August 6, 2010

WPS Weekend Preview - August 7 and 8

Sky Blue FC (5-8-3, 18 pts) at Atlanta Beat (4-8-5, 17 pts)
KSU Stadium, Kennesaw, GA – August 7 (7 pm ET)

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

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

Previous Meetings (2010):
Sky Blue 1 @ Atlanta 0
Atlanta 1 @ Sky Blue 0

What To Look For: Atlanta and Sky Blue are fighting for every point possible to get into the playoffs. Right now, both are on the outside looking in, but a victory could move one of them into 4th place. These two teams have split their previous two meetings, with the road team winning each time. Sky Blue enters the match having lost four straight.

Jen Branam’s return in goal wasn’t enough to stop Sky Blue’s losing streak last weekend. She will try again on Saturday evening against the Beat. Sky Blue went with six starters known for their defense in that loss, but still gave up two goals. The back line has some solid veterans, but Sky Blue have had much trouble this season against teams with fast forwards.

The Beat have speed and talent up front, but the finishing hasn’t been there and they have been shut out two matches in a row. Eniola Aluko is the most dangerous of the forwards with six goals this season. It will be interesting to see if Atlanta goes with a three forward front for this match. If so, Bachmann and Ocampo could be Aluko’s likely mates. Johanna Rasmussen is having a very good season and will support in the midfield, if she’s not chosen as one of the forwards.

Hope Solo has a perfect 3-0 record against Sky Blue in regular season matches and could stymie any Sky Blue attack. The Beat have been using three on the back line, with Tina Ellertson, Kia McNeill, and Stacy Bishop, although we might see Leigh Ann Robinson as well.

Sky Blue has been limited to just two goals over their last five matches, both scored by defender-turned-midfielder Brittany Taylor. The last time a NJ forward has scored was in June. One would think that between Rosana, Natasha Kai, and Patrizia Panico, we might see some goals soon. Two of Sky Blue’s best offensive midfielders, Heather O’Reilly and Laura Kalmari, have been quiet lately as well.

Both of these teams have trouble scoring, so one goal may be enough, as it was in the two previous meetings. The only offensive goal scored in the series was by Aluko in the last meeting, with Sky Blue winning the first meeting on an own goal. This should be a close match, with the winner moving up and loser looking up at everyone else in the league.

Chicago Red Stars (5-8-5, 20 pts) at FC Gold Pride (12-3-2, 38 pts)
Pioneer Stadium, Hayward, CA – August 7 (10 pm ET, 9 pm CT, 7pm PT)

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

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

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

What To Look For: Chicago has two problems to solve in this match. First, they have to score themselves, a task that has been difficult for them for most of the season. Second, they have to figure out a way to stop the high powered Gold Pride offense led by Marta and Christine Sinclair. Surprisingly, they have fared well against FCGP this season, losing the first match 2-0 after going a player down early in the match because of a red card and then winning the second.

After a pretty good start, Jill Loyden has not been as sharp in her past few games and she needs to be top notch for the Red Stars to have a chance in this one. Kate Markgraf leads the veteran defense, but one rookie is making a big impact on that back line. Whitney Engen has played solidly for Chicago this season.

The Red Stars will be trying to stop a Gold Pride team with multiple offensive threats, starting with the world’s best, Marta, and her 13 goals. Canadian Christine Sinclair has added eight goals and assisted on seven others. Then there’s veteran Tiffeny Milbrett (4 goals) and rookie Kelley O’Hara (3 goals). Shannon Boxx controls the midfield for Bay Area.

Nicole Barnhart guards the Gold Pride net and she has done so very well this season with a league leading 0.80 goals against average. Defensively, Gold Pride is sound up the middle with Rachel Buehler and Candace Chapman. However, outside defender Ali Riley received a hard knock causing a hip injury in her last match and we’ll have to see if she will be physically sound for this match. If not, Gold Pride will miss her speed and Chicago might have an opportunity to exploit a matchup here.

Chicago lost one of their speedy forwards this week, as Kosovare Asllani decided to return to Sweden. That leaves Ella Masar (5 goals), Cristiane (3 goals), and Casey Nogueira (2 goals) as their principal offensive threats. Masar has been the most consistent, while Cristiane is trying to find her range, and Nogueira has dropped off after playing extremely well early on. Karen Carney got her first goal of the season in the last match against Sky Blue and the Red Stars are hoping this is a good sign of things to come.

There is some question as to whether Gold Pride has already clinched a playoff spot or not, but in any case, a point on Saturday night would make it definite and will cause a well-deserved celebration by the bay. With a tough remaining schedule, Chicago must scratch and claw for every point they can manage between now and the end of the season.

Boston Breakers (7-6-4, 25 pts) at Philadelphia Independence (8-6-3, 27 pts)
John A. Ferrell Stadium, West Chester, PA – August 8 (7:30 pm ET)

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; F-K. Smith, Fabiana, L. Cheney, L. Del Rio, T. Hemmings.
Not Active: L. Bogus (hamstring), N. Cross, A. Lipsher, C. Igwe, S. Walsh (knee).

Philadelphia: GK-K. LeBlanc, V. Henderson; D-A. Falk, 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.
Not Active: D. Adams, G. DiMartino, R. Jones, K. Henderson.

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

What To Look For: This should be a very exciting match, featuring two teams that are battling for 2nd place in the standings. Boston may be the hottest team in WPS right now, but they will be meeting a Philadelphia team that will be intent on holding on to their position in the table.

Both teams score a lot of goals. Boston has now scored in eight consecutive games and are approaching a mark set by Philadelphia earlier in the season at 12 matches. Boston’s offense is led by English star Kelly Smith (9 goals) and WPS Player of the Month Jordan Angeli (5 goals). Another rookie, Lauren Cheney, has 3 goals.

Philadelphia’s defense has been spotty and they have given up two or more goals in 8 of their 17 matches. Val Henderson has been the starting keeper over the past few matches. Allison Falk starts at one center back. Heather Mitts is reliable at one of the outside positions and the Independence will be happy to have Frida Magnusdottir back after serving her red card suspension.

Offensively, Amy Rodriguez is having a sensational year. With 11 goals, she has given the Independence the kind of offensive threat that I thought might be lacking with this expansion team. Rodriguez is definitely the key as the scoring drops all the way off to Lianne Sanderson and Joanna Lohman with three, once you get past A-Rod.

Alyssa Naeher is coming off of her first career shutout, which should give her confidence. Of course, she has one of the league’s best center backs in front of her in Amy LePeilbet and international experience on the outside with Stephanie Cox and Alex Scott.

This match could come down to a battle of the midfields. It’s Philadelphia’s group of Lori Lindsey, Caroline Seger, Jen Buczkowski, and Lohman against a very talented Breakers’ group of Kristine Lilly, Lindsay Tarpley, Leslie Osborne, and Angeli. Seger and Lindsey have 10 assists between them. The acquisitions of Tarpley and Osborne have helped Boston immensely in the middle and Angeli has been outstanding over the past month.

The Breakers are on a roll and a victory here would push them one point past the Independence and into 2nd place. While there is a cushion between these two teams and the rest of the league, both have difficult schedules remaining with a lot of road matches, meaning that a playoff spot is not necessarily a sure thing yet. I expect this will be a physical, hotly contested match and could be the most interesting of all of the matches this weekend.