June 11, 2009

WPS Weekend Matches-June 13 & 14

Chicago Red Stars at Washington Freedom

The Red Stars, fresh off two ties on the west coast, invade RFK Stadium to face the Washington Freedom in another WPS/MLS doubleheader on Saturday. The Freedom lost their big showdown in LA, although they temporarily were level at 1-1 in the 2nd half of that game. After that loss, they will be trying to hold on to 2nd place in the standings against Chicago.

Sonia Bompastor continues to lead Washington. After winning Player of the Month honors in May, she started off June with the Freedom's only goal in the loss to the Sol. She now has three goals added to her league leading assist total of four. Washington has now scored 16 goals, more than any other team.

The Freedom welcomed a new, but familiar, face to their camp this week. Ali Krieger, who had been competing for FFC Frankfurt in the German Women's Bundesliga, is returning to the states to finish the season with Washington. Krieger has spent time with the USWNT and was allocated to the Freedom last year, but she still had to finish up her contract in Germany. She should help bolster the Freedom's defense that is giving up 2 goals a game and has yet to post a shutout. Claire Zimmeck was waived to make room for Krieger on the active roster.

Meanwhile, Chicago has found a go-to player of their own. Brazilian striker Cristiane scored both of their goals last week, her first goals of the season. Megan Rapinoe, Lindsay Tarpley, and Karen Carney join Cristiane in a talented offense that has yet to get untracked for the most part. Unfortunately, it was bad news for another of their forwards. Former University of Illinois star, Ella Masar,
suffered four torn muscles in her hip against Gold Pride and will be out 4-6 weeks.

On defense, Coach Emma Hayes has been shaking up the lineup, choosing to go with veteran players Natalie Spilger and Jill Oakes over Nikki Krzysik, who was a starting center back for much of the season. Several Red Stars are recovering from injuries and as of this post, it is unknown whether Ifeoma Dieke or Carli Lloyd will be available for the game in Washington.

Last weekend's loss to the Sol had to be disappointing, but it is the only loss that the Freedom have suffered since the middle of April, so it's hardly time to panic and the addition of Krieger should help their beleaguered defense. On the other hand, Chicago took two draws on the road and need to build on those positives. If they can find some offense, they can be a dangerous team. Kickoff is at 4:30 eastern time on Saturday.

Los Angeles Sol at Sky Blue FC

Los Angeles takes their 12 point lead on the road to New Jersey where they will square off against Sky Blue FC this Saturday. Sky Blue is at the bottom of the table, but they are a mere 4 points out of 2nd place. This will be the third and final meeting of the regular season between these two teams.

Sky Blue has to be kicking themselves because they couldn't kick it in the net last week. They squandered chance after chance, including a near whiff by Collette McCallum, right in front of the Saint Louis goal. This week, they face another tough goalie in Karina LeBlanc. Having scored just 6 goals in 9 games, Sky Blue has got to find some offense. They have been missing Sarah Walsh, who has been bothered by a hamstring injury. Natasha Kai has been coming on with two goals and an assist in May and only a nice save by Hope Solo kept her from adding another. Heather O'Reilly was literally all over the field against Athletica, firing five shots for the game.

Kelly Lindsey went back to Karen Bardsley in goal against Athletica after Jen Branam had started five straight. Apparently, the keeper battle isn't over yet. Anita Asante, Meghan Schnur, and Christie Rampone lead a veteran defense that has been one of Jersey's strengths.

Los Angeles just continues to sail along. Camille Abily has been on a tear lately, scoring 5 goals in the last four games and winning Player of the Week honors. As if the Sol didn't have enough offensive weapons with Abily, Marta, and company, Brittany Bock scored her 2nd goal of the season on a nifty give and go play with Marta. At this point in the season, it appears that Los Angeles is just too fast and has too much firepower to be stopped. Just when you think you can relax against them, they quickly spring a counterattack. On Bock's goal, it took just a few seconds for a long pass from LA's own end to find her feet and the ball was in the back of the net before you could blink.

The Sol's defense is finally looking human, giving up a goal in each of the last two games. Still, they have posted 8 shutouts in 11 games, so I don't think it's anything to worry about. LeBlanc has 7 of those shutouts. The back line is solid, although they will be without the services of sometimes defender, sometimes midfielder, Manya Makoski again this week. 36 year old Keri Sanchez started her first game last weekend.

It's really hard to see the Sol slipping at this point. Their worst enemy could be over-confidence and complacency. Sky Blue played LA very tough in their last meeting, losing 1-0 in the waning moments of that match. SBFC is home for the next four matches and they need to take advantage to make progress up the table. They'll need to finish a lot better than last week for that to happen.

Saint Louis Athletica at Boston Breakers

Athletica, 3-1-2 over their last six matches, travels to Harvard Field to meet the Boston Breakers on an FSC televised match on Sunday. The two teams are tied for 3rd place in the standings with 11 points apiece. This game could be a matchup of the two talented English strikers, Kelly Smith and Eniola Aluko, that is if they are both healthy enough to play.

My curious stat of the week involves the Breakers. They are 3-0-2 against the top teams in the league...Los Angeles, Washington, and Saint Louis. They are 0-3 against Gold Pride, Chicago, and Sky Blue. It just doesn't make a lot of sense, except that one thing in common in two of those losses was an injured Kelly Smith. It is not a certainty that she will be able to go on Sunday, although the
damage to her knee was reportedly not as bad as first thought. Having scored half of the Breakers' 10 goals, she is an essential part of their offense. Kristine Lilly is the other essential ingredient in Boston's offense and she has scored twice this season. The Breakers will also be missing Christine Latham, who will be serving the 2nd of her two game suspension.

Boston has a very good back line with Alex Scott, Amy LePeilbet, Sue Weber, and Heather Mitts. Kristin Luckenbill has started all eight games in goal for the Breakers. The team is at a strange stretch in their schedule where they have played just one match since mid-May.

Athletica has been very stingy on defense lately, shutting out three of their last four opponents, the exception being the Sol. Hope Solo will be in goal for Saint Louis, but the lineup in front of her may feature as many as five different starters from their first meeting with Boston. This includes former LA players Kendall Fletcher and Christie Welsh, as well as Amanda Cinalli and Stephanie Logterman, both of whom saw their first action last week against Sky Blue. Cinalli scored just 15 minutes into her first match and she is a welcome addition to an Athletica offense that has struggled much of the season.

Saint Louis' top offensive threat, though, is Eniola Aluko who picked up an assist on Cinalli's goal. She came out of last week's game with hamstring problems and her status for Sunday's game is not yet known. Melissa Tancredi and Daniela will be missing because of injuries. On defense, Logterman played outside back on the left side and performed well in her first match. If Smith does play for Boston, Athletica's back line will have their hands full.

Saint Louis will get to see just how much they've improved from that first game with Boston, which might have been the low point of their season. The Breakers need to find someone else to contribute on the offensive end and find consistency on the defensive end. The winner will have 3rd place all to themselves with a possibility of 2nd, pending the outcome of the Freedom game.