August 4, 2009

WPS Midweek Matches & Notes-August 5th

Two of the four playoff teams have been decided, which leaves three teams competing for the two remaining spots. Here is where they stand right now:

Washington 26 points (vs. Sky Blue on Saturday)
Boston 25 points (vs Los Angeles on Sunday)
Sky Blue FC 23 points (vs FC Gold Pride on Wednesday, at Washington on Saturday)

At this point, all three teams control their destiny. Sky Blue has the tiebreaker over Boston and Boston has won the tiebreaker over Washington. Washington currently leads the tiebreaker over Sky Blue with a win and a tie, but that could change on Saturday. Here are the scenarios we know for sure:

Washington clinches 3rd place with a victory over Sky Blue. They would clinch a playoff spot with a win or a tie against Sky Blue, or a Boston loss to Los Angeles.

Boston clinches a playoff berth with a win over Los Angeles. They also clinch a playoff berth if Sky Blue gets only one point or less in their last two matches.

Sky Blue clinches 3rd place with two wins. They also clinch a playoff spot with a win and a Boston loss, or with a win and a tie combined with a Boston tie or loss.

There is a remote possibility that the teams could end in a 3-way tie if Sky Blue loses to FC Gold Pride and defeats Washington, while Boston ties Los Angeles. That would send the situation into tiebreakers and not all of the tiebreakers have been decided yet. As things stand now, any of the three teams can finish in any of the three positions 3rd through 5th. It should be an interesting week of soccer.

FC Gold Pride at Sky Blue FC

Although Sky Blue wouldn't be eliminated with a loss in this match, it would certainly make things easier if they won. A victory would keep them in control of their own destiny, plus it would put them in 4th place ahead of Boston. Meanwhile, FC Gold Pride has been eliminated from playoff contention, but they seem to have found a second wind, with a win and two ties in their last 3 games.

Sky Blue FC is not just dealing with the battle for a playoff position. For the second time this year, they must regroup after a coaching change. Kelly Lindsey has resigned and defender Christie Rampone will handle the coaching duties for the rest of the season. Another problem for Sky Blue has been injuries. Both Christie Rampone (surgery) and Natasha Kai (shoulder) have been out of the lineup, but both are listed as "probable" for this match. Kai is Sky Blue's leading scorer with 5 goals. They do have other offensive options with Rosana and Kacey White, as well as newcomer Kerri Hanks. National team starter Heather O'Reilly also attacks well from the midfield. It appeared that their offense was beginning to gel, but they have now been shut out their last two matches.

On defense, Sky Blue has to deal with the loss of Anita Asante, who is suspended for yellow card accumulation. If Rampone starts, she will join Keeley Dowling and Meghan Schnur on the back line. Asante's spot will likely be filled by Jen Buczkowski, with Katie Hooker or Julianne Sitch being other possibilities. Jen Branam, who has 6 shutouts including 2 in her last 3 games, will be in goal.

FC Gold Pride has been playing good soccer lately and it coincides with the insertion of Brandi Chastain into the starting lineup. The 41 year old Chastain seems to have added energy to Bay Area's play. Scoring has been a problem for FCGP most of the season, but not in their last contest against the Freedom when both Kimberly Yokers and Adriane scored their first goals of the season. Canadian national Christine Sinclair leads the Pride with 6 goals and veteran Tiffeny Milbrett has four. Eriko Arakawa and Tina DiMartino patrol the midfield, but Formiga will be out for this match with a knee injury. Defensively, Albertin Montoya made two changes in their last match, putting Lindsay Massengale at defender instead of Leigh Ann Robinson and starting Allison Whitworth for Nicole Barnhart in goal.

Sky Blue has their work cut out for them. They face an important match against a team with no pressure on them that has been playing well. Rampone has been thrust into a tough situation as a player/coach. Gold Pride would love to finish the season on a positive note, with this match and a Sunday night match against Saint Louis remaining. Whatever happens in this match, the playoff picture should clear up somewhat by Wednesday evening. Or at least there will be less possibilities to figure out.

Chicago Red Stars at Saint Louis Athletica

Athletica's victory over Boston gave them 2nd place and the opportunity to face their final two matches with no pressure. Coach Jorge Barcellos now has two tasks to accomplish. First, he will try to rest some of his injured and tired players. More importantly, he must find a way to replace Eniola Aluko. Aluko will be leaving the team shortly to play for England in the Euros. She has been responsible, either by goal or assist, for nearly two thirds of Athletica's offense.

The player likely to step in for Aluko will be Sarah Walsh. The Aussie striker is coming off of an injury and has averaged 27 minutes over her last 4 matches. She will need to stretch that to about 60 minutes with Aluko gone. Niki Cross has made an impact as the other starting forward, with a goal against Gold Pride. Saint Louis' midfield is mostly set with Kendall Fletcher, Amanda Cinalli, and captain Lori Chalupny. However, Angie Woznuk is listed as "unavailable" with a hamstring injury for this match. Cinalli picked up an assist on Aluko's game winner against the Breakers. Tina Ellertson leads a strong defense that also includes Kia McNeill and Elise Weber. Goalkeeper Hope Solo picked up her 7th shutout against Boston, but Barcellos may decide to use backup Jillian Loyden who has two shutouts of her own.

Chicago had to be encouraged by their strong performance in defeating Los Angeles 3-1. This will be their final match of the season and they will want to finish with a victory. The Red Stars' midfield which had been dormant for much of the season, has come back to life lately. Carli Lloyd scored one against the Sol and Brittany Klein picked up an assist. Megan Rapinoe and Karen Carney both scored in the previous match. Forward Cristiane scored her 7th of the year against LA, while Lindsay Tarpley added her 4th goal of the season, to go along with 4 assists. Caroline J├Ânsson has had a generally solid season in spite of the fact that the Red Stars have given up more shots on goal than any other team.

Given the likelihood of Athletica resting some of their players, this is a tough match to handicap. After a disappointing season, the Red Stars would like to finish with some momentum heading into next season. Saint Louis will be looking to prepare for the playoffs, which for them, starts in two weeks. The two teams have split their previous matches, with each winning on the other's home field.

Midweek Notes

Boston Breakers-The Breakers have allowed fewer shots on goal than any other team at 4.58 per game...Boston has now been outscored in the 1st half by a margin of 13-6...Amy Rodriguez has seen only 15 minutes of action over the Breakers' last four matches.

Chicago Red Stars-The Red Stars drew 7959 for their final home game which was their largest crowd of the season...Cristiane has scored at least one goal in each of Chicago's last three wins...Chicago has scored two or more goals in 4 of their last 6 contests.

FC Gold Pride-Tiffany Weimer still leads Gold Pride in assists with 3, in spite of not having recorded one since April...Bay Area's 3 goals against the Freedom marked the 2nd time they have scored three, with the first being a 4-3 loss to Washington early in the season...The 3-2 win over the Freedom was FCGP's first come from behind victory in their history.

Los Angeles Sol-The Sol have scored just two goals in their last four matches...Karina LeBlanc still leads the WPS with a 0.50 goals against average...The Sol allowed an average of only 3.67 shots on goal through their first 12 matches, but have allowed an average of 6.14 shots over their last 7 matches.

Saint Louis Athletica-Ten of Athletica's 18 matches have ended in a 1-0 score, with Saint Louis winning 7 of them...Saint Louis has now outscored their opponents by a margin of 11-2 in the 1st half and have a 7-0-2 record when scoring in the 1st half...Athletica has given up just 5 goals at home, second best to Los Angeles' total of 3.

Sky Blue FC-SBFC is the only team with an American player leading in both goals and assists. Natasha Kai leads in goals with 5, while Keeley Dowling leads in assists with 3...If Christie Rampone plays in one of the final two matches, she will become the first player/head coach in league history...Meghan Schnur is the only Sky Blue player to have started every match.

Washington Freedom-Abby Wambach leads all American players with 6 goals...Washington has shut out 3 of their last 4 opponents at home...The Freedom have scored the most goals (29) and given up the most goals (31) of any team in the WPS.