August 13, 2011

WPS Weekend Preview: August 14

We enter the final weekend of WPS regular season play with some issues yet to be decided. Western New York needs just a single point at home to wrap up first place and home field advantage for the WPS Final, with Philadelphia still having a faint hope of moving up. The real drama will be in Cambridge where the 5th place Breakers will host 4th place Sky Blue, with Boston needing a victory to overtake the team from New Jersey.

Sky Blue FC at Boston Breakers (4 pm eastern, Sunday)
Harvard Stadium, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Boston Breakers (4-9-4)
Coach: Tony DiCicco
Goalkeepers: A. Naeher, A. Phillips.
Defenders: R. Buehler, A. LePeilbet, A. Scott, T. Hemmings, I. Dieke, E. Reed.
Midfielders: L. Osborne, K. Winters, M. Klingenberg, A. Sameshima, K. Schoepfer.
Forwards: L. Cheney (probable), K. O'Hara (probable), K. Smith (questionable), N. Marshall, C. Zimmeck.
Not active: J. Angeli (injured), L. Blayney, L. Bogus, S. Cox, N. Cross, K. Davis (injured), K. Moore (injured), K. J. Spisak.

Sky Blue FC (5-8-4)
Coach: Jim Gabarra
Goalkeepers: J. Branam, K. Bardsley.
Defenders: A. Asante (probable), K. Fletcher, B. Taylor, D. Johnson, M. Wenino, P. Hogewoning.
Midfielders: C. Blank, T. Heath, A. Long, H. O'Reilly, T. Sjogran.
Forwards: E. Aluko, Adriana, C. Nogueira.
Not active: K. Arnold, J. Clark, C. Dew (suspended), S. Gray (injured), E. Guthrie, L. Johnson (injured), L. Kalmari, A. Kerr, A. Mautz.

Previous Meetings in 2011:
5/1/11 at Bos - Boston 1, Sky Blue 0
5/28/11 at SB - Sky Blue 2, Boston 1
6/12/11 at SB - Sky Blue 0, Boston 0

With a 4-9-4 record, the Breakers have to consider themselves lucky to be in contention for anything at this point. A combination of injuries, World Cup absences, and lackluster play has led to a disappointing season from Boston. Had it not been for a last minute goal by Philadelphia last weekend, they would be out of it. Instead, a victory against Sky Blue in this match and they will start the second season with a clean slate.

The Breakers enter this match with a four-game losing streak, one they would love to end on Sunday. They've only scored one goal in the last four matches, that one by Keelin Winters coming in a 2-1 loss to Western New York. But just as glaring is the fact that they have given up eight goals over the past three matches. It's time to start seeing some results from all of those national team players.

The forwards have been pretty dinged up. Kelly Smith is still listed as questionable for this match and Lauren Cheney has been nursing an injury since the World Cup. Those two have combined for just two goals this season after scoring 16 between them last year. Kelley O'Hara has been the biggest offensive threat for Boston with four goals, followed by rookie Keelin Winters with three.

Boston has rarely had their defense intact this year, but that isn't the only problem here. They haven't stopped anybody since posting three consecutive shutouts during the World Cup.

Like the Breakers, Sky Blue has been struggling as of late, losing their last three matches. The toughest of all came last weekend as a late goal by Lianne Sanderson dealt Sky Blue a 2-1 loss with the playoffs in their sights.

One player that has been hot lately is Eniola Aluko, who has scored three goals in the last two matches. The English striker has refound her form and has led Sky Blue in their last few contests. Casey Nogueira was having a fine season, but has been a bit quiet as of late. Her five goals leads New Jersey in goal scoring. Tobin Heath seems to be more involved in the offense since returning from Germany.

Defensively, Sky Blue has to be disappointed to lose their last two games on late goals by their opponent. They will face this week without Carrie Dew, who will be serving her red card suspension. Anita Asante should be back from the injury that has sidelined her. Jen Branam, as always, will be one of the keys for Sky Blue in this match. She leads WPS with five shutouts and one here would put Sky Blue in the playoffs.

Sky Blue needs just a tie to secure fourth place and the final playoff berth. If it comes to a decision, the loser will be through for the season and the winner will be headed to Boca Raton for a first round playoff match against magicJack.

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

magicJack (8-7-2)
Coach: Abby Wambach
Goalkeepers: J. Loyden, K. LeBlanc.
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, C. Press, E. Masar, L. De Vanna.
Not active: H. Solo (injured), L. Tarpley (injured).

Philadelphia Independence (11-3-3)
Coach: Paul Riley
Goalkeepers: N. Barnhart, V. Henderson.
Defenders: K. McNeill, N. Krzysik, L. Robinson, E. Johnson.
Midfielders: J. Buczkowski, L. Lindsey, C. DiMartino, J. Lohman, D. Adams.
Forwards: T. Kai, V. Boquete, A. Rodriguez, L. Sanderson, L. del Rio.
Not active: L. Barnes, G. DiMartino, A. Falk, S. Farrelly, L. Fowlkes, R. Jones.

Previous Meetings in 2011:
5/1/11 at mJ - magicJack 2, Philadelphia 1
6/18/11 at Phi - Philadelphia 6, magicJack 0
6/25/11 at Phi - Philadelphia 3, magicJack 1

Philadelphia enters this match with an outside chance to win the regular season title, but they will need help from Atlanta to accomplish that. MagicJack comes in with third place secure, but with maybe a few lingering memories of a couple of losses to Philly in June.

One has to be at least a little impressed that magicJack earned their way into a playoff berth rather than relying on other teams losing. They won three straight matches, earning nine points against their closest rivals, Sky Blue and Boston. Their streak was snapped by Wednesday's loss to Western New York.

As has been her tradition the past couple of years, Abby Wambach has gotten the scoring touch down the stretch. This year, she's netted five goals in her last four matches. She now has nine on the year, with many coming via her favorite weapon, the header. Rookie Christen Press perhaps has the inside track for Rookie of the Year with eight goals, including a hat trick against Boston. Ella Masar and Lisa De Vanna give magicJack excellent depth up front.

Sophie Schmidt scored her first WPS goal on Wednesday. Megan Rapinoe has been a fine addition to magicJack. She has been a very big part of their offense since returning from Germany. Shannon Boxx is the veteran of the group.

MagicJack seems to have finally gotten things sorted out on the defensive end, with a change in formation being a big part of the solution. Another plus was the return of veteran Christie Rampone. Jill Loyden has been magicJack's goalkeeper since her return from the World Cup.

There have been lots of good stories on this Philadelphia team and the Independence has had outstanding contributions from much of their roster. However, the addition of Vero Boquete seems to be what makes them a championship contender. Philadelphia is a perfect nine for nine with her in the starting lineup. She has five goals and four assists since her arrival. Tasha Kai is also having a great season with nine goals, just one behind the league lead in that category.

But the Independence have gotten contributions from a lot of players. Last weekend's hero was Lianne Sanderson, who scored the game winner in stoppage. Danesha Adams has also scored three goals and Laura del Rio has added two. And all of this is in addition to last year's leading scorer, Amy Rodriguez.

The defense has been the surprise for Philadelphia. They have given up less than a goal a game, all without the benefit of a national team player on their back line. The goalkeeping has very strong with Nicole Barnhart and Val Henderson.

To be realistic, this game means very little to either team. Philadelphia's chances at the regular season title are very slim. Still, there has to be some pride on the line here. MagicJack took a couple of big losses to Philly earlier in the season, including a 6-0 shellacking. I'm sure they would like some measure of payback for that loss and to send Philadelphia a message in what could be a semifinal matchup between the two teams next week.

Atlanta at Western New York (6 pm eastern, Sunday)
Sahlen Stadium, Rochester, New York.

Western New York Flash (12-2-3)
Coach: Aaran Lines
Goalkeepers: A. Harris, B. Cameron.
Defenders: C. Chapman, W. Engen, A. Riley, R. Moros, G. Lewandowski, K. Wilson.
Midfielders: Y. Averbuch, B. Edwards, C. Seger, B. Bock, M. Zerboni, B. Goebel.
Forwards: Marta, C. Sinclair, A. Morgan, G. Davison.
Not active: A. Bowers, K. Brandao, K. Fountain, Maurine, A. Sahlen.

Atlanta Beat (1-12-4)
Coach: James Galanis
Goalkeepers: A. Whitworth, A. Lipsher.
Defenders: C. Whitehill, K. Reynolds, A. Marquez, H. Mitts, C. Flanagan.
Midfielders: C. Lloyd, M. Jesolva, K. White, K. Wright, A. Salem.
Forwards: L. Chalupny, K. Parker, L. Sesselmann.
Not active: B. D'Agostino, K. Dowling (injured), K. Fraine, M. Lenczyk, J. Sitch, I. Trotter.

Previous Meetings in 2011:
4/24/11 at Atl - Atlanta 2, Western New York 2
5/1/11 at WNY - Western New York 3, Atlanta 0
8/6/11 at Atl - Western New York 2, Atlanta 0

Western New York needs just a tie in this match to clinch the regular season title. That should not prove too difficult given that Atlanta has not scored on the road all season and haven't hit the net in their last 667 minutes.

Christine Sinclair still leads WPS with ten goals, but Marta has scored four goals in the last two games, putting her at nine for the season. Rookie Alex Morgan, Caroline Seger, and McCall Zerboni have all scored four this season. Becky Edwards is having a very good season in the midfield, scoring three goals and playing very well defensively.

Defensively, the addition of Rebecca Moros at midseason has given the Flash even more depth on their back line. Whitney Engen and Ali Riley are both candidates for Defender of the Year. Ashlyn Harris easily leads the league in goals against average.

I don't know what else can be said about Atlanta. The effort is there, but there are just too many young players and not enough overall talent. The Beat tried to add more experience midway through the season with Kacey White and Kelly Parker, but it just hasn't been enough. White's goal for Atlanta, the last one they have scored, is now a distant memory.

Goalkeeper Allison Whitworth has kept her team in several games and her defense is improving, but there is just too much to overcome here. The Beat have a lot of work ahead of them in the offseason.

Western New York will be looking to clinch an automatic berth to the finals, while Atlanta will be looking for a goal, something to salvage what remains of the 2011 campaign.

Wednesday Result: Western New York 2, magicJack 1

Western New York moved to the verge of clinching the regular season title with a 2-1 victory over magicJack on Wednesday. Marta scored both goals for the Flash, while Sophie Schmidt netted her first for magicJack.