April 16, 2011

magicJack Makes Debut in WPS Week Two

The team known as magicJack makes their WPS debut today as they travel to Philadelphia to take on the Independence. For Philly, it will be their home opener after they came from two goals down to tie Sky Blue last weekend.

The erstwhile Freedom enter the season with almost a completely new roster and a new head coach. Mike Lyons takes over the only WPS team to make the playoffs both seasons. The roster that takes the field for magicJack today will be very much a veteran group. Most of the young players, with the exception of forward Christen Press, are not even active for this road match. Even Nikki Marshall, one of the top rookies in the league last season, was not rostered for this match.

What magicJack should have is a lot of offense, which was also true for the 2009-10 Washington Freedom. Abby Wambach returns for a third season with 21 career WPS goals, second only to Marta. There is some question as to whether Wambach is 100% with a heel injury that has slowed her over the past few months. More than likely, we will not see her on the field for the full 90, but magicJack is very deep at that position.

Another returnee at forward is Australian speedster Lisa De Vanna. De Vanna missed much of last season with an injury suffered in the Asian Cup. MagicJack also brought in Ella Masar, who led the Red Stars in scoring with eight last season. Christen Press, an outstanding scorer for Stanford in college, is the one rookie we will see active for magicJack for this match.

To describe magicJack’s midfield group as veteran might be an understatement, with USWNT regulars Shannon Boxx and Lindsay Tarpley. Joining them will be former Sky Blue winger Kacey White and Freedom midfielder Sarah Huffman.

Defensively, magicJack should be strong, led by former Sky Blue coach and captain Christie Rampone in the middle. She is joined by ironwoman Becky Sauerbrunn, who has yet to miss a minute of WPS action. MagicJack made some nice additions to the back line with outside backs Marian Dalmy and Meghan Schnur and center back Tina Ellertson.

Hope Solo will be magicJack’s regular starter in goal, but she has to serve her suspension for twitter comments made after last season’s finale, so we will probably see Jill Loyden, with Brett Maron being the other possibility.

Philadelphia has to be plenty happy that they were able to force a draw last weekend. They were badly outplayed in the first half and were still trailing at the 90 minute mark of the match, before Tina DiMartino’s goal tied it late.

There is no doubt that the insertion of Amy Rodriguez into the match at the half made a difference. She scored the first goal for the Independence and Sky Blue’s defense had to be wary of her for the entire half. Rodriguez, paired with Tasha Kai, gives Philly two of the fastest strikers in the league. But young Lianne Sanderson played a strong match for the Independence last week as well. Another forward, Laura del Rio, came off the bench to assist on the game-tying goal.

Like magicJack, Philly has a mostly veteran midfield, with the exception of rookie Sinead Farrelly, who played well in her first match last weekend. Four midfielders return from last year’s team, led by USWNT veteran Lori Lindsey and of course, DiMartino, who continues to impress with her skills.

There were times when the Independence defense looked a bit shaky against Sky Blue and they are presently thin at that position as Allison Falk is out with an injury. Although Estelle Johnson and Leigh Ann Robinson showed promising signs on flank runs last weekend, the defense may be a little suspect and the high-powered magicJack offense will surely test it.

Nicole Barnhart got the call for the opener and made a game-saving stop in the 2nd half of that match. With Val Henderson, the Independence have excellent depth at the keeper position.

One would suspect this might be a high scoring match, with all the offensive firepower of both teams. However, the weather might have a say in that as well, with cool temperatures and stormy weather predicted. Hopefully, the weather will not impact the match too much and we will see how magicJack starts a new chapter in the team’s history.

Sky Blue FC at Atlanta

Sky Blue FC enters the weekend after a disappointing tie last week at home. This will be their first road test of the year and they will be facing a fairly inexperienced Atlanta squad at KSU Soccer Stadium.

One would hate to use the word collapse, because Sky Blue played such a strong first half and very nearly won the contest, but coach Jim Gabarra could probably be none too happy with his team’s 2nd half performance in week one. He’ll look for better things and a full 90 minutes this week against the Beat.

Meanwhile, in spite of a 4-1 loss and the red card for starting goalkeeper Allison Whitworth, Atlanta could take heart in the fact that they played a very competitive second half last week against Boston. They even outshot the Breakers by a decent margin. Young players, such as Megan Jesolva, had impressive debuts giving the Beat hope for the future.

Jen Branam started the opener in goal for SBFC and only a deflection kept her from getting the win. She and English keeper Karen Bardsley give Sky Blue a great goalkeeper tandem. After a solid first half, the defense seemed a touch slow later in the match against Philadelphia. Captain Brittany Taylor had a very strong match and looked particularly dangerous on overlapping runs, assisting on the first goal.

Allie Long, named player of the week for her performance against Philly, leads the midfield. When Sky Blue was controlling the match in week one, it was through strong midfield play from veterans like Therese Sj√∂gran. It should get even stronger with the addition of Tobin Heath, who played only 22 minutes in the opener, and Heather O’Reilly, who didn’t play at all.

While Eni Aluko didn’t score last weekend, she was certainly a threat. Laura Kalmari and Casey Nogueira did score, both playing attacking mids in Gabarra’s 4-5-1 or maybe more properly 4-2-3-1 formation.

Atlanta fell down early to Boston and were never really in the match from a scoring point of view, but a solid second half showed the Beat improving as a team. However, the only goal they managed was on a penalty, in spite of several good opportunities.

The insertion of USWNT midfield Carli Lloyd into the 2nd half of that match seemed to boost the Atlanta attack. With the always hardworking Lori Chalupny, joined by promising rookie Jesolva, the Beat has the makings of a strong midfield.

There were some defensive lapses last week and once again, the Beat back line didn’t seem quick enough at times. This week will see Allison Lipsher in goal, with Allison Whitworth suspended for her red card late in last week’s contest.

For offense, Atlanta will depend a lot on the midfield and a trio of young offensive players, Kristina Larsen, Meghan Lenczyk, and Vendula Strnadova. Again, they show promise, but patience will be necessary with such a young group.

Coach James Galanis has said that with such a young group, it will be about making progress and improving from week to week. Meanwhile, Sky Blue will be looking to bounce back from last week’s disappointment in hopes of getting their first win of the 2011 season.