June 21, 2011

Preview: Atlanta at Sky Blue

Atlanta Beat at Sky Blue FC (7 pm eastern, Wednesday)
Yurcak Field, Piscataway, New Jersey.

Sky Blue FC (2-3-3)
Coach: Jim Gabarra
Goalkeepers: J. Branam, E. Guthrie, K. Arnold.
Defenders: K. Fletcher, B. Taylor, C. Dew, D. Johnson, M. Wenino, J. Clark.
Midfielders: C. Blank, A. Kerr, A. Long, A. Mautz.
Forwards: Adriana, L. Kalmari, C. Nogueira.
Not active: K. Bardsley, A. Asante, T. Heath, H. O'Reilly, T. Sjogran, E. Aluko, L. Johnson (injury).

Atlanta Beat (1-7-3)
Coach: James Galanis
Goalkeepers: A. Whitworth, A. Lipsher.
Defenders: K. Reynolds, A. Marquez, J. Sitch, L. Sesselmann.
Midfielders: L. Chalupny, K. White, B. D'Agostino, I. Trotter, K. Wright, A. Salem.
Forwards: M. Jesolva, M. Lenczyk, L. Patterson, K. Bethke.
Not active: C. Lloyd, K. Parker, H. Mitts, K. Dowling (injury), K. Fraine, C. Flanagan, C. Whitehill.

This game will mark the halfway point in Sky Blue's season and the two-thirds mark in Atlanta's season. A victory would move Sky Blue into a fourth place tie with Boston with two games in hand. Meanwhile, Atlanta attempts to gain momentum for a late season push.

Both teams will be very shorthanded for this match. Sky Blue will be missing six players on national team duty. Atlanta will be missing three, plus Cat Whitehill who will be covering the World Cup for ESPN. In addition, the Beat were dealt a harsh blow when defender Keeley Dowling went down with an injury on Sunday and will be out for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL.

That means Atlanta's defense is thin. The question is who will join Kat Reynolds and Analisa Marquez on the back line for this match? The most likely possibilities would be Lori Chalupny, who played defender for the USWNT and dropped back after Dowling suffered her injury, Julianne Sitch, or Lauren Sesselman, who played defense in her first season with the Beat. But most of these players are outside defenders, with little experience at center back. In goal, Allison Whitworth earned the shutout against Boston and will likely be in goal for the Sky Blue match.

Atlanta must find a way to drum up more offense. Their passing game was effective at times last week, but the organization in the final third was not good and all too often, the ball was surrendered without much of a challenge. The Beat will look to Megan Jesolva, Kacey White, Meghan Lenczyk, and possibly Bianca D'Agostino, who had some good moments last week, to provide offense.

While Atlanta is short on defense, Sky Blue will be missing several members of their midfield. However, they still have starters Carolyn Blank and Allie Long, along with top reserve Angie Kerr. In the absence of Eni Aluko, Laura Kalmari, Casey Nogueira, and Adriana will be the key offensive threats for Sky Blue.

Defensively, Sky Blue has been playing very well. Kendall Fletcher, Brittany Taylor, and Carrie Dew lead the defense. Jen Branam, who shut out Boston in her last outing, will be in goal.

Sky Blue is looking to build on a four game unbeaten streak. They have played fewer matches than every other team except magicJack, which should bode well for them making up ground on the rest of the league.