August 21, 2010

WPS Weekend Preview - August 21 and 22

Atlanta Beat (4-10-5, 17 pts) at Boston Breakers (8-6-5, 29 pts)
Veteran Memorial Stadium, New Britain, CT – August 21 (5 pm ET)

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

Boston: GK-A. Naeher, A. Phillips, A. Lipsher; D-A. LePeilbet, S. Cox, K. Moore, C. Igwe, T. Hemmings; MF-L. Tarpley, K. Lilly, J. Angeli, Fabiana, L. Bogus, A. Marquez; F-L. Cheney, L. Del Rio, S. Walsh.
Not Active: I. Dieke (national team), A. Scott (national team), K. Smith (national team), L. Osborne (season-ending injury).

Previous Meetings (2010):
Atlanta 1 @ Boston 3
Atlanta 0 @ Boston 2

What To Look For: Hopefully when these two teams meet on Saturday, all of the news will be restricted to the field of play, unlike the match earlier in the month. Boston could take a huge step toward clinching a playoff berth with a victory, while Atlanta is in nearly a must win situation to keep their hopes alive.

This will be the third consecutive time Atlanta travels to Boston, although the venue will be different this time. The Breakers’ final regular season home match is being played in New Britain, Connecticut and the Beat are hoping that the change in scenery will change the final results. Atlanta had lost the previous two meetings at Harvard Stadium, both by two goal margins.

As with all WPS matches this weekend, several players will be missing on national team duty. For Atlanta, midfielder Johanna Rasmussen will be playing for Denmark. Boston will be missing three key starters in Kelly Smith, Alex Scott, and Ifeoma Dieke. Additionally, Leslie Osborne suffered a season ending injury in her last match, making four starters missing for the Breakers.

The Beat have given up seven goals in their past three matches and that simply has to change if they are going to make any progress toward the playoffs. They gave a first minute goal in their last meeting with Boston, followed by an own goal in their next match, and finally, inexcusably blowing a two goal lead against the Independence. Hope Solo and the Atlanta defense must play like there is no tomorrow.

The biggest thing Atlanta has going for them is the absence of Smith, who has scored three of the Breakers’ five goals against the Beat. That will mean a forward pairing of Lauren Cheney, who has scored in three of her last four matches, and Laura del Rio, who got her first of the season last weekend against Sky Blue. Boston’s midfield can provide offense as well with Jordan Angeli (six goals), Lindsey Tarpley, and Kristine Lilly.

Defensively, the Breakers will miss Dieke, Scott, and Osborne. They lose quite a bit of speed and experience without that trio. In spite of their spectacular run over the past ten matches, Boston has only four shutouts this season, although goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher does have two in her last three matches.

Interestingly, there is a conflict of information regarding Eniola Aluko’s availability for Saturday night’s match. The Atlanta press release has her as a starter and WPS does not list her as inactive on their roster report. She had supposedly been called up by England for today's match. However, she isn't listed in their lineup, so perhaps she will be in New Britain today.

With four road matches left, Boston can move to within an eyelash of clinching a playoff spot on Saturday. Atlanta is looking to stay alive in what should be a hotly contested contest, even considering the missing players.

Philadelphia Independence (10-6-4, 34 pts) at Sky Blue FC (6-9-4, 22 pts)
Yurcak Field, Piscataway, NJ – August 22 (4 pm ET)

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

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

Previous Meetings (2010):
Sky Blue FC 1 @ Philadelphia 2
Philadelphia 4 @ Sky Blue FC 1
Sky Blue FC 1 @ Philadelphia 4

What To Look For: Sky Blue have taken quite the beating in the series between these two teams, losing all three by a composite 10-3 score. They will have to do better on Sunday if they are to keep pace with the Washington Freedom in the standings. Meanwhile, Philadelphia will clinch a playoff berth with at least a tie, among other potential scenarios.

The visiting Independence will be missing several key players for this match including Caroline Seger, Frida Magnusdottir, and Sara Larsson. They will certainly miss Seger’s control in the midfield and Magnusdottir’s fierce competitiveness and speed. However, Philly will be facing one of the weaker offensive teams in the league.

Sky Blue have scored just five goals in their last eight matches. Of those five goals, two were scored by Brittany Taylor, one by Laura Kalmari, and two by the opposing team. The forward trio of Kai, Rosana, and Panico, plus USWNT midfield mainstay Heather O'Reilly, don’t have a goal since June. It will be interesting to see if Coach Rick Stainton might insert Kelly Parker into the match to shake things up a bit.

Christie Rampone and the Sky Blue back line must show the tenacious fortitude that we saw in the 2009 campaign if the woman from New Jersey are to win this one. This isn’t your 2009 Sky Blue team, one that made a habit of gutting out low scoring matches to fight their way to the championship.

In spite of generally solid goalkeeping from Bardsley, Branam, and Luckenbill, New Jersey has been shreaded repeatedly for multiple goals. Eight times in 2010, Sky Blue has given up two or more goals. It happened just five times in 23 matches last season, including the playoffs.

Amy Rodriguez has simply terrorized SBFC with four goals and two assists in the three matches. Joanna Lohman has done well against Sky Blue with two goals. Even without Seger, Philadelphia’s speed and firepower should give Sky Blue plenty of trouble. One wonders whether the experienced, but not particularly fast, Sky Blue back line can stop them.

Sunday could be a day of celebration for the Independence, clinching a playoff berth in their inaugural season. Sky Blue needs a victory to bring themselves back level with the Washington Freedom, who they will meet in a 4th place showdown next Saturday.

FC Gold Pride (12-3-4, 40 pts) at Chicago Red Stars (5-10-6, 21 pts)
Toyota Park, Bridgeview, IL – August 22 (6 pm ET, 5 pm CT, 3 pm PT)

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

Chicago: 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, J. McDonald.
Not Active: K. Markgraf (concussion), K. Carney (national team), K. Chapman (national team), V. Boquete, E. Weber.

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

What To Look For: You might think this would be a one-sided series, given that FC Gold Pride is in 1st place and Chicago is in 6th place, not to mention the 19 point spread between the two. However, this matchup has been highly competitive, with Chicago earning four points against Gold Pride, more than any other FCGP opponent.

Due to injuries and call ups, both teams will be shorthanded. Gold Pride will be missing French midfielder Camille Abily, away on national team duty. The Red Stars are missing Kate Markgraf due to a concussion and Julianne Sitch, who suffered a season-ending injury, as well Karen Carney and Katie Chapman who are with the English National Team.

So what happened to all of Gold Pride’s scoring? After averaging three goals a game in a five-game stretch in July, they have been held to scoreless ties three times in a row and not exactly by the league’s most vaunted defensive units. With the playoffs rapidly approaching, it’s time for Marta, Sinclair, O’Hara, and company to show some spark. Marta still leads the league in scoring, but Amy Rodriguez has moved right behind her.

Chicago goes into this game without its captain in Kate Markgraf. While they played tough through one half against the Freedom on Thursday night, they eventually fell 2-0 in a game they needed desperately. Now, with their backs against the wall, they face potentially the most dangerous offense in WPS. One thing they have going for them is the knowledge that they’ve shut out Gold Pride twice earlier in the season.

Offensively, Chicago just continues to struggle. They have now been blanked 22 times in 41 matches over their history. Ella Masar has been the star of this Red Star offense with six goals, but there has been very little from other sources.

Gold Pride has been sharp defensively, with three consecutive shutouts. Nicole Barnhart leads the league in that category and she has a sturdy group in front of her. A couple of rookies, Ali Riley and Becky Edwards, have improved this unit greatly from the 2009 version. With returning defender Rachel Buehler, the return of Kandace Wilson from her 2009 injury, the free agent signing of Candace Chapman, and the addition of Shannon Boxx, they might possibly be the best defense in WPS.

Gold Pride is looking to clinch home field advantage in the final and to regain their offensive form of earlier in the season. In all probability, Chicago will need to win their last three matches to have a chance at the playoffs. Given the fact that they have never even scored in three consecutive games (ever!!!), that could prove to be quite a monumental task.