July 31, 2010

WPS Weekend Preview - July 31 and August 1

FC Gold Pride looks to clinch a playoff slot with a victory this weekend. But while Gold Pride and Philadelphia appear to have 1st and 2nd place under control, only three points separate the remaining five teams as we head into the last month and a half of the season.

Washington Freedom (4-7-5, 17 pts) at Boston Breakers (5-6-4, 19 pts)
Harvard Stadium, Cambridge, MA – July 31 (7 pm ET)

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

Boston: GK-A. Naeher, A. Phillips; D-A. LePeilbet, I. Dieke, A. Scott, S. Cox, K. Moore; MF-L. Tarpley, L. Osborne, K. Lilly, J. Angeli, C. Igwe; F-K. Smith, Fabiana (questionable-knee), L. Cheney, L. Del Rio, T. Weimer, T. Hemmings.
Not Active: L. Bogus (hamstring), N. Cross, A. Lipsher, S. Walsh (knee).

Previous Meetings (2010):
Boston 2 @ Washington 1
Boston 0 @ Washington 0
Washington 1 @ Boston 2
Boston leads the all-time series at 4-1-2.

What To Look For: This is a matchup between two teams going in opposite directions. Boston has made up 10 points on the Freedom in just the last four weeks. The Breakers should come into this match as a confident group, having won four of their last five. They also hold a fairly hefty edge in the head-to-head series against Washington. The amazing stat in this series is that for all the offense the Freedom have shown against other teams, they have not scored more than a single goal in any of the seven matches they have faced Boston.

The Freedom need to find a way to score in this match. Abby Wambach is the obvious target, but she must get help from players such as Lene Mykjåland and Allie Long. Nikki Marshall has been a welcome addition to the offense. Both Homare Sawa and Sonia Bompastor have augmented the offense, but will Freedom coach Jim Gabarra put Bompastor on the back line or in the midfield for this match?

The Breaker defense can be scored upon. While they boast a solid back line, led by USWNT center back Amy LePeilbet, they have not shut out an opponent in their last eight. Still, the Breakers have the capability of shutting down other teams. Midfielder Leslie Osborne has been a major factor in Boston’s success.

Offensively, the Breakers have suddenly found their way. After managing just 7 goals in their first 10 games, they have been on a scoring spree, knocking home 11 goals in their past five. It’s no surprise that Kelly Smith leads Boston in scoring and she sliced her way through Chicago’s defense for two goals last weekend.

The surprise has been midfielder Jordan Angeli, a 2nd round selection in the January draft. Her four goals are second only to Smith for the Breakers. Lindsay Tarpley may not score a lot of goals herself, but there is no doubt that she has given Boston’s offense a lift since coming over from Saint Louis.

Washington has given up 12 goals in the last four matches and will face the rest of the season without starting keeper Erin McLeod. Ashlyn Harris surrendered three to Atlanta in her debut, though to be fair, the Freedom defense was much to blame for that. The change that took Cat Whitehill out of the lineup didn’t seem to work very well. It will be interesting to see what the Freedom’s back line will look like for this contest.

Winless in over two months, the Freedom need a victory just to get their confidence back. They also need to protect their young keeper better than they did in the Atlanta contest. For the first time in a long time, the Breakers are a team to be reckoned with. However, they need to earn as many points as possible now with a schedule that finishes with four matches on the road.

FC Gold Pride (12-3-1, 37 pts) at Atlanta Beat (4-7-4, 16 pts)
KSU Stadium, Kennesaw, GA – August 1 (5 pm ET, 2 pm PT)

Gold Pride: GK-N. Barnhart, B. Cameron; D-R. Buehler, C. Chapman, A. Riley, K. Wilson, C. Dew; MF-S. Boxx, C. Abily, B. Edwards, K. Graczyk; F-Marta, C. Sinclair, K. O’Hara, T. Milbrett, K. Bosio.
Not Active: K. Fountain, E. Guthrie, R. Tantillo, K. Yokers.

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

Previous Meetings (2010):
Atlanta 1 @ FC Gold Pride 2
FC Gold Pride 4 @ Atlanta 0

What To Look For:
The last time these two teams met, it was a disaster for Atlanta. Kia McNeill took a red card, the Beat were destroyed 4-0, and it could have been worse, given the number of breakaways Gold Pride was given by a very porous defense.

A lot has changed since then. Atlanta is now sporting a three-game winning streak and is within two points of a playoff position. They have a fairly impressive 4-2-3 record since the influx of former Athletica players and some of their original players are really starting to play well.

While Atlanta is battling for a playoff slot, Gold Pride can clinch one this weekend with a victory. Bay Area is on their second five-game winning streak of the season and averaging three goals a game during that streak. The only way to beat FCGP appears to be by shutting them out, a very tall task indeed. Gold Pride was shut out in each of their three losses.

With Marta and Christine Sinclair scoring goals in droves, this Gold Pride team is hard to stop. There is not a defender in this league, nor probably in the world, that has the speed to keep up with Marta. It will take a strong team effort by Atlanta to shut her down. Kelley O’Hara, another potent offensive threat, should be back after suffering an illness that prevented her from playing for a few matches and Gold Pride doesn’t lose anything when they put ageless Tiffeny Milbrett up front.

Marta usually strikes up the middle and that is an area where Atlanta is strong with McNeill and Tina Ellertson. Hope Solo has given the Beat a major boost, earning three shutouts since her arrival in Atlanta. Atlanta seems to have adopted the gritty approach that many of their players had while playing for Athletica.

But while former Athletica’s players have been a major reason for the Beat’s turnaround, a couple of players that were there from the start have been a big part of it as well. Johanna Rasmussen has been playing great soccer for the Beat and her goal on Wednesday night against Washington was a beauty. Monica Ocampo scored two in that match, splitting the Freedom defense in the 2nd half. Eni Aluko, if she plays, could give Gold Pride’s defense all they can handle.

Gold Pride will counter the Beat by being strong up the middle (Nicole Barnhart, Rachel Buehler, Becky Edwards, and Shannon Boxx) and very fast on the outside (Ali Riley and Kandace Wilson). Barnhart is having a very good campaign for Gold Pride with a sparkling 0.86 goals against average.

This match will be a good measure of Atlanta’s progress. They are only four weeks removed from the thrashing that Gold Pride gave them last time. Let’s see how far they have come. For Gold Pride, it could be the first of many celebrations to come if they win the match and clinch a playoff spot.

Chicago Red Stars (4-8-5, 17 pts) at Sky Blue FC (5-7-3, 18 pts)
Yurcak Field, Piscataway, NJ – August 1 (7 pm ET, 6 pm CT)

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

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

Previous Meetings (2010):
Chicago 0 @ Sky Blue FC 1
Sky Blue FC 1 @ Chicago 0
Sky Blue FC 0 @ Chicago 2
Sky Blue FC leads the all-time series at 5-1-1.

What To Look For: Both teams are on three-game losing streaks and both could good do with a good kick in the butt for their play lately. The Red Stars and Sky Blue had playoff spots staring them in the face in early July, but have been unable to do anything since. SBFC hasn’t won a home game since defeating these Red Stars in the season opener.

Sky Blue will welcome back three key players this weekend. Natasha Kai and Laura Kalmari should be back from injuries. The return of Sky Blue’s two leading scorers gives the New Jersey side hope of turning around an offense that has managed to score just a single goal over their last four games, which I might add, was scored by defender Brittany Taylor.

But the most welcome sight for Sky Blue fans will be the return of goalkeeper Jen Branam, who helped lead this team to the championship last season. Branam was injured before the start of the 2010 season. Although giving up too many shots at times, Sky Blue’s defense has been reasonably solid, save a couple of lackluster efforts against Philadelphia.

Chicago has been outscored 7-1 in their last three matches and they managed just a single shot on goal in their last contest on Wednesday night. Kosovare Asllani has been listed as unavailable for this match due to a hamstring injury, leaving it to Cristiane, Ella Masar, and Casey Nogueira to get this team’s offense going.

The Red Stars are at their best when controlling play through their midfield with Karen Carney being their best threat from the wing. We’re still waiting on better things from Megan Rapinoe and veteran Formiga.

The Red Star defense, once their strongest unit, has fallen on hard times. They have been a step slow the past couple of games and their opponents have taken advantage to create great opportunities. Goalkeeper Jill Loyden, an all-star early in the season, needs to start coming up with big saves to keep her team in games.

In spite of how bad they have played in the last three matches, Chicago can rejoin the top four with a victory. Meanwhile, Sky Blue needs to win this match to maintain their hold on fourth place.