August 28, 2010

WPS Weekend Preview - August 28 and 29

Two head-to-head clashes will likely have a big impact on the final standings in WPS. Second place Philadelphia hosts 3rd place Boston on Sunday, with both teams close to clinching a playoff berth. On Saturday, Washington and Sky Blue battle for fourth place in Maryland in what should be an interesting matchup. And the Atlanta Beat attempt to keep their playoff hopes alive facing regular season champion FC Gold Pride in Kennesaw, Georgia.

FC Gold Pride (13-3-4, 43 pts) at Atlanta Beat (5-10-5, 20 pts)
KSU Soccer Stadium, Kennesaw, GA – August 28 (7 pm ET, 4 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, T. Milbrett, K. Graczyk; F-Marta, C. Sinclair, K. O’Hara, K. Bosio.
Not Active: N. Cross, K. Yokers, R. Tantillo, E. Guthrie.

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

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

What To Look For: With their regular season mission accomplished, Gold Pride can look forward to the playoffs. Meanwhile, Atlanta clings to a thin shred of hope for a playoff spot. The Beat are in nearly a must win situation as they head into Saturday’s match.

FCGP’s offense woke from a nearly monthlong slumber to score three goals against Chicago last weekend. When they are hitting on all cylinders, they arguably have the best offense in the league. Marta has now scored 15 goals and is looking at another golden boot trophy. Christine Sinclair has scored eight and, with Marta, forms the best 1-2 punch in the league. But this team has been inexplicably shut out six different times, including once by this Atlanta team.

The Beat defense will need a better match against Gold Pride than we have been seeing lately. They have given up nine goals in the past four matches and while the two goals last week were pretty well after the match was decided, it’s still a bit worrisome.

Eniola Aluko, fresh off of her Player of the Week performance, leads the Beat offense into this match. She has eight goals this season, four of them for the Beat. Known more for her defense, Lori Chalupny has scored in two consecutive games and appears to be 100% after fighting both headaches and back problems early in the season. Aya Miyama scored her first WPS goal last weekend.

While Gold Pride’s offense has been inconsistent, their defense has been rock solid most of the season. Nicole Barnhart has been mostly overshadowed by Gold Pride’s flashy offense, but her seven shutouts are not a mirage. Rachel Buehler headed home a goal last week, but it is her efforts on the back line that help FCGP week after week. And with speed to burn, Ali Riley might be one of the most dangerous outside backs in the league as she showed last week with a nice assist on Marta’s first goal.

While Gold Pride has accomplished pretty much all they can for the regular season, the trick is now to stay mentally and physically sharp for a championship match that is still nearly a month away. Facing an Atlanta team that must play with a certain level of desperation, this could be an interesting match for Gold Pride.

Sky Blue FC (7-9-4, 25 pts) at Washington Freedom (6-8-7, 25 pts)
Maryland SoccerPlex, Boyds, MD – August 28 (7 pm ET)

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

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

Previous Meetings (2010):
Washington 0 @ Sky Blue 0
Washington 1 @ Sky Blue 1
Washington leads the all-time series at 2-1-3 (including playoffs).

What To Look For: Perhaps, it would be more fitting if these two teams had met on the final weekend of the season with everything on the line, but this late August matchup should do quite nicely for excitement and suspense. This battle will be for 4th place and with so few games remaining, it may ultimately decide the final playoff berth. The teams have played draws in the two previous meetings in 2010.

As if there weren’t enough to grab your attention in this WPS clash, Sky Blue activated former Freedom (WUSA) star Jen Grubb, who will return to the Washington area for this match. The former all-star was the very definition of ironwoman in her three seasons with the 2001-03 Freedom.

Sky Blue has a history of winning when they need to and last week was no exception as a Yael Averbuch blast sent them over the Independence 1-0. This is what Sky Blue is known for, defensive battles played with grit and toughness. One thing Sky Blue could use a little more of is some offense from their forwards. Laura Kalmari has been their best player offensively and she is likely to miss this match with an injury suffered to her shin last weekend.

Defensively, Jen Branam earned her first shutout since returning from injury and looks to repeat this weekend. Including playoffs, Sky Blue has won nine 1-0 matches in their history, but last week’s effort against Philly was the first such effort since early May. Sky Blue must stick to this formula, because if they are to win games, it will most likely be with their defense.

Abby Wambach and the Freedom hope to have something to say about that in Saturday’s matchup. Wambach has 10 goals and 8 assists so far this season and could become the first player to record double-digit totals in both in the same season. Next highest on the team is Lene Mykjåland who has four. Sonia Bompastor returns from national team duty to lead the midfield.

Ashlyn Harris has been the goalkeeper of the month with three shutouts in four matches for the Freedom after spending the early part of the season as a backup, first to Hope Solo in Saint Louis and then to Erin McLeod in Washington. Another shutout here would be welcome, but this match will have a lot of pressure attached to it. Defender Nikki Marshall has been a key to the Freedom’s success since returning to the back line.

The Freedom should be well rested, having last played nine days ago. They probably need this match more than Sky Blue because SBFC has a game in hand, although admittedly, the Freedom have the easier schedule. There will be much on the line when these two teams meet on Saturday evening.

Boston Breakers (8-7-5, 29 pts) at Philadelphia Independence (10-7-4, 34 pts)
John A. Ferrell Stadium, West Chester, PA – August 29 (6 pm ET)

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

Philadelphia: GK-K. LeBlanc, V. Henderson; D-A. Falk, N. Krzysik, 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, D. Adams.
Not Active: H. Mitts (concussion), G. DiMartino, R. Jones.

Previous Meetings (2010):
Philadelphia 1 @ Boston 1
Boston 2 @ Philadelphia 1
Boston 2 @ Philadelphia 2

What To Look For: This match will be a battle between the 2nd and 3rd place teams, Boston and Philadelphia. So far, the matches between the two have been closely contested with two ties and Boston winning the third game by one goal. Philadelphia is looking to seal a playoff berth, needing just one point to do so, and a victory would nearly clinch 2nd place for them. Boston is looking to make up ground on the Independence, who sit five points in front of them.

One thing for sure, Kelly Smith has been a key player in the three games between the two. She has two goals and two assists in those meetings and Boston will once again look to her veteran leadership in this match. Lauren Cheney has also scored in each of the last two meetings in Philadelphia. The Breakers are looking to tie a league record by scoring in 12 consecutive matches, a record that is held by the Independence.

Karina LeBlanc will probably be in goal for Philadelphia, but the shutouts that she recorded on a regular basis last year in Los Angeles have been few and far between this year. This would be a key match for her to notch one. Defender Heather Mitts is listed as out for this match with a concussion and that will hurt the Independence. No matter where she is playing on the field, Frida Magnusdottir is an offensive threat and she scored both Independence goals the last time these teams met.

The Philly front line is led by Amy Rodriguez who has 12 goals this season. Her ability to get behind opposing defenses is second only to Marta. Lianne Sanderson has four goals for Philadelphia in 2010. The Independence get a lot of offense out of their talented midfield group of Lindsey, Seger, DiMartino, and Lohman.

Rookie Alyssa Naeher will be in goal for the Breakers. She has two shutouts to her credit since taking over as the Boston starter. Although they have been winning a lot of games by lighting up the scoreboard, the Boston defense is a sturdy group and completely intact, now that all of their players have returned from national team duty. They do, however, miss the talents of Leslie Osborne in the midfield.

By the time they take the field on Sunday, Philadelphia may well have clinched a playoff spot (depending on the outcome of the Sky Blue/Washington match). A win pretty much assures them of the second playoff berth. Boston is looking to make up ground against Philly…and distance themselves from both Sky Blue and Washington. With only road matches remaining, the Breakers would feel a lot more secure with a victory here.