July 17, 2009

WPS Weekend Matches-July 18th and 19th

It's down to crunch time for WPS teams looking to secure a playoff spot. Three teams that presently hold those playoff spots will be trying to defend them against three teams that are on the outside looking in. All teams will be missing players due to national team call ups.

Saint Louis Athletica at Washington Freedom

At one time, Washington looked to be a sure bet to make the playoffs. But they have secured only one point over their last four matches and now sit 2 points behind 4th place Sky Blue. Saint Louis is the hottest team in the WPS with 3 wins in a row. The two teams will meet Saturday afternoon at RFK Stadium.

Washington has given Saint Louis fits in their two previous matches. In the first match, Athletica held a 3-1 lead into the 79th minute only to give up two late goals to settle for a tie. In the second meeting in St. Louis, Athletica appeared to have the edge in play, but a late goal by Rebecca Moros gave Washington the 1-0 victory. With both Erin McLeod and Hope Solo being called up, this game will feature two backup keepers in Jillian Loyden for Athletica and Kati Jo Spisak for the Freedom. Loyden posted a shutout in her only previous start against Chicago. Spisak has a win and a tie to her credit, but gave up three goals in each game.

The Freedom will be without Abby Wambach, Cat Whitehill, and McLeod. With Wambach out, Lisa DeVanna, Allie Long and Moros will be counted on to pressure Athletica's defense. Washington exploded for 4 goals on Wednesday against Sky Blue with DeVanna scoring two of them. As always, Sonia Bompastor will be a key player for the Freedom. She notched a goal and an assist in Wednesday's game and is now 2nd in the WPS in assists. The Freedom will sorely miss McLeod and Whitehill on the defensive end.

Saint Louis enters this match having won their last four road games. Athletica will be without Solo, Lori Chalupny, and Melissa Tancredi. However, Saint Louis actually gains a player on the offensive end as newly acquired Sarah Walsh looks to be over her injury and should see some action on Saturday, likely as a 2nd half substitution. She will join talented Eniola Aluko and powerful Christie Welsh as the Athletica forwards. Kendall Fletcher has done a fine job marking some of the best attacking players in the league at defensive midfield. Tina Ellertson offers speed and experience on the back line.

One thing that will not be lacking in this match is speed. Between DeVanna, Aluko, and Walsh, you have three of the fastest players in the league. Saint Louis will be trying to accomplish something that not even Los Angeles has done to this point. If they defeat Washington, they will be the first team to win in each of the 7 WPS cities. The Freedom need this game more than Athletica at this point, so they aren't likely to make it easy. Will the backup keepers be the key to this game or will it be one of those blue collar players like Moros that decides the game?

Chicago Red Stars at Sky Blue FC

This will be the fourth and final regular season meeting between these two teams. Sky Blue has won two of those matches, with the third ending in a scoreless draw. Chicago desperately needs a win in this match, as they will be down to just three games remaining after Sunday. SBFC is now hanging on to 4th place at 19 points, just two points behind 3rd place Boston.

Chicago will be without the services of Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, Lindsey Tarpley, and probably Karen Carney for this match. For the Red Stars, Cristiane has done almost all of the scoring over the last two and a half months. She has 6 goals for the season. Other than that, the scoring has been sparse as they suffered their 9th shutout of the season against Boston on Wednesday. The Red Star defense should be healthy and intact for this game. Marion Dalmy and Ifeoma Dieke are both over earlier injuries and are a welcome sight on the Red Star back line. Except for an occasional hiccup, their defense has been their strength. Caroline Jonsson has been strong in goal, although she hasn't posted a shutout in over a month.

Sky Blue is on a nice run right now. They are undefeated in their last three matches with the tie against the Freedom on Wednesday. But for the first time all year, their defense got blitzed for 4 goals. Part of the reason for that was probably that they were missing Anita Asante who was with the English National Team. She will likely miss this contest, too, as will Christie Rampone, Kelly Parker, Heather O'Reilly, and backup keeper Karen Bardsley. The problem for New Jersey is how to replace their two central defenders. Kacey White and Natasha Kai both scored twice on Wednesday and will be ready to challenge Chicago's defense on Sunday, as will Rosana. Jen Branam will be in goal for Sky Blue.

Both teams will be missing a lot of quality players. There are two question for me about this match. First, will Chicago be able to exploit the center of the Sky Blue defense? Second, with so many players missing, who will win the battle of the midfield? Both teams really need to win this game.

Boston Breakers at FC Gold Pride

With their victory Wednesday, the Breakers are in 3rd place, just two points behind Saint Louis. Gold Pride, on the other hand, sit at the bottom of the table with 12 points and have now lost touch with the pack. Surprisingly though, Bay Area presently holds the edge in the season series with a win and a tie.

Boston took a big step forward in their quest for the playoffs with their 1-0 shutout of Chicago on Wednesday. The Breakers have a tough schedule left with road games at Washington and Saint Louis and home games against Sky Blue and Los Angeles. Three points against Gold Pride would look pretty good to them. But the Breakers will be missing a lot of players for this game including Amy LePeilbet, Amy Rodriguez, Heather Mitts, Angela Hucles, Candace Chapman, and possibly Kelly Smith and Alex Scott as well. Boston will be without over half of their starters and barely have enough players to field a traveling squad. This means players like Jenny Nobis, Christine Latham and Kelly Schmedes are going to have to step it up for this match. One key element that will be present is Kristine Lilly with 3 goals and 2 assists for the season. Allison Lipsher, who posted her 3rd shutout on Wednesday, will be in goal.

For Gold Pride, the time is now. They have just 12 points and are 5 points out of 6th place. They must win this game. They will be missing Nicole Barnhart, Rachel Buehler, and Leslie Osborne for this match. But the biggest shoes to fill will be those of Christine Sinclair, who is the only Bay Area player to score the last two months, except for a penalty kick by Tiffeny Milbrett. In fact, the PK by Milbrett is the only goal Gold Pride has scored in their last three games. FCGP puzzles me more than any other team, as they appear to have a number of talented players, especially in the midfield. Formiga and Eriko Arakawa could be key to getting this offense jump started. Like the Freedom, they will be without their keeper and a key defender for this game. Allison Whitworth gets her 2nd start of the year in goal.

This is absolutely a must win game for Gold Pride if they are to have any chance of making the playoffs. Boston could finish the weekend anywhere from 2nd to 4th place, depending on what they do in this game. The Breakers will be severely restricted on substitutions with so many players missing. Bench strength could definitely be the key to this game.