July 11, 2009

WPS Weekend Matches-July 12th

There are only two matches on this weekend's WPS schedule, both on Sunday. Sky Blue FC travels to Boston in a rematch of last weekend's match, while FC Gold Pride ventures into Toyota Park to face the Chicago Red Stars. Pretty much every game from here on out will have playoff ramifications.

Sky Blue FC at Boston Breakers

When these two teams met up last week, Sky Blue was badly in need of a victory to get back into the hunt for the playoffs. They got it by shutting out the Breakers 1-0. Another victory this weekend moves them into a tie for 3rd which would be their highest position of the year. Boston presently holds down 3rd place and needs a win to stay on the heels of 2nd place Athletica.

Jenni Branam has three shutouts in the last four games for Sky Blue, including one against the Breakers last Saturday. The back line for New Jersey is a strong, consistent group. All have over 1000 minutes played for the season, except Christie Rampone, who was injured for a few games early on. Englishwoman Anita Asante has been rock solid in the middle along with Rampone. Sky Blue has given up less than one goal per game on average.

Sky Blue has had trouble scoring, but last week marked the first time all year that they have scored in 3 consecutive matches, so maybe things are starting to change. Also significant is the fact that their last 5 goals have been scored by five different players, Kacey White, Natasha Kai, Rosana, Julianne Sitch, and Heather O'Reilly. Kai has been bothered by injuries throughout the season, but when healthy, she is as dangerous as anyone not named Marta. O'Reilly scored the only goal in last week's match directly off of a corner kick and she has probably been the best player offensively for Sky Blue.

Boston had a three game unbeaten streak stopped by Sky Blue and find themselves in the thick of a messy playoff race, just 2 points ahead of Washington and 3 ahead of New Jersey. The Breakers also have a strong defense and like Sky Blue, one of their top defenders is from England, Alex Scott. Add to that USWNT players Amy LePeilbet and Heather Mitts and veteran Sue Weber. Allison Lipsher has been fine in goal since taking over the starter's role in late June.

The Breakers leading scorer has been Kelly Smith, but she hasn't recorded a goal since the end of May. Like Sky Blue, Boston has had a variety of scorers with their last 6 coming from different players, including Scott, Smith, Amy Rodriguez, Christine Latham, Jenny Nobis, and Kristine Lilly. Joining Lilly and Smith at midfield will be Angela Hucles and Sophia Mundy.

Boston could get some separation from the pack with a victory, which would put them five points clear of 4th place Washington. Sky Blue is looking to have an inside position for the playoffs heading into the final four weeks of action. SBFC has won both of the previous two meetings.

FC Gold Pride at Chicago Red Stars

After going winless for 9 games, one victory has put the Red Stars back into the playoff chase and they are now in 6th place. The combination of a victory over FCGP and a Sky Blue loss would vault them into 4th position. FC Gold Pride occupies the bottom of the table and needs a victory to keep their playoff hopes realistic. The two teams will meet at Toyota Park on Sunday.

FC Gold Pride has been as high as 3rd place in the middle of May, but they have earned just 2 points in their last six matches. Scoring has been a major problem for Bay Area and they have been shut out in 4 of their last 8. Basically, it's been Christine Sinclair or nothing. With a call up for the Canadian National Team looming next week for Sinclair, FCGP needs to find another source of offense quickly. Sinclair has scored five goals, good enough for third best in the WPS. Behind her, only Tiffeny Milbrett has scored more than one. Midfield should be one of Gold Pride's strengths and they do possess well, but have not contributed much offensively.

Defensively, Gold Pride has been okay, but inconsistent. They have started Nicole Barnhart in every match except one and have recorded only two shutouts for the season, tied with the Freedom for the lowest in the league. Rachel Buehler is Gold Pride's best defender.

For Chicago, last week's victory over the Freedom had to be relief as did the two goals they scored. It marked only the second time all season that the Red Stars goal output had exceeded one. Similar to Gold Pride, Chicago has only had two players providing most of the offense, Cristiane and Lindsay Tarpley. Megan Rapinoe and Brittany Klein each have a goal and two assists to their credit. English midfielder Karen Carney has been noticeably quiet since early in the year.

The Red Stars' defense has been plagued by injuries for most of the season. Still, defense and goalkeeping have been the positives for this Chicago team, up until a couple of shaky games against Boston and Los Angeles. Caroline Jönsson hasn't missed a minute in goal for the Red Stars. With Marian Dalmy getting healthy, Chicago should be at full strength on the back line now. She joins Ifeoma Dieke, Jill Oakes, and Natalie Spilger. One thing to note is that Frida Östberg is listed as being out for this game with a "family commitment."

This match should see two desperate teams who both need a victory with the number of games remaining rapidly dwindling. The loser of this match will have an uphill task ahead to make up ground the rest of the way. Gold Pride leads the season series with a win and a tie.

Second Place Curse Broken

With Athletica's 1-0 victory over Los Angeles on Wednesday, the 2nd place curse has officially been broken. The loss prevented Los Angeles from wrapping up the regular season championship for now. The next opportunity for the Sol to clinch first place will be on July 23rd when they meet FC Gold Pride, although Saint Louis would need to win at least one of their next two games to stay mathematically alive. Amanda Cinalli scored the only goal of the match on a nice feed from Eniola Aluko, while Hope Solo made four saves to shut out LA.

Six WPS Players Are Called Up for English National Team

English National Team coach Hope Powell has called up six WPS players for upcoming friendlies against Iceland on July 16th and Denmark on July 22nd. Those players are Kelly Smith and Alex Scott of Boston, Anita Asante and Karen Bardsley of Sky Blue FC, Eniola Aluko of Saint Louis, and Karen Carney of Chicago. With the exception of Bardsley, the rest of the players all start for their WPS teams.