July 21, 2009

WPS Midweek Matches & Notes-July 22nd & 23rd

Two weekday games are on the schedule in the WPS, with one having important playoff implications and the other likely to be a clinching celebration.

Sky Blue FC at Saint Louis Athletica

The hottest team in the WPS, Sky Blue, travels to Saint Louis to take on Athletica in a Wednesday evening contest. This match will likely have a major impact on the playoff race. Athletica sits in 3rd place, just a single point ahead of 4th place Sky Blue. The winner of this game will pass Boston to move into 2nd place, if only temporarily.

Sky Blue is 3-0-1 in their last four games and have risen from last place just a month ago to being in position to secure a playoff berth. The latest hero for Sky Blue was ex-Athletica striker, Kerri Hanks, who scored in the 90th minute to defeat Chicago 1-0. This will be the first time that the players involved in that trade will be facing their old teams, Francielle and Hanks for Sky Blue and Sarah Walsh for Athletica. Both Francielle and Walsh saw their first action with their new teams over the weekend.

Sky Blue will be missing a lot of key players in Christie Rampone, Anita Asante, Heather O'Reilly, and Kelly Parker. In their victory over Chicago, New Jersey started Jen Buczkowski and Katie Hooker on the back line with regulars Meghan Schnur and Keeley Dowling. Although SBFC will definitely miss O'Reilly, they still have a lot of firepower in Natasha Kai, Rosana, and Kacey White. Jen Branam will start in goal for Sky Blue.

Saint Louis will be missing goalkeeper Hope Solo and Melissa Tancredi for this game. Jillian Loyden will get the start in goal. She has played well giving up just one goal on a deflected shot. It will be interesting to see who starts on the back line for Athletica. Tina Ellertson is a given, but the other three will come from Sara Larsson, Kia McNeill, Elise Weber, and Stephanie Logterman.

It's scoring that was the problem for Saint Louis on Saturday. After a couple of chances early, Athletica's offense was non-existent in the 2nd half against the Freedom. Eniola Aluko is one of the most dangerous forwards in the league. Niki Cross was the surprise starter at the other forward position, but other options for this match include Walsh and Christie Welsh. Amanda Cinalli has been suffering from an arm injury, but she is listed as "probable" for Wednesday. Kendall Fletcher will probably get to shadow Kai for the match. The status of Lori Chalupny is not 100% certain as she has returned to Saint Louis from the USWNT because of a death in the family.

The winner of this contest will be in great shape for the playoffs. The loser will have to battle with Washington for 4th place. It's essential for Athletica to attack the center of the Sky Blue defense in the absence of Rampone and Asante. Sky Blue has a lot of speed and it will be interesting to see if Kai can find a hole in Athletica's defense. This game should have a playoff-like atmosphere to it.

Los Angeles Sol at FC Gold Pride

With Los Angeles nearly having 1st place wrapped up and Gold Pride nearly eliminated from the playoff picture, this may turn into a celebration game for the Sol. FCGP will be trying to keep their slim playoff hopes alive with a victory. They will meet on Thursday evening at Buck Shaw Stadium.

Los Angeles has had a long time to think about their last game, a 1-0 loss to Athletica. They will be looking to return to form agasint Gold Pride, a team they have dominated in three previous outings. Offense is usually not a problem for the Sol. They have the league's two top goal scorers in Marta and Camille Abily and the WPS assists leader, Aya Miyama. Han Duan and Aly Wagner add even more scoring ability to a potent LA squad.

With the USWNT in action on Wednesday, many players may be able to make it back in time for this match on Thursday, but their availability is uncertain. This would include Karina LeBlanc, Shannon Boxx, and Stephanie Cox for the Sol. But when you have a versatile player like Brittany Bock that can fill in anywhere on the field, missing players aren't as big of a problem.

FC Gold Pride are 10 points out of a playoff spot with just 5 games remaining. Even the most ardent optimist would have to admit things look bleak. They've lost all three previous meetings with the Sol by a combined score of 5-0, so it's almost essential that Christine Sinclair returns from her duties on the Canadian National Team to play in this game. Sinclair has been the only Gold Pride player to consistently provide offense. They have scored only one goal over their last four games.

If back from national team duty, Nicole Barnhart will likely start in goal, although backup Allison Whitworth has performed well in her two appearances. Rachel Buehler and Leslie Osborne will also be with the US team and are listed as "unavailable" for now.

Gold Pride would love to delay the Sol's celebration. A victory would move them in range of 6th place Chicago. A tie will clinch 1st for LA, but it could already be in the books, depending on what Saint Louis does the night before.

Midweek Notes

Boston-The Breakers added Stacy Bishop and Erika Sutton as "short term players" for last Sunday's match against Gold Pride...Boston occupies 2nd place for the moment, but will likely lose that position to either Saint Louis or Sky Blue, depending on the outcome of that game...Four of the Breakers last 5 games have been decided by a 1-0 score.

Chicago-The Red Stars have just three games remaining and probably must run the table to have a shot at the playoffs...Heather Garriock returned to action for the first time since May 23rd in Sunday's game against Sky Blue... Chicago has now been shut out a league leading 10 times.

FC Gold Pride-FCGP has not scored more than one goal in a match since April 26th when they scored three, only to lose to Washington...Tiffeny Milbrett joined Kristine Lilly as the only two American players to have converted penalty kicks in the WPS...Gold Pride has not scored any goal other than a penalty since June 17th.

Los Angeles-Neither Aya Miyama nor Stephanie Cox have missed a minute of action for the Sol this year...The Sol have been shut out 4 times this season, three of which ended in scoreless ties...The Sol lead the league in home attendance with an average of 6298.

Saint Louis-Athletica has had more 1-0 decisions than any other team with 8. They are 5-3 in those matches...Eniola Aluko leads Athletica with 4 goals and is their only player to have scored more than two...Aluko leads the team in goals, assists, shots, shots on goal, crosses, and offsides.

Sky Blue FC-Sky Blue is still unbeaten against Boston and Chicago at 6-0-1. They have one match left against the Breakers...Kerri Hanks became the first player in league history to score goals for two different teams...After having one of the weakest offenses early in the season, Sky Blue has now scored in 6 consecutive games, the longest current streak in the WPS.

Washington-Abby Wambach scored her 100th international goal against Canada on Sunday in her home town of Rochester...The Freedom have used four different keepers this year after Nicci Wright was forced into action last Saturday...The Freedom have scored 3 or more goals four times and have given up 3 or more goals 5 times.