August 10, 2010

WPS Midweek Preview - August 11

Three of the four teams battling for the fourth and final playoff berth will be in action on Wednesday. There’s only a month left in the season and every point counts.

Washington Freedom (5-8-5, 20 pts) at Sky Blue FC (6-8-3, 21 pts)
Yurcak Field, Piscataway, NJ – August 11 (7 pm ET)

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

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

Previous Meetings (2010):
Washington 0 @ Sky Blue 0
Washington leads the all-time series 2-1-2 (including 2009 playoff game).

What To Look For: A year ago, nearly to the day, Washington defeated Sky Blue 3-1 in the final 2009 regular season game for both teams. At the time, it put Sky Blue’s playoff hopes in jeopardy. However, Boston lost the next evening, putting Sky Blue in the playoffs and the rest is history.

This match will likely have serious playoff implications, but the difference is that it is highly unlikely that both teams will make the playoffs in 2010. More likely, it will be one or the other or perhaps even neither, if Chicago or Atlanta can get hot. So there is much on the line when these teams take the field on Wednesday evening.

Amazingly enough, both are in position to make the playoffs in spite of themselves. Sky Blue won for the first time in six tries on Saturday and Washington won for the first time since May last Wednesday.

After the injury to Karen Bardsley, things looked pretty bleak for New Jersey, but Jen Branam’s return in goal has given Sky Blue a much needed boost. Defensively, Sky Blue has six shutouts this season, but most those were early on. They generally get outshot and by a good margin. How they’ve managed to survive the barrage of shots game after game and still remain in playoff contention is quite extraordinary.

Laura Kalmari’s goal put Sky Blue up at halftime in the last match, but it took an own goal by the Beat to win it for SBFC. Sky Blue must find a way to score more goals. In 17 matches, they have scored only 16 goals, with two being own goals by the other team and another two being on penalties. Kalmari has been the only consistent scorer with five to her credit.

On the other hand, the Freedom have had trouble stopping their opponents from scoring. However, a shutout victory over the Independence may signal a turnaround. At the very least, it had to give young Ashlyn Harris some confidence in goal. Nikki Marshall scored three goals as a forward, but she was probably more needed on the back line and has been shifted back there.

It seemed like old times for the Freedom against Philly last week. They scored on two set pieces, one a corner by Sonia Bompastor, one a free kick by Cat Whitehill. Both resulted in goals by Abby Wambach via headers. This was the formula for their success last season and it was nice to see the Freedom utilize set piece opportunities to score.

This match, and the return match at the end of August, could hold the key to these teams’ playoff hopes.

Philadelphia Independence (8-6-4, 28 pts) at Chicago Red Stars (5-8-6, 21 pts)
Toyota Park, Bridgeview, IL – August 11 (8:30 pm ET, 7:30 pm CT)

Philadelphia: GK-K. LeBlanc, V. Henderson; D-N. Krzysik, H. Mitts, H. Magnusdottir, S.Larsson, E. Johnson, S. Senty; MF-L. Lindsey, C. Seger, T. DiMartino, J. Lohman, J.Buczkowski; F-A. Rodriguez, L. Sanderson, L. Patterson, K. Maruyama, D. Adams.
Not Active: A. Falk (knee), G. DiMartino, R. Jones, K. Henderson.

Chicago: GK-J. Loyden, A. Whitworth; D-K. Markgraf, W. Engen, M. Dalmy, N. Spilger, L. Vandenbergh; MF-Formiga, K. Carney, K. Chapman, M. Rapinoe, J. Sitch, N. Washington; F-Cristiane, E. Masar, C. Nogueira, V. Boquete, J. McDonald.
Not Active: E. Weber, S. Reiser.

Previous Meetings (2010):
Philadelphia 1 @ Chicago 0
Chicago 0 @ Philadelphia 3

What To Look For: The Red Stars haven’t had any success against Philadelphia. They have been shut out twice by the expansion Independence, the last match by a lopsided 3-0 score. Though in second place, Philadelphia can’t seem to get any momentum. Now with Boston breathing down their necks, they need a strong finish in order to hold onto their position in the standings.

After a bit of a rough stretch, Jill Loyden posted her fifth shutout against Gold Pride on Saturday. Since they don’t score a lot of goals, defense is how Chicago must win games. But if the defense is to win this one, Kate Markgraf, Whitney Engen, and company will have to mark a very speedy group of attackers for Philadelphia, starting with Amy Rodriguez.

Offensively, the Red Stars have been anemic for most of the season. Aside from Ella Masar and occasional flashes from Cristiane and Casey Nogueira, their finishing has been pretty lackluster. Chicago has added Veronica Boquete, the recent hero of the W-League championship game and a forward with a lot of speed.

Philadelphia has gone back and forth on their goalkeepers. Last game, it was Karina LeBlanc in goal against Boston. While Boston were held in check for much of that match, the Breakers did expose some holes in the Independence defense a few times too many. And with Allison Falk listed as being out for this match, Chicago may be able to find some opportunities as well.

One player you would have a hard time not noticing is Holmfridur Magnusdottir. She’s skilled, fast, exciting, and very physical. Her two goals gave Philadelphia the tie against Boston, but she once again proved that she is not afraid to mix it up, earning a yellow card on the heels of her recent red card suspension.

One thing that Chicago does not have this year that it had last year is a strong physical presence. They must be careful not to get outmuscled in this one and it is imperative that they not give up a lot of set pieces to a team as strong in the air as the Independence.

It comes down to this for the Red Stars. They are running out of games quickly and must squeeze every single point out of the remainder of their schedule as possible. Philadelphia has a reasonable schedule remaining, but they can’t afford to get complacent now.