June 16, 2009

WPS Midweek Games & Notes

Three teams start the 2nd half of their season on Wednesday night, while the Boston Breakers wrap up the first half of theirs. With only 5 points separating 2nd place from last, almost every game from here on will impact the playoff race.

FC Gold Pride at Boston Breakers

Both of these teams are in need of the three points at stake in this game. FC Gold Pride has only gotten one point in their last three games, while Boston has only salvaged 2 points in their last four. The Breakers haven't won a game since beating the Sol back on May 2nd. These two teams first met in each team's opener, with FCGP coming out on top, 2-1.

Christine Sinclair has scored in each of the last three matches she has played for Gold Pride. The problem is that she is the only Bay Area player to score since early May. Gold Pride is a team that builds well, controls possession, but then doesn't seem to finish. They have a number of gifted offensive players, but they have to start putting the ball in the net. In the first meeting between the two teams, it was Eriko Arakawa and Tiffeny Milbrett scoring the goals, but Arakawa hasn't produced one since. Defensively, they have given up 14 goals, ranked 2nd worst in the WPS, but to be fair, 10 of those goals have come at the hands of the Sol and the Freedom. Carrie Dew will be back from her one game suspension for a double yellow card against Washington and that should help.

Boston went from having the inside track to grab 2nd place to scrambling to maintain a playoff spot, by losing their last two games. The Breakers will have Christine Latham back from suspension and that will give another weapon to a team that has been struggling on offense. Kelly Smith is the league's 2nd leading scorer with 5 goals, but outside of her and Kristine Lilly, no one else has done much scoring for Boston. Defensively, Canadian Candace Chapman got her first start over the weekend against Athletica. Outside back Alex Scott is one of the best in the league and has a goal to her credit. Boston is in the middle of a very busy schedule, playing 4 games in just 11 days.

Both teams have one player who has done most of the scoring, Sinclair for Gold Pride and Smith for Boston. Both teams have experienced goalies that have the distinction of giving up the most goals in the league, Barnhart for Gold Pride and Luckenbill for the Breakers. Both teams have 11 points, although Boston has a game in hand. Both teams got off to good starts, but have been struggling as of late. When they take the field on Wednesday evening, each team might look across the field and think they are looking in a mirror.

Chicago Red Stars at Sky Blue FC

This matchup features two teams that have strong defenses, both giving up less than a goal a game. The problem is that these two teams are at the bottom of the WPS when it comes to scoring. It will be a Carli Lloyd homecoming when she takes the field at Yurcak Field at Rutgers University.

Lloyd is coming off of an injury that she suffered in training for the USWNT. She missed three games because of the injury, but entered the Washington game as a sub over the weekend. The Red Stars will be without talented wing player, Karen Carney, who is suspended for her red card against the Freedom. Chicago is another team that needs to jump start their offense, with Cristiane being the only Red Star player that has scored a goal since April. Caroline Jönsson has been steady and strong in goal and the Red Stars' back line has experience with Dalmy, Spilger, Oakes, and Östberg. Chicago has had more than their share of injuries, but with Lloyd back and hopefully Ifeoma Dieke as well, they will be closer to full strength than they have been in quite awhile.

Speaking of scoring problems, Sky Blue FC has been shut out six times this year, more than any other team in the league. SBFC has been missing a dangerous striker in Sarah Walsh, one of the speediest attacking players in the league. Natasha Kai has scored two goals for Sky Blue and it seems that Heather O'Reilly has done everything but put the ball in the net lately. I really like Sky Blue's midfield, but they have to start contributing more to the scoring. The defensive unit of Asante, Rampone, Schnur, and Dowling is excellent. Unlike the Red Stars, SBFC has split time between two keepers, with Jen Branam getting most of the action.

With the exception of the goalkeeping situation, we are again looking at mirror images in many ways. Both teams play solid defense, but have trouble scoring. Both teams have had a lot of injuries to key players. This will be the 3rd game of four between the two teams, with Sky Blue holding the edge with a win and a tie. Chicago has somewhat steadied the ship with three consecutive ties on the road and they are the only team in the league that is unbeaten on the road. This looks to be a defensive struggle and one goal might be enough to take three points.

Midweek Notes

Not surprisingly, Los Angeles has the best record on FSC telecast games, with 3 wins in 3 games. But can you guess who has the 2nd best record? It's Sky Blue FC with a 2-0-1 record on FSC. That's right, Sky Blue has 7 of their 9 points on FSC games. Saint Louis is also unbeaten at 1-0-1 in just two televised games. And the worst record belongs to...the Boston Breakers who have an outstandingly bad television record on FSC of 0-3-1. The bad news for the Breakers is that FSC added the August 9th game against LA to their television schedule.

Another stat for television games is that they tend to be higher scoring than the average game. Games televised by FSC have averaged 2.83 goals combined for both teams, while the league average is just 2.10 goals. Ten of the 19 times a team has scored two or more goals have been on FSC and 5 of the 8 times a team has scored three or more goals have been on FSC. Of course, one of the major reasons for this is that Washington has appeared 6 times and the Freedom have the highest scoring offense and the most porous defense in the league.

In last Sunday's FSC game against Boston, Athletica keeper Hope Solo clearly took two steps outside of the penalty box with ball in hand. The amazing thing is that not only was Solo confused by the markings on the field, but neither the referee, nor the AR's, nor either team caught it. FSC play-by-play announcer, Mark Rogondino, was apparently one of the few people in the stadium that did notice it. The Breakers play their home games at Harvard Stadium, which is primarily marked for football, but also has markings for several other sports. The soccer lines at Harvard are yellow, while most of the other lines are white. However, they are not painted very brightly and even watching on television can test one's ocular abilities.

Eniola Aluko won Player of the Week honors for her goal against Boston. It was the only goal scored in WPS play last weekend. For Aluko, it was her 3rd goal of the season, this one assisted by a brilliant long through ball from Kendall Fletcher.