July 6, 2010

WPS Midweek Matches- July 7

Washington Freedom (4-3-4, 16 pts) at Sky Blue FC (5-4-2, 17 pts)
Yurcak Field, Piscataway, NJ - July 7 (7 pm ET)

Washington: GK-E. McLeod, A. Harris (questionable-toe); D-C. Whitehill, B. Sauerbrunn, N. Marshall, R. Moros (probable-foot), K. Eveland; MF-S. Bompastor, H. Sawa, A. Long, S. Huffman, B. Goebel, B. Klein; F-A. Wambach, L. Mykjåland, C. Welsh.
Not Active: B. Bock, M. Abegg, J. Gilbeau, M. McCray, C. Miskel, A. Singer.

Sky Blue FC: GK-K. Luckenbill, S. Myers; D-C. Rampone, D. Koster, B. Taylor, K. Fletcher, K. Dowling, D. Johnson; MF-H. O'Reilly, Rosana, K. White, Y. Averbuch, A. Salem; F-T. Kai, L. Kalmari, K. Dallstream, I. Trotter, P. Panico.
Not Active: J. Branam (stomach), C. Lloyd (ankle), M. Schnur (ankle), K. Bardsley (clavicle).

Previous Meetings (2009):
Sky Blue 1 @ Washington 2
Washington 4 @ Sky Blue 4
Sky Blue 1 @ Washington 3
Sky Blue 2 @ Washington 1 (playoffs)

What To Look For: This is the first meeting of the season between these two rivals and the only two remaining playoff teams from 2009. There were no shutouts in this series last season and Sky Blue won only once, most importantly in the playoffs.

Sky Blue was dealt a harsh blow when Karen Bardsley was injured while training for the All-Star Game. That leaves Kristin Luckenbill as their keeper and she surrendered four in her only start this year against Philadelphia. Sky Blue is coming off of a shutout victory over Gold Pride, but it's always a tough transition when keepers change. Sky Blue's back line is solid, but they have given up a lot of shots this season. Sky Blue doesn't score a lot, but they haven't been shut out in their last four. Kalmari, Kai, Rosana, and O'Reilly lead the way, but Patrizia Panico could make her American debut in this one.

Washington's goalkeeping is in the capable hands of Erin McLeod, an All-Star selection. Defensively, the Freedom have some good, but not particularly speedy, backs. They are led by Cat Whitehill, a dangerous player on set pieces. In the midfield, Sonia Bompastor is the leader, but she was under the weather over the weekend and only played a half in the Freedom's scoreless draw with the Red Stars. Homare Sawa and Sarah Huffman are having good seasons as well. Abby Wambach and Lene Mykjåland pair up at forward.

The Freedom have only earned three ties in their last four matches. They blew two goal leads in the two games leading up to the scoreless tie against Chicago. They have the advantage of going against a seldom used keeper, but Luckenbill did reasonably well in two starts against the Freedom last season, giving up only one goal in each. Sky Blue seems almost cursed with injuries this season, in stark contrast to their storybook finish of last season when everything went their way. I would look for the Freedom to test Luckenbill early and often. Meanwhile, Sky Blue must generate some offense to keep the pressure off a defense that has faced nearly 18 shots per match.

Although we're only at midseason, this is an important matchup between the 3rd and 4th place teams. A loss by either could see Chicago breathing down their necks for the last playoff spot.

Atlanta Beat (1-6-3, 6 pts) at Chicago Red Stars (3-5-4, 13 pts)
Toyota Park, Bridgeview, IL - July 7 (8:30 pm ET, 7:30 pm CT)

Atlanta: GK-H. Solo, B. Maron; D-L. Robinson, S. Bishop, K. Larkin, L. Sesselmann; MF-L. Chalupny, M. Yamaguchi, A. Miyama, A. Kerr, J. Rasmussen, C. Blank, M. Zerboni, R. Nolin; F-E. Aluko, A. Cinalli
Not Active: K. McNeill (red card suspension), R. Bachmann (groin), T. Ellertson (concussion), M. Ocampo (knee), M. Lofton-Malachi.

Chicago: GK-J. Loyden, A. Whitworth; D-K. Markgraf, W. Engen, M. Dalmy, A. Asante, E. Weber, L. Vandenbergh; MF-K. Carney, K. Chapman, M. Rapinoe, Formiga, J. Sitch; F-Cristiane, K. Asllani, E. Masar, C. Nogueira, J. McDonald.
Not Active: N. Spilger (accum of yellow cards), N. Washington (knee), J. Santacaterina, M. Burke.

Previous Meetings (2010):
Atlanta 0 @ Chicago 0
Chicago 0 @ Atlanta 1

What To Look For: Just when it appeared that the Beat were rounding into a competitive team, they suffered through perhaps their most embarrassing game in their young history. They were scorched 4-0 by Gold Pride in a game that saw them loose both central defenders, one to injury and the other to red card. Gold Pride repeatedly got behind Atlanta's defense subjecting goalkeeper Hope Solo to a shooting gallery.

This week will probably determine whether the Beat have even a remote chance for a playoff spot. They face the two teams immediately in front of them on the table, Chicago and Boston. And at least for the Chicago match, they will have to do it without McNeill, Ellertson, Bachmann, and Ocampo. But on the bright side, they have earned four of their six points, including their only victory, against this Red Stars side.

The Beat will be forced to put a piecemeal defense on the field, with Leigh Ann Robinson and Stacy Bishop being the stalwarts of the group. One might wonder if Coach O'Sullivan will drop Carolyn Blank to fullback for this one. Atlanta has an extremely talented midfield led by the Japanese duo of Yamaguchi and Miyama. But they will have to help out on the defense in this one, especially facing a Red Star squad that managed 23 shots against the Freedom just days ago. With Bachmann out, Aluko is the only sure threat at forward and it wouldn't surprise me to see a 4-5-1 formation from Atlanta, with Yamaguchi shading forward from the midfield.

The Red Stars have earned points in 5 of their last 6, with the exception being a road match against this Atlanta team. Chicago boasts a strong defensive unit led by goalie Jill Loyden and defender Kate Markgraf. Offense has been the problem for the Red Stars. They do not have any goals by anyone other than a forward this season. The total midfield contribution to the offense through 12 contests is a mere four assists. The blame should not entirely be placed on the midfield, however, as the quality of finishing has left much to be desired. The Red Stars have the talent certainly, with Cristiane, Asllani, Masar, and Nogueira at forward, to score a lot of goals, but they must get quality shots on frame.

McNeill's suspension and Atlanta's injuries couldn't have come at a worse time. The Beat needs this game desperately. Chicago could put themselves right in the middle of the playoff chase with a win here. This is their first home game in over a month and the home crowd should help them. Will Atlanta get their second win or will Chicago avenge an earlier loss to the expansion Beat?