April 11, 2010

Boxx and Aluko Combine To Defeat Gold Pride in Opener

Eniola Aluko is happy to have Shannon Boxx as a teammate. Aluko scored two goals, both assisted by her new teammate Boxx, to give Saint Louis Athletica a 2-0 victory over FC Gold Pride in their home opener. Aluko's brace, one on each side of the break, marked the first time she has scored two goals in a WPS game.

The lineups were Solo, Wagenfuhr, Fletcher, Ellertson, Weber, Blank, Chalupny, Boxx, DiMartino, Miyama, and Aluko for Saint Louis, playing a 4-5-1. For Gold Pride, the lineup was Barnhart, Riley, Chapman, Buehler, Fountain, Abily, Gulbrandsen, Marta, O'Hara, Milbrett, and Sinclair in a 4-3-3.

The opening 30 minutes were mainly played in the middle of the field with neither team offering more than a mild threat at a goal. Two substitutions were made early on, Niki Cross for an injured Sarah Wagenfuhr for Saint Louis and Kandace Wilson for Kaley Fountain for Gold Pride. The first good chance of the match came in the 31st minute as Lori Chalupny sent one barely over the crossbar. In the 35th minute, Christine Sinclair placed a short cross into Camille Abily at the 6 yard box with her back to the goal, but the defender held her ground and Abily was unable to turn to get a shot.

Saint Louis started to exert more pressure at that point and Athletica finally broke through in the 39th minute. Shannon Boxx sent a perfect ball through to Eniola Aluko and she was able to beat Nicole Barnhart one-on-one lower right. Saint Louis went into the break with a 1-0 lead.

The second half started with Gold Pride putting sustained pressure on for the first 3 minutes, but not getting a good shot off. From there, Athletica started to control the midfield and put forth some chances. Lori Chalupny was able to split two defenders and feed the ball to Aluko, who nearly had another goal, but the shot sailed wide.

In the 62nd minute, Athletica earned a corner. Aya Miyama sent a perfect ball into to Boxx who headed the ball down from about 8 yards out. Aluko, not taking any chances, finished it neatly past Barnhart to give Athletica a 2-0 lead. Aluko gave much credit to Boxx for both goals. "Two great assists from (Boxx), so I have a lot to thank her for my goals today."

The 2nd goal seem to deflate the Gold Pride side. They brought Becky Edwards in for Gulbrandsen a few minutes later, while Athletica relieved Tina Ellertson who was hobbled a bit with India Trotter, moving Blank to defender and Boxx back to defensive mid.

Gold Pride's best chance may have come a few minutes later. Tiffeny Milbrett got free to take a hard shot from the 18, but Hope Solo was able to leap and parry the ball, which she quickly gathered in before any Gold Pride players could get there. In the 82nd minute, Marta burst into the right side of the box, but was forced to a bad angle and was only able to earn a corner out of the opportunity. From that point on, it was only a matter of running out the clock for Athletica.

Coach Jorge Barcellos has put Shannon Boxx in more of an attacking role for Athletica, rather than her normal defensive midfield position, and she responded with two assists and a very strong performance. Boxx talked about the team's mindset for the match. "Lori Chalupny said it great right before the game. Let's show everyone what Athletica's about, and that we're strong, we're hard, we're going to come into every tackle, scratch, fight...whatever it takes to come out with a win and I think we did a great job of that today."

Of Boxx, Aluko had nothing but praise. "She brings everything you would expect, experience, she's played in big games all her life, and she's a great communicator and a great midfielder all around."

Athletica did a nice job of controlling the midfield as the game wore on and their defense was up to the task, keeping the talented offensive unit of Gold Pride off the board. Gold Pride seemed to have numbers going forward a few times, but were unable to make good use of it in the final third.

Coach Jorge Barcellos was very happy with his team's play. "All the team played very good today." He was especially proud of his midfield, who he gave much praise for keeping the pressure off of his defenders. He also sees two of his newest additions to the midfield helping out Aluko a lot. "I think (with) the support of Boxx and Miyama that Eniola will make a lot of goals with us this year."

Next week, Saint Louis travel to Chicago to meet the Red Stars in a Saturday match. FC Gold Pride returns to the bay area where they will meet defending champions Sky Blue FC in Gold Pride's home opener.