July 3, 2009

WPS Weekend Games-July 4th & 5th

With a little over a month to go in the regular season, the drive for the playoffs is in full swing. While Los Angeles has the top spot all but clinched, the six remaining teams all have a chance for one of the last three playoff positions. Only 6 points separates 2nd place Boston from last place FC Gold Pride. Chicago gets the weekend off after moving into 5th place with a 2-1 victory over Washington on Wednesday.

Boston Breakers at Sky Blue FC

These two teams are going to get mighty familiar with each other over the next three weeks. Between July 4th and 25th, these two teams face each other three times, so each will have a lot to say about the other's playoff chances. In the only previous meeting, Sky Blue defeated Boston 2-1, giving Kelly Lindsey her first victory as a head coach. We'll see if either team can provide any fireworks on the 4th of July.

Lindsey has two new players with the acquistion of forward Kerri Hanks and midfielder Francielle from Saint Louis. With Walsh's exit to Athletica and Natasha Kai listed as unavailable for this game due to a shoulder injury, Hanks may get thrust into the lineup quickly. She certainly doesn't have the speed of either Walsh or Kai, but at Notre Dame, she had a knack for scoring and she scored her first WPS goal in her last game with Athletica. Sky Blue could definitely use help in that area. They are last in the league with 8 goals scored. Only Kai and Rosana have scored more than once. With Kai injured, Kacey White will be depended upon to pressure the Breakers' defense.

Sky Blue has a solid midfield with Rosana, Heather O'Reilly, Yael Averbuch, and either Kelly Parker or Collette McCallum. SBFC's defense has been its strength, giving up just 11 goals, second only to Los Angeles. Veteran defender Christie Rampone and English National Team player Anita Asante hold down the center, while Keeley Dowling and Meghan Schnur start on the outside. Keeper Jen Branam has a goals against average under 1.00 and is extremely quick in goal.

Outside of the Sol, the Breakers have been the hottest team in the league going 2-0-1 over their last three games and for the moment, are sitting in 2nd place. They should be a well rested team, having not played in 10 days. The biggest change for the Breakers has been in goal, where Allison Lipsher has taken over for Kristin Luckenbill. Lipsher has a microscopic goals against average of 0.30 in four games. Boston has a veteran back line in front of Lipsher, with Alex Scott, Amy LePeilbet, and Heather Mitts. The fourth starting position on defense might fall into the hands of another veteran, Nancy Augustyniak-Goffi, as both Sue Weber and Candace Chapman are listed as unavailable with injuries.

Offensively, the big news is that Amy Rodriguez has finally scored and I suspect more will follow shortly, now that the pressure is off. The Breakers have a lot of offensive options with Jenny Nobis, Kelly Schmedes, and Christine Latham. But of course, their two biggest scorers are Kelly Smith and Kristine Lilly. They have combined for 8 of the Breakers' 14 goals. Angela Hucles rounds out the midfield for Boston.

Boston has a couple of things against them in this match. They are just 2-3-1 on the road and then there is the 2nd place jinx in the WPS. Sky Blue is playing the last of four straight home games and they really need this game to keep themselves in the thick of the playoff race.

Los Angeles Sol at Washington Freedom

These two teams are meeting for the final time in the regular season, but it's the first meeting in Washington. Los Angeles won both of the previous two matches by two goal margins. This game will be nationally televised on FSC on Sunday at 6pm eastern, 3pm pacific.

After Wednesday's loss to Chicago, the Freedom are barely clinging to the final playoff spot, only two points clear of the Red Stars. No matter what happens, they will still be in at least 4th by the end of the weekend, but a victory would make things a lot more comfortable. Erin McLeod has solved the goalkeeping issue with the Freedom and has earned two shutouts since arriving on the scene. But a strange thing happened in the mean time. All of a sudden, Washington is having problems scoring and with that, trouble winning games in spite of McLeod's efforts. The team that averaged nearly two goals per game for the first half of the season has now scored just two goals in their last 4 games. They have earned just four points over their last 5 games. The Freedom have two potent weapons at forward with Abby Wambach and Lisa DeVanna. Wambach scored her third goal on Wednesday, but it was her first since April. Another key offensive player, Allie Long, is still out with a foot injury.

Moving Sonia Bompastor to the back has helped the defense, but it certainly seems to have taken the air out of the offense. Washington needs Bompastor and Ali Krieger to get forward to create some offense, but that will be a tough task against the Sol.

Los Angeles, on the other hand, is having no problems scoring, or stopping the other team for that matter. They've outscored their opponents by 23-5 for the season. In their last outing, they destroyed Chicago, getting two goals from Marta and one each from Shannon Boxx and Camille Abily. Additionally, three different players contributed assists in that match, so everyone seems to be pitching in for the Sol.

Los Angeles are led on defense by Karina LeBlanc in goal and the best back line in the league. LeBlanc had 10 shutouts to her credit. The defense will be missing Martina Franko for the remainder of the season, which might mean moving Brittany Bock back to center back to join Allison Falk and Stephanie Cox on defense. The other back position can be either Keri Sanchez, Manya Makoski, or even Katie Larkin, depending on how Abner Rogers wishes to line up. The midfield is a talented group with Boxx, Aya Miyama, and leading scorer, Camille Abily.

Outside of the Sol, every team in the league has gone through some rough patches and Washington is in one now. They need to regain their scoring touch to win this game. Los Angeles has only been shut out three times and one of those was playing without Marta and Abily. The Sol have scored 8 goals in their last three games. Will Los Angeles be able to sweep their season series with the Freedom?

Saint Louis Athletica at FC Gold Pride

Athletica begins a two game trip to the west coast against FC Gold Pride at Buck Shaw Stadium on Sunday evening. Saint Louis is in 3rd place, just one point behind Boston and one point in front of the Freedom. Gold Pride sits at the bottom of the table, but a win gets them right back into playoff contention. And the other good news for FCGP is that 5 of their remaining 8 games are at home, the most of any team in the league.

Bay Area is another team that has been offensively challenged as of late. FCGP has scored just 5 goals in their last 8 games and haven't scored more than one in any game since April. Coach Albertin Montoya has been juggling the lineup in an attempt to find more offense, but so far to no avail. Christine Sinclair has certainly done her part, scoring five goals on the season. The problem is no other player other than Sinclair has scored since Leigh Ann Robinson tallied a goal back on May 3rd. Veteran Tiffeny Milbrett is injured and early season sensation, Tiffany Weimer, has been spending a lot of time on the bench. Gold Pride's midfield is a good group with Formiga, Eriko Arakawa, Tina DiMartino, and Leslie Osborne, but they have to start contributing more in the offensive third.

Nicole Barnhart has done a decent job keeping her team in games, but she hasn't posted a shutout since mid-May against Chicago. National team starter Rachel Buehler anchors the defense. Along side are Carrie Dew, Leigh Ann Robinson, and Kristen Graczyk.

After losing two games in a row at home, Saint Louis came back with a road win at Sky Blue last weekend. There was no surprise that one of the goal scorers was Eniola Aluko. She is now 5th in the league in scoring. The big surprise was an unlikely goal from defender Elise Weber, who had just entered the game due to an injury to Tina Ellertson. After Aluko, Athletica has struggled to find offense. Right now, they are waiting for two keys to the offensive puzzle to return from injury, Daniela and newly acquired Sarah Walsh.

For Saint Louis, talk about the defense has to start with goalkeeper Hope Solo, who is 2nd in the league in shutouts with four and 3rd in saves with 53. Ellertson, who has battled nagging hamstring problems throughout the season, has been solid at center back. The other defenders are tough Kia McNeill, recent grad Stephanie Logterman, and Swedish veteran Sara Larsson. The midfield group is led by captain Lori Chalupny, who scored the only goal in Athletica's 1-0 win over Gold Pride in May.

These two teams play each other three times between now and the end of the season. FCGP should be fresh, having not played for two weeks. Gold Pride needs a victory to put themselves in reach of a playoff spot, while Saint Louis would like to distance themselves from the bottom three teams in the table.


espihir said...

Thanks for posting this, I had no idea Kai was unavailable...let's see how they do.

KC Albertina said...

Thanks for reading espihir! I get my information as far as injuries go from the WPS website. If you go to their site and then go to the "News" dropdown menu and then go to "Roster Report", you can get the info on injuries. Normally, the league posts this the evening before a game, usually Friday evening. Note: occasionally they are wrong, but not often. On Wednesday, for instance, they had listed Ella Masar as being "unavailable" but she came in as a sub in the 90th minute.