June 5, 2009

WPS Weekend Games-June 7

Sky Blue FC at Saint Louis Athletica

These two teams enter the game tied for last place, but both have played better as of late. Sky Blue defeated Boston last weekend, while Saint Louis has 2 wins and 2 ties over their last five games.

In between several tumbles and having her shoulder yanked back into place, Natasha Kai scored her 2nd goal of the season against the Breakers. After being blanked the first four games, Kai has two goals and an assist in her last four. Kai's normal frontline mate, Sarah Walsh, is out with an injury, but Kacey White filled in last week and added a goal of her own. SBFC has a strong midfield group led by Heather O'Reilly and Collette McCallum, with Rosana at attacking mid. Perhaps the biggest benefactor of the recent coaching change has been Yael Averbuch. Interim Coach Kelly Lindsey has started Averbuch the last two games and the team has responded well with her in the lineup.

Sky Blue has given up only a goal a game, good enough for 3rd best in the WPS. Veteran Christie Rampone heads up the defensive unit that also includes English National Team player Anita Asante. Jen Branam has played generally solid in goal since taking over as the starter, but she had a rough moment last week, badly misplaying a cross that led to an easy goal for Kelly Smith. Branam is quick, but she is also one of the shortest keepers in the league and it will be interesting to see if Athletica's lackluster offense can test her.

Saint Louis has had a lot of problems on the offensive end. The exception to that has been Eniola Aluko, one of the most exciting strikers in the league. Like Kai, Aluko scored two goals in May and played extremely well. Aside from Aluko, there hasn't been a lot to get excited about as far as goal scoring goes. Until now, Kerri Hanks has retained her starting position, but one wonders if Jorge Barcellos might be tempted to go with veteran Christie Welsh. Athletica usually does well building up with short passes through the midfield, but they can't seem to solve the final third of the field. Defensively, Tina Ellertson is having a strong campaign and she is joined by Kia McNeill on the back line.

This should be a tight game, with two very exciting forwards and two strong defenses. Hope Solo might give Athletica a slight edge. Both teams need to win the midfield and it might come down to a battle between the more offensive minded O'Reilly for Sky Blue and the more defensive minded Lori Chalupny for Saint Louis.

Washington Freedom at Los Angeles Sol

The FSC game this week will be a matchup between the league's two top teams. The Freedom's league leading offense will take on the Sol's league leading defense in Carson, California. The game features the two talented French midfielders, Camille Abily for Los Angeles and Sonia Bompastor for Washington.

Los Angeles is the only team to have shutout Washington, all the way back in the first game of the season. Since then, Washington has scored 15 goals in just 7 games. With the Freedom, it's not just one player, but several. Bompastor is coming fresh off winning Player of the Month honors and she has been a big part of the offensive explosion by the Freedom. Australian Lisa DeVanna scored three goals in May and complements Abby Wambach very well. In a league where many teams are having trouble scoring, the Freedom have even gotten three goals out of their defenders.

The early season goalkeeper problems for Washington are a distant memory now. Erin McLeod has been just the cure that the Freedom needed. Her back line is led by Cat Whitehill and a trio of young defenders, Becky Sauerbrunn, Jill Gilbeau, and Alex Singer.

The Sol's offense for the first month of the season pretty much began and ended with Marta. Their attack has become more balanced as of late, due in large part to the efforts of Abily. She has become a potent offensive weapon for Los Angeles and is part of a talented group of midfielders with Shannon Box and Aly Wagner. Wagner has been struggling with injuries, but is listed as probable for Sunday's game. Opposing defenses must still worry about Marta, which often opens up space for her teammates.

On the defensive end, the Sol just don't make a lot of mistakes and when they do, Karina LeBlanc is there. Steady Stephanie Cox might be their best defender, but two young backs, Allison Falk and Brittany Bock, are playing like veterans. And for the first time on Wednesday, Los Angeles showed that they could respond to adversity by scoring a late equalizer against Chicago.

Los Angeles shut out the Freedom in the opener, but it was Wambach's first game back from injury and they didn't have McLeod at the time. Washington is a different team now. We will see whether or not they are ready for prime time. A win means the Freedom will build on the momentum of the 3-0-2 run they have had. A win for the Sol and it basically becomes a six team battle for 2nd place.

Chicago Red Stars at FC Gold Pride

The Red Stars were close to pulling off a major upset in Los Angeles. Missing two key starters and on the road, a Cristiane goal in the 88th minute put them up 1-0. Unfortunately, that lead lasted all of two minutes as they gave up a late goal and had to settle for the tie. They continue their tour of the west coast against FC Gold Pride on Sunday night.

The good news is that Chicago finally found the net after going scoreless for 396 straight minutes. Cristiane's strike ended a long drought for the Red Stars. The tie was probably a disappointment given how close they were to sealing the game, but a point on the road against LA is a step in the right direction. They will still be without defender Ifeoma Dieke and midfielders Carli Lloyd and Heather Garriock. This will hurt them against a team like Gold Pride that prides themselves on possession.

Chicago has probably two of the most gifted attacking midfielders in the game with Megan Rapinoe and Karen Carney, but sometimes they need to show more patience. Ella Masar entered the LA game very late and provided an assist on the Chicago goal. Maybe that will earn Masar a start against Gold Pride. The Red Stars managed to shut down the Sol until late and they need a similar effort from their back line this week. Natalie Spilger filled in ably for Dieke.

Gold Pride will be without two of their top defenders in Carrie Dew (suspension) and Kandace Wilson (injury) and this will surely hurt them. Defense has been a problem recently as they have given up 5 goals in their last two games. Nicole Barnhart is strong in goal and Rachel Buehler will lead the defense, but who will be on the back line with her? Bay Area's midfield is one of their strengths with Leslie Osborne, Formiga, and Eriko Arakawa.

What started out to be a strong offensive unit has become a puzzle as Gold Pride has scored just twice in their last four games. On top of that, you never know from week to week who will be starting for the Bay Area side. After a strong start, Tiffany Weimer has been relegated to part-time status as Coach Montoya has shown a preference to veteran Tiffeny Milbrett lately. Even Arakawa has started a couple of games on the bench. FCGP will miss Wilson's forward runs and speed, although Leigh Ann Robinson occasionally fills that role.

This is a huge midseason game for both teams. A win for either team will vault them into a playoff spot to start the 2nd half of the season. Both teams need to overcome the loss of key players. Chicago is coming off of a strong effort in LA, while Gold Pride is trying to rebound from a frustrating loss in DC. It should result in a very interesting and entertaining game.