April 30, 2011

Week 4: The Flash Makes Their Home Debut

There will be a full slate of matches this weekend in WPS and all matches will be played on Sunday. Highlighting this week's games is a rematch of last week's Atlanta-Western New York matchup which will also serve as the Flashes' home opener.

Atlanta Beat at Western New York Flash (4 pm Eastern, Sunday)
Sahlen Stadium, Rochester, New York.

Atlanta Beat (1-1-1)
Coach: James Galanis
Goalkeepers - A. Lipsher, A. Whitworth.
Defenders - K. Dowling, H. Mitts, K. Reynolds, C. Whitehill, C. Flanagan, A. Marquez.
Midfielders - L. Chalupny, M. Jesolva, C. Lloyd, K. Wright, A. Salem.
Forwards - M. Lenczyk, K. Larsen, L. Sesselmann.
Not active - K. Fraine, B. D'Agostino, V. Strnadova, I. Trotter, K. Bethke, L. Patterson.

Western New York Flash (1-0-1)
Coach: Aaran Lines
Goalkeepers - A. Harris, B. Cameron.
Defenders - C. Chapman, W. Engen, A. Riley, K. Wilson, J. Sitch.
Midfielders - B. Bock, B. Edwards, C. Seger, B. Goebel, M. Zerboni.
Forwards - A. Morgan, C. Sinclair, Marta, G. Davison, K. Parker, K. Fountain.
Not active - A. Bowers, K. Brandao, G. Lewandowski (injury), A. Sahlen (injury), Y. Averbuch, Maurine.

When these two teams met a week ago, nearly an hour into the match it had all the makings of a yawner. The Flash held a 1-0 lead and was having trouble cracking the Beat's defense, while Atlanta had very little semblance of offense at all. Then Lori Chalupny's goal seem to spark both teams to the last 35 minutes being played at a fever pitch, with some of the most exciting soccer we've seen in WPS.

The venue has moved to Rochester for this week's rematch, with the Flash getting their first chance to impress the home crowd. They certainly have a lot of crowd pleasers on their team with the likes of Alex Morgan, Christine Sinclair, and Marta. Marta instantly made an impact in her first action of the season, flicking home a header that temporarily put WNY back up by a 2-1 margin.

Coach Aaran Lines will be looking for better stuff from his team this week. The Flash were unable to take advantage of an early edge in both scoring chances and possession to build a lead and they paid for it in the final third of the match.

Goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris gave up two goals in the contest against Atlanta, but both were well-struck balls. Her defense, which turned away anything that was remotely a threat in the first half, showed vulnerabilities in the 2nd half after Lori Chalupny took to testing the right side of the Flashes' defense. Right back Kandace Wilson will have to do a better job this week to protect against attacks from her side.

Alli Lipsher, coming off of two consecutive Player of the Week awards, gave up two goals as well, but she also saved the game in the final five minutes of the match. The Flash will need to better exploit their speed advantage and test the Beat's back line. It was a great team effort on defense that kept the Beat in last week's match early on.

For Atlanta, it seems like most of their offense comes from the midfield. Chalupny and Carli Lloyd are often the keys to their success, and the Beat also get Megan Jesolva back for this match after she missed the one last week.

Out of the forwards, only Meghan Lenczyk has scored, although Kristina Larsen has knocked on the door with numerous shots in their first three matches.

The Beat have been the surprise of the young season, accomplishing much more than most of us thought was possible. This week will be a new challenge, their first match of the season on the road, and against a quality team at that. The Flash would like nothing better than to show the fans of Western New York just what they can do.

Philadelphia Independence at magicJack (4 pm Eastern, Sunday)
FAU Soccer Field, Boca Raton, Florida.

Philadelphia Independence (0-0-1)
Coach: Paul Riley
Goalkeepers - N. Barnhart, V. Henderson.
Defenders - E. Johnson, N. Krzysik, K. McNeill, L. Robinson, L. Fowlkes.
Midfielders - J. Buczkowski, C. DiMartino, S. Farrelly, L. Lindsey, J. Lohman, M. Rapinoe.
Forwards - T. Kai, A. Rodriguez, L. Sanderson, H. Magnusdottir.
Not active - R. Jones, L. Barnes, A. Falk (injury), D. Adams, V. Boquete, L. del Rio, G. DiMartino.

magicJack (1-0-0)
Coach: Mike Lyons
Goalkeepers - H. Solo, J. Loyden.
Defenders - M. Dalmy, C. Rampone, B. Sauerbrunn, M. Schnur, T. Ellertson, N. Marshall.
Midfielders - S. Boxx, S. Huffman, L. Tarpley, K. White, M. Klingenberg, A. DaCosta.
Forwards - E. Masar, C. Press, A. Wambach, L. De Vanna, R. Moros.
Not active - B. Maron, L. Vandenbergh, O. Davis, S. Schmidt, J. Rasmussen.

magicJack started the Florida chapter of their history with a 1-0 victory over the Breakers, with Ella Masar picking right up where she left off the 2010 season, scoring a goal. This week, magicJack hosts Philadelphia, a team that has to be anxious to play a game following two consecutive weeks off due to a rain out and a bye week.

One thing to watch for in this match is likely to be Hope Solo's first start in nearly eight months, following shoulder surgery last fall. While Jill Loyden did well last week, earning a shutout, Solo is expected to be the starter when not with the USWNT. It will be a matchup of national team goalkeepers, with Nicole Barnhart as the Independence starter.

These are two teams expected to have high-powered offenses, with both depth and quality up front. magicJack has Abby Wambach, Lisa De Vanna, and Christen Press to go along with Masar. Meanwhile, the Independence have Tasha Kai, Amy Rodriguez, and Lianne Sanderson.

When these two teams met last season, there was plenty of scoring. Wambach scored four goals against Philadelphia, while Sanderson scored three against the Freedom and Rodriguez scored four, including the game winner in overtime of their first round playoff match.

Defensively, the Independence are very thin right now with Allison Falk still sidelined with an injury. Philly does have a very impressive midfield unit with Lori Lindsey, Tina DiMartino, Sinead Farrelly, Megan Rapinoe, and Jen Buczkowski.

At issue last week was the width of the playing surface at FAU Field. The league supposedly specifies 68 yard wide minimum and by most accounts, the width at FAU was somewhat narrower. With two strong, physical teams as these, a narrow field could become quite crowded on Sunday afternoon.

One could argue that this match may determine who the number one challenger to Western New York is this season, although there is still a lot of soccer to be played before things are sorted out. Still, while both teams may be playing only their second matches, important it will certainly be.

Sky Blue FC at Boston Breakers (6 pm Eastern, Sunday)
Harvard Stadium, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Sky Blue FC (0-1-1)
Coach: Jim Gabarra
Goalkeepers - K. Bardsley, J. Branam.
Defenders - A. Asante, C. Dew, D. Johnson, B. Taylor, J. Clark.
Midfielders - C. Blank, T. Heath, A. Long, H. O'Reilly, T. Sjögran, A. Kerr.
Forwards - E. Aluko, L. Kalmari, C. Nogueira.
Not active - K. Arnold, E. Guthrie, K. Fletcher (injury), L. Johnson (injury), M. Wenino, A. Mautz, Adriana.

Boston Breakers (1-2-0)
Coach: Tony DiCicco
Goalkeepers - A. Naeher, K. Davis.
Defenders - R. Buehler, S. Cox, A. LePeilbet, A. Scott, I. Dieke, L. Bogus, K. Moore.
Midfielders - L. Osborne, N. Washington, K. Winters, K. Schoepfer, N. Cross.
Forwards - L. Cheney, K. O'Hara, K. Smith, T. Hemmings.
Not active - A. Phillips, J. Angeli (injury), L. Blayney, E. Reed, C. Zimmeck, K. Dallstream.

Both of these two teams have to be a little disappointed with their season so far, at least from a record standpoint. After opening with a win over Atlanta, the Breakers dropped tough matches to Western New York and magicJack. Meanwhile, Sky Blue gave up a 2-0 lead in their opener, settling for a tie against Philly and then went down to Atlanta and were defeated by the Beat.

There is certainly a bit of tradition with this match. These are the only two of the original teams to still be playing in the same location as they did when the league kicked off over two years ago. They have met eight times, with Sky Blue winning four close games, Boston winning one blowout, and three games ending in scoreless ties.

Both teams also have veteran coaches in Tony DiCicco for Boston and Jim Gabarra with Sky Blue.

For the second year in a row, Boston has gotten off to a slow start. With four of the league's six teams making the playoffs, a slow start is not fatal, but for a team that will lose a large percentage of its squad to the World Cup, it is crucial that they start to turn things around.

After the opener, scoring has been an issue with the Breakers. They managed only a stoppage time goal against WNY and nothing against magicJack. That has to change if Boston is indeed going to challenge this year. In Kelly Smith, Lauren Cheney, and Kelley O'Hara, the Breakers have three national team players that can score. But the loss of Jordan Angeli has notably hurt the midfield.

Boston's defense is one of the best in the league and is usually solid, but they have yet to produce a shutout in three matches.

As for Sky Blue, they are a bit of an enigma right now. After playing very well in a preseason tournament in Turkey, they have struggled at times in the regular season. The problem seems to be in finishing their opportunities. Like Boston, the quality players seem to be in place, but they have to show it on the field. Sky Blue will have to get Eni Aluko untracked and their midfield is going to have to dominate possession.

Defensively, Sky Blue is also a little shorthanded at the moment, with starter Kendall Fletcher out with an injury, which should push Danielle Johnson into starting duty.

Coach DiCicco entered this match a little worried that his USWNT players might be tiring. They are training with the national team during the week and then rejoining their club teams for the weekend. This could certainly be a factor for both teams.

Both Boston and Sky Blue will be looking to change their momentum on Sunday evening at Harvard Stadium.