June 2, 2009

WPS Midweek-Chicago Red Stars at Los Angeles Sol

Chicago travels to Los Angeles for the league's first midweek contest on Wednesday night. The game will be webcast at http://www.losangelessol.com/ starting at 7:25pm pacific/10:25pm eastern. It is a story of two teams going in opposite directions, Los Angeles solidly in first place, while the Red Stars have suffered three straight losses and have been outscored 5-0 over that time.

The Sol are coming off of a relatively easy 2-0 victory over Saint Louis Athletica. Karina LeBlanc earned her 7th shutout in 8 starts. Opponents (actually one opponent) have scored only 2 goals against Los Angeles. In front of LeBlanc is a strong back line of Brittany Bock, Martina Franko, Allison Falk, Stephanie Cox, and sometimes Manya Makoski, when she's not patrolling in the midfield.

Marta has only scored once in the last five games, but that doesn't mean she hasn't contributed in the offensive end. She picked up an assist Saturday on Camille Abily's goal. Shannon Boxx scored the other Los Angeles goal, making it two for the midfielders. About the only thing missing for the Sol is to get Han Duan more involved in the offense.

It seems like Chicago ought to be a better attacking team, but they have shown it on only one occasion, a 4-0 victory over Boston. The Red Stars have gone an incredible 308 minutes without a goal. A few Red Star players have scored recently though. Megan Rapinoe and Lindsay Tarpley both scored for the US National Team a week ago and
Cristiane scored in an exhibition game against the Chicago Red Eleven. Maybe, this will give them some confidence heading into Wednesday night's game. One would think that between Rapinoe, Tarpley, Cristiane, and Karen Carney, that one of them would catch fire soon.

The Red Stars have played pretty well defensively, although they aren't as invincible as they appeared earlier in the season. Their back line of Marian Dalmy, Nikki Krzysik, Ifeoma Dieke, and Chioma Igwe has been strong, outside of Dieke's hard luck own goal against Saint Louis. The Red Stars' midfield play has been spotty as of late and that's one area they need to improve. Coach Emma Hayes moved Frida Östberg up from the back line, but that move doesn't appear to be working and Carli Lloyd has been ineffective at times.

Lloyd was injured while training for the US-Canada match and is listed as being "out" for this game. Östberg will likely move back to defender, as Ifeoma Dieke is also listed as being "out" for the game with a hamstring injury. In addition, the Red Stars will be without oft-injured Heather Garriock. For the Sol, Aly Wagner is listed as "unlikely."

So what we have is a matchup between one team that hasn't given up a goal for over 300 minutes against a team that hasn't scored in over 300 minutes. A shutout would be the logical conclusion, but I've got to believe the Red Stars are going to come out of this funk and get a goal, even if it doesn't mean a victory. Missing Dieke will hurt Chicago's defense. A Sol victory gives them a nearly insurmountable 11 point lead on the rest of the league at only the halfway point in the season. There's really no reason to think that they won't accomplish that.

Other WPS Notes...

The Washington Freedom have taken over 2nd place with their victory over FC Gold Pride. The Freedom are now unbeaten over their last five games with a 3-0-2 record. They continue to pour in goals, having scored 3 or more goals on three different occasions. They lead the WPS with a total of 15 goals in just 8 games. They have still yet to post a shutout, however, but have held their opponents to just one goal a game over their past three matches since Erin McLeod took over goalkeeper duties.

Kelly Smith grabbed the league scoring leadership with her goal in a losing cause against Sky Blue. Smith finished off an Alex Scott cross after SBFC's keeper Jen Branam had trouble handling it and the ball slid behind her. Smith now has five goals for the year, but has had recurring knee problems and went down with an injury late in the first half of that game.

If you were seeing blue on Sunday, chances are you were watching the Sky Blue FC-Boston Breaker match. Both sides wore blue uniforms, Sky Blue in their light (Carolina) blue home jerseys and Boston in their darker blue home jerseys. I can only guess that someone decided that Boston's road whites were more similar to Sky Blue's home colors than their dark blues. Fittingly, there were six North Carolina alums on the field at the same time. Boston had Kristine Lilly and Maggie Tomecka, while Sky Blue had Yael Averbuch, Jen Branam, Heather O'Reilly, and Kacey White. White scored what proved to be the game winning goal. All in all, it was a very blue day in Piscataway, New Jersey.

Gold Pride defender Carrie Dew has had a rough couple of weeks. Two weekends ago, she was whistled for a foul resulting in a penalty and a goal for Los Angeles, on what was a very close play. This past weekend, Dew received back-to-back yellows resulting in an ejection. Dew was whistled for a foul and given a yellow for a hard tackle on Abby Wambach of the Freedom. Apparently, she made a remark to the referee about the call and quickly received a second yellow. Quite frankly, I've seen far worse fouls go uncarded this year, although I know the league has been trying to crack down on rough play recently.

When Saint Louis takes the field this weekend against Sky Blue FC, they will be playing at their 7th different venue in 8 games. This wouldn't be so unusual except that three of those venues have been for home games. Athletica opened the season at Korte Stadium at SIU-Edwardsville and played their 1st and 3rd home games there. In between, they played Los Angeles at Hermann Field at Saint Louis University. Now, the team is moving its remaing home games to Soccer Park in Fenton, Missouri.