louis as they return home to face Chicago in a Saturday afternoon match. Athletica travels to New Jersey to face Sky Blue FC in the FSC game of the week on Sunday evening.