August 7, 2009

WPS Weekend Matches-August 8th & 9th

It comes down to the last weekend of the regular season to decide the final two playoff berths. Washington and Sky Blue FC are tied for 3rd place with 26 points. Boston sits just one point behind in 5th place. Any of the three will clinch a playoff spot with a victory.

Sky Blue FC at Washington Freedom

One game could make or break the season for these two teams. The winner will host the first round playoff match next weekend. The loser must sweat out the Boston-LA match on Sunday evening. In the event of a tie, Washington would own the tiebreaker and Sky Blue would be the team on the bubble.

On Wednesday night, Sky Blue defeated FC Gold Pride to put themselves in position to earn a playoff spot. Now they will look to seal the deal on Saturday. Christie Rampone was a winner in her first game as head coach and a second win will put Sky Blue in the playoffs. SBFC is coming off of a strong performance in a 2-0 win over Gold Pride. Natasha Kai and Rosana provided the goal scoring in that match. All-Star selection Heather O'Reilly leads a strong group in the midfield.

The last match between these two teams ended in a wild 4-4 tie. Since then, the Sky Blue defense has had an impressive run, giving up just one goal in their last four matches. Goalkeeper Jenni Branam is a big part of that. Joining Rampone on the back line are Keeley Dowling and Meghan Schnur. Anita Asante will be returning from her one game suspension for yellow card accumulation to round out the defense.

Washington would have had a playoff berth clinched had they won last weekend against Gold Pride. But that didn't happen, so they will get a second chance this weekend at home. It seems like you never know which Freedom team will show up these days, the one that plays tight defense and wins 1-0 games or the team that scores bunches of goals. Abby Wambach has scored three goals in her last 3 games and six for the season. Lisa DeVanna has added four.

Assists leader Sonia Bompastor will probably start at one of the midfield spots and she will be a major factor in this match. Goalkeeper Erin McLeod and defender Cat Whitehill will lead the Freedom defense. The good news is that Washington's defense has been very stingy at home lately, giving up just one goal in their last four home games.

It will be interesting to see the approach of the two coaches in this match. Jim Gabarra knows his team only needs a tie to clinch a playoff berth, so the natural tendency would be to go defensive. Meanwhile, Christie Rampone knows that a tie may not be good enough, which could force her into a tough decision at the end of the game. Does she go all out for the win, not knowing what Boston will do the following evening? This match is, for all intents and purposes, a playoff game.

Los Angeles Sol at Boston Breakers

The Breakers host the Sol on Sunday night in Boston, knowing that a victory puts them in the playoffs. Los Angeles will be looking to win their first game in over a month. This match will be televised nationally on FSC.

Boston heads into this match as the only team with the series advantage over LA with a win and a tie. But it's been a long time since these two teams played back to back matches in early May. Back then, it appeared Boston would be a potential challenger for the top spot in the WPS. Now they are playing for their playoff lives. They will start Sunday evening in 5th place and by that time, they will know exactly what they have to do.

The Breakers have not scored a goal in 347 minutes and have only scored 4 goals in their last 8 matches. A major reason for that has been Kelly Smith's injured knee. Smith missed four matches and started her first match last weekend since July 4th. Amy Rodriguez has barely seen the field lately. Given Boston's scoring woes, one wonders if Tony DiCicco might insert his speedy forward into the lineup. There hasn't been any problems with Boston's tough defense. They have allowed just two goals in their last 5 outings. Allison Lipsher has been excellent in goal, but she is listed as "questionable" on the roster report. I've got to believe she will be in the lineup if she's able.

Something no one thought they would be saying a month ago is that Los Angeles is limping into the playoffs. They do have the luxury of only needing to win one playoff game to be champions, but I'm sure Abner Rogers would like to see a solid 90 minutes out of his 11 in this match. The Sol have only a tie to show for their last three matches. They've scored just twice in their last 4 matches. Marta has scored in the last 4 Sol victories, so it's logical that she may need to be the one to ignite the LA offense. Allison Falk is back in the lineup after missing 3 games due to an injury and she will team with Stephanie Cox to lead the Los Angeles defense. Karina LeBlanc, the All-Star starter, will probably be in goal with 12 shutouts to her credit.

Coach Tony DiCicco will have the advantage of knowing if his team needs a tie or a win to make the playoffs and will be able to adjust his strategy accordingly. Can the Sol turn it on after a month of meaningless games? Will Boston be the last team to claim a playoff spot?

Saint Louis Athletica at FC Gold Pride

In the only match of the weekend with no playoff implications, Saint Louis travels west to face FC Gold Pride in the final match of the WPS regular season. Athletica comes into this match with a 6-1-1 record over their last 8 matches. FC Gold Pride would like a victory to tie Chicago for 6th place and finish the season on a positive note.

Saint Louis will probably rest some of their injured players for this match and their roster report has eight players listed as being injured, including starting midfielder Angie Woznuk and defender Sara Larsson, neither of whom will probably make the trip. Coach Jorge Barcellos started several reserves on Wednesday, but is expected to use the lineup he will start for the playoffs in this match outside of those injured. One reserve that made a big impression on Wednesday was Christie Welsh. After not playing for 6 matches, Welsh scored two goals against the Red Stars and made her case for starting the upcoming playoff semifinal. Sarah Walsh started her first match for Athletica on Wednesday and played 72 minutes. Lori Chalupny, who has been playing with a broken hand, played only a half in her last match and it wouldn't surprise me if Barcellos limits her minutes in this match as well.

FC Gold Pride is playing for just that...pride. They will enter this match with a 4-10-5 record and only one victory in their last 12 games. But that doesn't mean Bay Area hasn't been competitive and they came out of nowhere to defeat Washington last weekend. Gold Pride might be missing their talented midfielder, Formiga, for this match. Leading scorer Christine Sinclair will be ready to go. She scored a late goal in her last meeting with Athletica forcing a 1-1 tie. With the expansion draft looming, this will be the last chance for Albertin Montoya to assess his team to decide which players to protect.