August 18, 2010

Chicago at Washington - WPS Thursday Night

Chicago Red Stars (5-9-6, 21 pts) at Washington Freedom (5-8-7, 22 pts)
Maryland SoccerPlex, Boyds, MD – August 19 (7:30 pm ET, 6:30 pm CT)

GK-J. Loyden, A. Whitworth; D-W. Engen, M. Dalmy, N. Spilger, L. Vandenbergh, C. Shaner; MF-Formiga, M. Rapinoe, N. Washington, S. Reiser; F-Cristiane, E. Masar, C. Nogueira, V. Boquete, J. McDonald.
Not Active: K. Markgraf (concussion), K. Carney (National team), K. Chapman (National Team), J. Sitch (season-ending injury), E. Weber.

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

Previous Meetings (2010):
Chicago 2 @ Washington 2
Chicago 0 @ Washington 0
The all-time series is even at 1-1-4.

What To Look For: Due to a quirk in the schedule caused by Athletica’s demise, Chicago is traveling to Washington for the third time this season, while the Red Stars have yet to host the Freedom. This series is as close as one can get. Over two years, each team has won once and there have been four ties. The composite goals scored are even at 7-7. In the only two meetings this season, the games ended in a draw. And as of this moment, only one point separates the two in the standings. With so few games left, both teams need this game badly.

The Red Stars head to the SoccerPlex heavily short-handed. Kate Markgraf is suffering from a concussion and will most likely not be active. Half of their starting midfield, Karen Carney and Katie Chapman, are away on national team duty. With Julianne Sitch and Elise Weber out as well, the Red Stars brought in defender Christie Shaner as a developmental player to shore up their depleted defensive corps.

For Chicago to win, Jill Loyden will have to have a solid game in goal and Whitney Engen becomes the key to the Red Star defense in Markgraf’s absence. Loyden has five shutouts for the season, but hasn’t been nearly as strong in the second half of the season. The Red Stars will have to find a way to stop Abby Wambach, who has scored four of the Freedom’s seven goals against Chicago in the six times they’ve met.

Wambach is the key to the Freedom’s offense. In their five wins, she has five goals and five assists. That means she has played a part in 10 of Washington’s 12 goals scored in their victories. The Freedom will not be missing as many players as the Red Stars, but one player they will miss dearly is Sonia Bompastor, who will be away on national team duty. However, Homare Sawa has proven that she can score from the middle when an opportunity presents itself.

Defensively, the Freedom have been playing much better recently. The improvement seems to have coincided with Nikki Marshall’s return to the back line. Marshall has proven to be a valuable player for the Freedom, scoring three goals in her brief stint as a forward and playing well on defense. Another player that has been coming on as of late is goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, who is just an own goal away from having three consecutive shutouts.

Chicago has been offense by committee this season, with four forwards bearing most of the scoring load. Ella Masar leads the Red Stars with six goals, but Cristiane has had the most success against the Freedom scoring three times over six matches. With Carney out, the Red Stars will have to rely heavily on Megan Rapinoe to attack from the midfield. Rapinoe has been limited to no goals and two assists this season. Marian Dalmy provides an offensive threat from the back line.

To be honest, neither team can afford a loss here. Sky Blue will have two games in hand against both teams following this match. The clock is ticking on both the Red Stars and the Freedom. The winner’s chance at a playoff spot will be greatly improved, while the loser will have quite the uphill battle.