July 26, 2011

WPS Midweek Preview - July 27

Wednesday night's WPS action features two matches having huge playoff implications. Boston, presently in a three-way battle for third place, will host Philadelphia, who is tied with Western New York for the top spot in WPS. Meanwhile, magicJack returns home where they will play five of their last six regular season matches, starting with Sky Blue FC on Wednesday evening.

Philadelphia at Boston (7 pm eastern, Wednesday)
Harvard Stadium, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Boston Breakers (4-5-4)
Coach: Tony DiCicco
Goalkeepers: A. Naeher, A. Phillips.
Defenders: A. Scott, R. Buehler, A. LePeilbet, S. Cox, A. Sameshima, K. Moore (probable).
Midfielders: L. Osborne, M. Klingenberg, K. Winters, K. Schoepfer.
Forwards: K. O'Hara (probable), K. Smith (questionable), N. Marshall, T. Hemmings, L. Bogus, C. Zimmeck.
Not active: L. Cheney (injured), I. Dieke, E. Reed, N. Cross, L. Blayney, K. J. Spisak, J. Angeli (injured), K. Davis (injured).

Philadelphia Independence (8-3-3)
Coach: Paul Riley
Goalkeepers: V. Henderson, N. Barnhart.
Defenders: E. Johnson, K. McNeill, N. Krzysik, L. Robinson.
Midfielders: J. Buczkowski, L. Lindsey, C. DiMartino, S. Farrelly.
Forwards: T. Kai, A. Rodriguez, L. del Rio, L. Sanderson, D. Adams, V. Boquete.
Not active: R. Jones, L. Barnes, A. Falk, L. Fowlkes, J. Lohman, G. DiMartino.

Prior Meetings in 2011:
5/8 at Phi - Philadelphia 2, Boston 0
5/22 at Bos - Boston 1, Philadelphia 1

With just five games remaining, Boston is in a real fight for one of the last two playoff berths. They enter the match with a battered front line, but with their defense restored to full strength. Lauren Cheney, who scored the Breakers' only goal against Philadelphia this season, is out with the ankle injury she sustained at the World Cup. Kelly Smith is listed as being available, but questionable for this match.

Kelley O'Hara scored two goals in the Sunday match against the Flash and she leads the team with four for the season. The addition of Nikki Marshall gives the Breakers more speed up front. The key question is will Smith be able to play and if so, how effectively. Katie Schoepfer has been very good lately and she will likely see action in this match, either as a starter or off the bench. Meghan Klingenberg has looked very promising since coming over from magicJack.

Boston has experience in the middle with Leslie Osborne, one of the league's toughest defenders in the midfield. Keelin Winters is having a fine rookie season for the Breakers and has started all but one match for Boston. There is a possibility that coach Tony DiCicco might move Japanese defender Aya Sameshima to midfield as well.

Defensively, Boston will be at full strength for the first time in ages. Amy LePeilbet, Rachel Buehler, and Stephanie Cox all return to join Alex Scott on the back line for the stretch run. Alyssa Naeher is having a steady year in goal for the Breakers and will need to be on her game against the high-powered Independence offense.

Philadelphia made one roster change this week, mutually terminating the contract of Holmfridur Magnusdottir, a versatile player that has been a member of the Independence since their inception.

The Independence may have the deepest set of forwards in the league. Tasha Kai is having her best WPS season yet with eight goals. Kai has scored twice against Boston already this season. She is joined by USWNT forward Amy Rodriguez, who might see her first start since returning from Germany.

Then there are the Spanish duo of Veronica Boquete and Laura del Rio. Boquete was Player of the Week a couple of weeks ago, but was not active for Philly's last match. Another striker, Danesha Adams, has a knack for scoring big goals in big games.

The midfield group for Philadelphia is very good overall and strong defensively. Jen Buczkowski is a rugged defensive midfielder. Lori Lindsey is the veteran of the group and a member of the USWNT. She is excellent at distribution and controlling the tempo in the midfield. Tina DiMartino is one of the best with the ball at her feet and good at setting up teammates as well. Sinead Farrelly, like her opponent Winters, is having a very solid rookie season.

The back line is a rugged group, especially in the middle with Nikki Krzysik and Kia McNeill. Lee Ann Robinson can attack from her outside position. Estelle Johnson has played well in her second year with the Independence. Paul Riley went with Val Henderson in goal for the last match, instead of the returning Nicole Barnhart. It will be interesting to see if he goes back to Barnhart in this one.

Philadelphia has a lot of speed on the offensive end and could give Boston's stellar defense some problems in this match. Boston is very good at attacking from the wings, especially with Klingenberg and O'Hara. Boston has a five-match unbeaten streak on the line and have been very tough at home this season. Philadelphia's six-match winning streak was stopped by Sky Blue their last time out. This should be a very good match.

Sky Blue FC at magicJack (7 pm eastern, Wednesday)
FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, Florida.

magicJack (5-5-2)
Coach: Abby Wambach
Goalkeepers: J. Loyden, B. Maron.
Defenders: T. Ellertson, C. Rampone, B. Sauerbrunn, M. Dalmy, L. Vandenbergh.
Midfielders: S. Boxx, M. Rapinoe, S. Huffman, S. Schmidt, N. Washington, O. Davis.
Forwards: A. Wambach, E. Masar, C. Press, L. De Vanna, J. Rasmussen.
Not active: H. Solo, A. Gunning, L. Tarpley (injured).

Sky Blue FC (4-5-4)
Coach: Jim Gabarra
Goalkeepers: J. Branam, K. Bardsley.
Defenders: B. Taylor, K. Fletcher, C. Dew, A. Asante.
Midfielders: H. O'Reilly, A. Long, T. Heath, T. Sjogran, C. Blank, A. Kerr.
Forwards: C. Nogueira, Adriana, E. Aluko, L. Kalmari.
Not active: L. Johnson (injured), S. Gray (injured), K. Arnold, E. Guthrie, D. Johnson, M. Wenino, J. Clark, P. Hogewoning, A. Mautz.

Prior Meetings in 2011:
7/9 at SBFC - Sky Blue FC 2, magicJack 2

It comes down to three teams for the final two playoff berths over the last three weeks of the season. MagicJack's next four matches will be against the two teams they are battling with, Boston and Sky Blue. This will be their first home match in nearly two months.

It is interesting that magicJack's remaining schedule can work both ways for them. They have the advantage of having one more game remaining than either Sky Blue or Boston and the advantage of playing five of their last six at home. But they also have the disadvantage of playing six games in 19 days, quite a brutal stretch and five of those matches will be played in the heat and humidity of southern Florida.

With Abby Wambach at the helm, magicJack heads down the stretch with high hopes for third place. They have most of their team back and intact, with the exception of Hope Solo, who is bothered by shoulder and wrist injuries, and Lindsey Tarpley, who was lost to the team with a torn ACL.

The injury to Solo means Jill Loyden will be front and center in the next few matches. She played very well subbing in for Solo two years ago for Athletica. Last year, she had an uneven season with the Red Stars. Now, with everything on the line, it's her turn to show what she can do in tense playoff-like matches.

Defensively, magicJack switched to a four-in-back formation against Atlanta their last time out. They did shut out the Beat, but didn't score any themselves. Now, back on the narrow confines of FAU Stadium, will they go back to the three defender formation? They have strong veterans on the back line with USWNT defenders Christie Rampone and Becky Sauerbrunn, and former USWNT backliners Tina Ellertson and Marian Dalmy.

With Shannon Boxx returning to the lineup and newly acquired Megan Rapinoe joining the midfield, we should marked improvement in this area. Veteran Sarah Huffman, Canadian National Team midfielder Sophie Schmidt, and former Breaker Nikki Washington round out a very strong midfield group.

Now that they have their full attacking arsenal back, magicJack's offense should be tough to stop. Abby Wambach leads the way and the team certainly missed her while she was in Germany. She gives magicJack the added dimension of a good attack through the air and on set pieces. Ella Masar has been one of the league's top scorers over the past two seasons and rookie Christen Press leads the team with five goals. Add speedy striker Lisa De Vanna to Sky Blue's problems that will challenge their back line in this match.

One of Sky Blue's biggest problems this season has been scoring, but forward Casey Nogueira took it upon herself to solve that problem in her last match against Philadelphia, scoring twice to lead Sky Blue to victory. Spanish striker Adriana has been a welcome addition to Sky Blue's front line. England's Eni Aluko is still looking to get untracked. Laura Kalmari is always a threat when she gets on the field.

The midfield is always Sky Blue's strength and with their three national team players, Heather O'Reilly, Therese Sjogran, and Tobin Heath, going against magicJack's three national teamers in Boxx, Rapinoe, and Schmidt, this should truly be one of the most interesting aspects of this match. Carolyn Blank is having a solid year as a defensive midfielder. Allie Long can be a dangerous attacking player out of the midfield.

Defensively, the return of Anita Asante certainly settles this group. Alongside are Carrie Dew, Kendall Fletcher, and Brittany Taylor. Jen Branam is tied atop the WPS leaders with four shutouts.

With these teams be so close in the standings and battling for one of the final two berths, this match should have the feel of a playoff match. Hopefully, the field will be plenty wide enough so as not to detract from two very good teams fighting it out for a playoff spot.