August 5, 2011

Weekend Preview: August 6-7

All three matches for this weekend have playoff implications and we're down to the final two or three matches for all teams. Two matches will directly affect the final two playoff berths. At this point, magicJack has the inside track, with Sky Blue and Boston both in control of their own destiny.

Western New York at Atlanta (7 pm eastern, Saturday)
KSU Soccer Stadium, Kennesaw, Georgia.

Atlanta Beat (1-11-4)
Coach: James Galanis
Goalkeepers: A. Whitworth, A. Lipsher.
Defenders: C. Whitehill, A. Marquez, H. Mitts, K. Reynolds, C. Flanagan.
Midfielders: L. Chalupny, C. Lloyd, K. Wright, M. Jesolva, K. White, B. D'Agostino, A. Salem, I. Trotter.
Forwards: K. Parker, M. Lenczyk, L. Sesselmann.
Not active: K. Dowling (injured), K. Fraine, J. Sitch.

Western New York Flash (10-2-3)
Coach: Aaran Lines
Goalkeepers: A. Harris, B. Cameron.
Defenders: W. Engen, G. Lewandowski, A. Riley, R. Moros.
Midfielders: B. Edwards, Y. Averbuch, C. Seger, M. Zerboni, B. Bock, B. Goebel.
Forwards: C. Sinclair, Marta, A. Morgan, G. Davison.
Not active: A. Bowers, K. Brandao, C. Chapman, K. Fountain, Maurine, A. Sahlen, K. Wilson.

Previous Meetings in 2011:
4/24 at Atl - Atlanta 2, Western New York 2
5/1 at WNY - Western New York 3, Atlanta 0

Once upon a time, a long time ago, these two teams played to a tie in their first meeting ever. However, that was once upon a time and not much has gone wrong for the Flash since that April match and not a whole lot has gone right for the Beat.

The Beat play their final home match of the season, sporting a 1-11-4 record and they have long since been eliminated from playoff contention. All that's left to play for is pride and possibly for a 2012 spot on the roster.

You can't really blame Allison Whitworth for where Atlanta is. While she may not exactly be Hope Solo, she has kept her team in games that they have had no business being in. Last weekend, she faced several one-on-one situations against talented Philadelphia forwards and she held her own, giving up just one goal. Her task doesn't get any easier here, facing the likes of Christine Sinclair, Alex Morgan, and Marta.

Defensively, Atlanta has improved over the course of the season, but all too many times, the opponent has found seams in the back line to exploit. The Beat needs to tighten things up a bit. Veterans Heather Mitts and Cat Whitehill lead the defense, accompanied by Analisa Marquez and Kat Reynolds.

With Carli Lloyd returning to the lineup, the Beat at least have an additional offensive threat out there. Last week, it often appeared to be Lori Chalupny vs. the world, as the Beat captain often faced 1 v. 3 and 1 v. 4 situations. Veterans Kacey White and Kelly Parker hope to put some heat on the Flash. Ironically, Parker's only assist of the season came while playing for the Flash against Atlanta.

Rookies Megan Jesolva, Kylie Wright, Bianca D'Agostino, and Meghan Lenczyk all have shown promise at times, but this team has been just too inexperienced when playing the other sides in this league.

The Flash, on the other hand, have their sights set on winning the regular season title for home field advantage and an automatic berth to the finals. Christine Sinclair is having a great season, leading the league in both goals and assists. Atlanta has been a particularly favorite opponent of hers as she has scored three goals and added an assist in the two previous meetings.

While Marta may not have the eye-popping stats she usually has at this point in the season, her five goals and five assists show her all-around solid play. She also has a goal and an assist in the two previous matches against Atlanta. Alex Morgan is having a fine rookie season, in spite of being somewhat in the shadow of her more experienced strike mates.

Western New York's midfield appears to be getting stronger as the season wears on. Becky Edwards was known primarily for her defense when she was drafted in 2010, but she has shown the ability on the other end of the field as well, scoring three goals this season. Caroline Seger is back close to being healthy again and her presence is always a welcome sight for Flash fans.

According to the roster report, the Flash will be a bit shorthanded on the back line this weekend. It is showing both Candace Chapman and Kandace Wilson as being not active, leaving a defense of Whitney Engen, Gina Lewandowski, Ali Riley, and Rebecca Moros. Ashlyn Harris leads WPS with a 1.13 goals against average.

Atlanta has been competitive on their home turf this year, so they could certainly make things tough on the visiting Flash. But with first place within reach, Western New York should be ready.

magicJack at Boston (7 pm eastern, Saturday)
Harvard Stadium, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Boston Breakers (4-8-4)
Coach: Tony DiCicco
Goalkeepers: A. Naeher, A. Phillips.
Defenders: S. Cox, R. Buehler, T. Hemmings, A. LePeilbet, A. Scott, I. Dieke, E. Reed.
Midfielders: L. Osborne, M. Klingenberg, K. O'Hara (probable), A. Sameshima, K. Schoepfer.
Forwards: L. Cheney (questionable), K. Smith (questionable), N. Marshall, C. Zimmeck.
Not active: J. Angeli (injured), L. Blayney, L. Bogus, N. Cross, K. Davis (injured), K. Moore (injured), K. J. Spisak.

magicJack (7-6-2)
Coach: Abby Wambach
Goalkeepers: J. Loyden, K. LeBlanc.
Defenders: T. Ellertson, C. Rampone, B. Sauerbrunn, M. Dalmy, L. Vandenbergh.
Midfielders: S. Boxx, S. Huffman, S. Schmidt, M. Rapinoe, N. Washington.
Forwards: A. Wambach, C. Press, E. Masar, L. De Vanna.
Not active: O. Davis, H. Solo (injured), L. Tarpley (injured).

Previous Meetings in 2011:
4/23 at MJ - magicJack 1, Boston 0
6/5 at Bos - Boston 2, magicJack 1
7/30 at MJ - magicJack 4, Boston 0

MagicJack enters this match needing just one point to assure themselves of a playoff berth and maybe not even that, depending on the various tiebreakers and how it plays out over the weekend. Boston could be eliminated this weekend, but they do control their own destiny and wins in their two remaining matches could put them in the playoffs.

It has been a tough season for Tony DiCicco and the Boston Breakers. Almost from the first minute of the season, they have been without key members of their team and it seems as though every player on the roster has been injured at one time or another. Now with their backs against the wall, they need to put together a couple of strong efforts in order to make the playoffs.

Alyssa Naeher has been fine in goal for the most part. She is among the league leaders in goals against average and shutouts. She has also made 85 saves on the season, far and away the best of any goalkeeper. Her defense need to be at their best and their battle with magicJack's forwards could be the most intriguing of this match. It will be interesting to see which defender marks Abby Wambach in this all important contest. Taryn Hemmings has done good work since switching to the back line for Boston.

The Breaker midfield has shown steady improvement, anchored by veteran Leslie Osborne. Keelin Winters scored her third goal of the season in Wednesday's loss to Western New York. Kelley O'Hara, whether playing wing or forward, has been Boston's most dangerous threat on offense since returning from Germany. Both Lauren Cheney and Kelly Smith saw action in Wednesday's match, in spite of trying to recover from injuries suffered during World Cup action.

MagicJack has a multi-pronged attack up front, with Christen Press, Ella Masar, Lisa De Vanna, and Wambach. Press leads the team with eight goals, while Wambach has seven. Press has scored half of her eight goals against the Breakers. MagicJack's forwards have scored 20 of the team's 24 goals this season. However, wing midfielder Megan Rapinoe has added two goals since coming over from Philadelphia and her presence has definitely improved magicJack's offense.

Shannon Boxx, Sophie Schmidt, and Sarah Huffman give magicJack the element of toughness in their midfield. Schmidt picked up an assist in Wednesday's match against Sky Blue. And with all of the players from the World Cup back (save for Hope Solo), magicJack now has depth it was lacking through the middle of the season.

Defensively, Christie Rampone and Tina Ellertson give magicJack speed on the back line, while Becky Sauerbrunn's all-around solid play gives the consistency that the team was searching for. Jill Loyden has been the choice in goal in Solo's absence. Karina LeBlanc was signed on to give magicJack depth at that position.

The home team has won all three matches this year. Boston has been solid at home, posting a 3-2-2 record at Harvard. MagicJack has been pretty miserable on the road, with just a 1-5-2 record away from from their home turf. Boston will be trying to keep their hopes alive, while magicJack will be looking to clinch a playoff berth.

Sky Blue FC at Philadelphia (6 pm eastern, Sunday)
Leslie Quick Stadium, Chester, Pennsylvania.

Philadelphia Independence (10-3-3)
Coach: Paul Riley
Goalkeepers: N. Barnhart, V. Henderson.
Defenders: N. Krzysik, K. McNeill, E. Johnson, L. Robinson.
Midfielders: J. Buczkowski, S. Farrelly, C. DiMartino, L. Lindsey, J. Lohman, G. DiMartino.
Forwards: T. Kai, A. Rodriguez, V. Boquete, L. del Rio, D. Adams, L. Sanderson.
Not active: L. Barnes, A. Falk, L. Fowlkes, R. Jones.

Sky Blue FC (5-7-4)
Coach: Jim Gabarra
Goalkeepers: J. Branam, K. Bardsley.
Defenders: C. Dew, B. Taylor, K. Fletcher, A. Asante (questionable), D. Johnson, P. Hogewoning.
Midfielders: C. Blank, H. O'Reilly, T. Sjogran, A. Long, T. Heath.
Forwards: E. Aluko, Adriana, C. Nogueira, L. Kalmari.
Not active: K. Arnold, J. Clark, S. Gray (injured), E. Guthrie, L. Johnson (injured), A. Kerr, A. Mautz, M. Wenino.

Previous Meetings in 2011:
4/10 at SB - Sky Blue 2, Philadelphia 2
7/6 at Phil - Philadelphia 4, Sky Blue 3
7/23 at SB - Sky Blue 2, Philadelphia 0

Sky Blue enters the game with the possibility of being able to clinch a playoff berth. They need to better whatever Boston's result is on Saturday. If the Breakers tie, Sky Blue needs to win to clinch a playoff spot. If the Breakers lose, Sky Blue would just need a tie to clinch. Meanwhile, Philadelphia comes into this match still with hopes of winning the regular season title.

There have been a lot of fireworks in the matches between these two teams. Thirteen goals have been scored in the previous three matches, with each team winning a game apiece and the third ending in a draw.

For a team with such a high-powered offense that creates a myriad of chances, Philadelphia has been winning a lot of matches with defense this year. They have won four 1-0 results, three of which came in the last half of July. Nicole Barnhart and Val Henderson have seven shutouts between them and the Independence has given up less than a goal per game.

The back line has been very stingy, with Nikki Krzysik and Kia McNeill in the middle, combined with outside help from Leigh Ann Robinson and Estelle Johnson. Jen Buczkowski is a rugged defender as well in the midfield. In fact, Philly's midfield in general is an underrated group with Sinead Farrelly and Tina DiMartino doing a lot of the hard work in setting up chances for their talented forwards. Lori Lindsey's return from Germany is added plus here.

Veronica Boquete has become one of the leading candidates for league MVP with her play over the last two months. She has five goals and four assists in just nine matches and has scored four game winning goals, including the only tally in each of Philly's three 1-0 victories in July. Philadelphia is 8-0-1 in matches in which she has played and perfect in the eight matches she has started.

Boquete is not the only top offensive player on this team, however. Tasha Kai leads the team with eight goals, with Danesha Adams adding three, Laura del Rio and Lianne Sanderson two each, while last year's leading scorer Amy Rodriguez has just one. Kai netted a hat trick against Sky Blue earlier this year. That is why this team is so tough. You cannot key on just one player. They also have one of the fastest groups of forwards in WPS, rivaled only by Western New York.

With a playoff berth on the line, we will now see what Sky Blue is made of. Will they be more like the 2009 version that scrapped to make the playoffs and then won it all with three gritty performances in their playoff run or will they be like the 2010 version that missed the playoffs altogether?

Interestingly, Coach Jim Gabarra opted to go with Karen Bardsley in goal on Wednesday after starting Jen Branam for most of the season. Sky Blue fell by a 3-2 margin in that match against magicJack. Defensively, Sky Blue just has to be more consistent. They have posted five shutouts, but they have also given up three or more goals on four occasions, including their last two matches. Brittany Taylor has been one of Sky Blue's best defenders.

Carolyn Blank is having a fairly solid season at defensive midfielder for Sky Blue. The midfield trio of Heather O'Reilly, Therese Sjogran, and Allie Long have combined for four goals and eight assists on the season. Sjogran is tied for the league lead with six assists.

In spite of Wednesday's loss, it was good to see Eni Aluko return to form with two goals. Sky Blue could use a late season splurge from the talented and speedy English striker. Casey Nogueira has five goals on the season, with three of them coming against Philadelphia. Spanish striker Adriana has provided an additional threat since her arrival and Laura Kalmari has been a steady finisher for Sky Blue over the past two seasons.

Both teams have a lot on the line here, but certainly Sky Blue has the more desperate situation. If they fail to clinch a playoff berth this weekend, it could come down to a one-game winner-take-all match against Boston on the final weekend of the season.