July 24, 2009

WPS Weekend Matches-July 25th & 26th

The Los Angeles Sol have clinched the regular season title with their scoreless tie against FC Gold Pride, but three other playoff berths are still available and all three weekend games will have an impact on the playoff chase.

Sky Blue FC at Boston Breakers

Sky Blue will visit Harvard Stadium to take on the Boston Breakers on Saturday evening. It will be the final regular season meeting between the two. Sky Blue has won the three previous meetings. This is an extremely important match for both teams. Boston needs this match to keep pace with Saint Louis for 2nd place, while a loss could put them on shaky ground, especially with Sky Blue owning the tiebreaker between the two. Sky Blue could move into 3rd place with a win, but a loss could see them fall into 5th place by the end of the weekend and at least temporarily out of a playoff position. Boston is one of the league's best home teams with a 4-2-2 record, while Sky Blue has struggled on the road at 2-5-1.

Sky Blue is coming off of a tough 1-0 loss at Saint Louis, but don't blame Jen Branam. She played very well in the loss and has a 1.03 goals against average for the season. Christie Rampone will be out because of recent surgery, but Anita Asante has returned from England to anchor the center of SBFC's defense. Keeley Dowling and Meghan Schnur ably handle the outside, although Dowling could slide to center back to replace Rampone. Sky Blue is solid through the midfield with an improving Yael Averbuch, and veterans Heather O'Reilly, Collette McCallum, Kelly Parker, and Rosana, who has three goals for the campaign.

On Wednesday, Sky Blue was shut out for the first time in 7 games, but the offense has vastly improved over the first half of the season. The bad news is that according to the WPS roster report, Natasha Kai, who has been battling a shoulder injury, is listed as "unavailable" for this match. Kai leads SBFC with 5 goals. Kacey White has been coming on as of late and Sky Blue now has Kerri Hanks coming off the bench.

For Boston, the change in goalkeepers to Allison Lipsher seems to have paid off. Lipsher has one of the best goals against averages in the WPS at 0.55. After missing half of their starters last week due to call ups, the Breakers should be mostly intact for this contest. Sue Weber will be unavailable, so the defense should line up with Amy LePeilbet and Candace Chapman in the middle, with stalwarts Alex Scott and Heather Mitts on the outside. The midfield has a world of talent with Angela Hucles and the Breakers' two leading goal scorers, Kelly Smith and Kristine Lilly. Boston uses a variety of forwards with Amy Rodriguez, Christine Latham, Jenny Nobis, and Kelly Schmedes. When they have their full squad, Boston has a very deep bench.

As even as these teams match up, it's hard to believe that Sky Blue could sweep the season series. If Kai is indeed missing, it will be an uphill battle for Sky Blue. Kelly Smith is also listed as "questionable" for Boston and her status could be key to this game as well. Boston will have the home advantage, especially on the turf field. Both of these teams have a game left with the 5th place Freedom. Those games plus this matchup on Saturday could very well make or break their seasons.

Washington Freedom at Chicago Red Stars

A loss in this game eliminates Chicago from playoff contention and a loss by the Freedom puts them in a precarious, although less dire, position as well. With both teams fighting for their playoff lives, this Sunday afternoon contest ought to be quite interesting. The Red Stars own a slight advantage in the season series with a win and two ties.

Caroline Jönsson was absolutely spectacular early in the season, but she has been more human lately. She hasn't posted a shutout since mid-June. Part of the problem is that Chicago is giving opponents too many good opportunities. A defense that has spent much of the summer recovering from injuries is now healthy and seems to have settled with Dieke and Oakes in the middle and Dalmy and Spilger or possibly Östberg on the outside, depending on whether Emma Hayes chooses to use the veteran Swedish player at defense or midfield.

The talented midfield of Karen Carney, Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, and Brittany Klein all have two things in common...they've each scored one goal and all of those goals came in the same game against Boston back in April. That's a long drought for such a talented group. On offense, it has been Cristiane, Cristiane, Cristiane, with a little help from Lindsay Tarpley, who has netted 2 of her 3 goals against the Freedom. Ella Masar and Danesha Adams provide depth.

Washington must win to keep control of their own destiny. After squeezing by last week's contest with 4th string keeper Nicci Wright finishing the game, Erin McLeod will return to the nets for the Freedom. The question for Freedom fans is always where will coach Jim Gabarra start Sonia Bompastor. If she starts on the back line, she will be outside with Ali Krieger opposite her and Cat Whitehill and Becky Sauerbrunn in the middle. If Bompastor plays the midfield, the Alex Singer would likely slide into the other outside back position. Lori Lindsey and Homare Sawa are the constants in the midfield for the Freedom. Sawa scored her first goal against Athletica last week which turned out to be the game winner. Up front, Abby Wambach, fresh off of her 100th national team goal, will be one starter with speedy Lisa DeVanna at another. Rebecca Moros will be in support.

Chicago has played pretty well against Washington, noting that they finished the two tie games a player short due to red cards. The Red Stars have no room for error, while the Freedom can ill afford a loss here. I'm looking for a very close and very physical battle in this match.

FC Gold Pride at Saint Louis Athletica

This match pits 2nd place Athletica against last place FC Gold Pride. As far as playoffs go, Gold Pride is still alive on paper only. Meanwhile Saint Louis, with a little help from either Chicago or Boston, could clinch a playoff spot on Sunday evening.

Saint Louis comes into this match winning 4 of their last 5, largely on the shoulders of great goalkeeping, solid defense, and Eniola Aluko. Aluko has had a part in 10 of Athletica's 14 goals this year. She has 5 goals, 4 assists, and forced an own goal. Niki Cross has gotten the last two starts as Aluko's forward mate, although Sarah Walsh and Christie Welsh provide other options up front. The heart and soul of this team is captain Lori Chalupny. She will be at one midfield spot, with Amanda Cinalli, Angie Woznuk, and Kendall Fletcher rounding out the midfield. Defensively, Tina Ellertson is the leader in the center of the back line. Joining her will be Sara Larsson, Kia McNeill, and probably Elise Weber or Stephanie Logterman.

It has been a disappointing year for Gold Pride. They haven't won since the middle of May, going 0-6-3 since then. They've only scored one goal in their last five games, that coming on a penalty kick by Tiffeny Milbrett. And Christine Sinclair is the only Bay Area player to have scored a non-penalty goal since May 3rd. Sinclair will be back from national team duty and she leads the Gold Pride offense with 5 goals. Tiffeny Milbrett is the team's second leading scorer with three. Albertin Montoya has constantly juggled his lineup, partially because of injuries, partially because of ineffective play, and partially just to find the right combination.

Leslie Osborne and Rachel Buehler will also be returning from national team duty and their leadership should help. Joining Buehler on the back line will be Carrie Dew, Leigh Ann Robinson, and Kristen Graczyk. Gold Pride showed on Thursday that they aren't going to give in easily. They forced regular season champion, Los Angeles Sol, to a scoreless tie.

This matchup will feature two of the most talented strikers in the league in Aluko and Sinclair. Saint Louis has won both of the previous two meetings by 1-0 scores, with Chalupny being the goal scorer in each. At this point, Gold Pride is playing for pride, while most of the pressure should be on Saint Louis.