Women's Professional Soccer: End of Season Previews

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Women's Professional Soccer: End of Season Previews
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

Going into the final weeks of the 2010 WPS season, only one team has clinched a playoff spot, the first place FC Gold Pride. Two of the remaining three spots are pretty solid. The fourth spot is where things get messy. Check out what the Atlanta Beat, Boston Breakers, FC Gold Pride, and Sky Blue FC must do in order to make it to the playoffs, who are the stars to watch, and what matches will be key for these four teams down the stretch.

Atlanta Beat

Currently:  4-10-5 (17 pts)

Last Three Matches:

8/4 at Boston: 2-0 loss
8/7 vs. Sky Blue FC: 1-0 loss
8/15 at Philadelphia: 3-2 loss

The Beat held a two goal advantage over the second place Independence on Sunday, but weren’t able to hold the lead.  The defense will need to solidify, as Atlanta needs to get back on its hot streak if they want to make an appearance in the postseason.

Remaining Schedule:

8/22 at Boston
8/28 vs. FC Gold Pride
9/1 vs. Boston
9/5 vs. Sky Blue FC
9/11 at Washington

Playoff Implications: 

Although not mathematically eliminated, the Beat will need to win and will also need some help from others in the standings to sneak into the postseason.

Key Matchups:

Being at the bottom of the table, the Beat need all the points they can get. With wins against Boston and FC Gold Pride, the last two games of the season could become win or go home for the Beat, as Washington and Sky Blue are both battling for the fourth and final playoff position.

Players to Watch:

Eniola Aluko:  Since coming from Athletica, Aluko has scored three goals for the Beat, who have struggled with scoring all season. The English international will miss this weekend’s match with Boston while on National team duty, but look for her to be explosive in the final matches of the season.

Ramona Bachmann:  Bachmann has missed ten games this season between being on youth national team duty with Switzerland and nursing several nagging injuries, most notably a back injury that has hampered her all season. When she has been on the field, she’s looked dangerousuntil she takes a shot. 

The 19-year old forward has only found the back of the net once this season, despite several other close looks.  Ifand it is a big ifBachmann can start putting shots on goal, and more importantly, into the back of the net, the Beat may be able to slip into the playoffs.

Notable News:

Atlanta Beat head coach Gareth O’Sullivan was relieved of his coaching duties on Tuesday, August 17, and was immediately replaced by interim head coach James Galanis.  Galanis will get his first test at the professional level when the Beat take on a Boston Breakers side that defeated them three weeks ago, 2-0 at Harvard Stadium.

Boston Breakers

Currently:  8-6-5 (29 pts), 3rd place

Last 3 Matches:

8/4 vs. Atlanta: 2-0 win
8/8 at Philadelphia: 2-2 tie
8/15 vs. Sky Blue FC: 4-0 win

The Breakers spent much of the early part of the season in a slump but are 7-1-1 in their last nine games. They will look to continue their hot streak as they try to clinch a spot in the postseason.

Remaining Schedule:

8/21 vs. Atlanta
8/29 at Philadelphia
9/1 at Atlanta
9/5 vs. FC Gold Pride
9/11 at Sky Blue FC

Playoff Implications:

Can clinch a play-off spot with one of two scenarios this week (as of 8/17): Chicago and Washington TIE on 8/19 AND win vs. Atlanta on 8/21 or Washington LOSE on 8/19 AND Chicago LOSE or TIE on 8/22 AND win vs. Atlanta on 8/21 (note: Washington defeated the Chicago Red Stars on 8/19 and thus Boston cannot clinch a playoff berth via either scenario this weekend).

Key Matchups:

Every point is critical at this point, but big games definitely include a rematch with second place Philadelphia on the road, as well as a home contest with leading FC Gold Pride. The most interesting match for the Breakers may be the season finale in New Jersey. 

Boston dominated the last match between the two teams, defeating the reigning champs for the first time in their two year history. However, Boston did go 0-3-1 in its final four matches last season and in turn missing the playoffs. The beneficiary? Sky Blue FC.

Players to Watch:

Kelly Smith:  Smith is third in the league in goals with ten, including six goals in her last five games.  She will miss this Saturday’s match versus the Atlanta Beat as she (and teammate Alex Scott) are on National Team duty this weekend. Once she gets back, opposing defenses are going to have to find a way of shutting her down.

Lauren Cheney:  Cheney is enjoying a great rookie season, having scored in three of her last four games, bringing her season total to five. With Smith gone on National Team duty this weekend, look for Cheney to be the go-to player up top. The former UCLA product is excellent at holding the ball with her back to goal and being able to turn on her defender to get off shots.

Jordan Angeli:  Angeli has scored six goals this season on 11 shots on goal in just 1,007 minutes of action. She is making a great case for rookie of the year and has already garnered Player of the Month honors for July, becoming the first rookie in WPS to do so.

Notable:

The tandem of Kelly Smith and Lauren Cheney has been on fire. They have combined for nine of Boston’s 14 goals scored since July 25.

Midfielder Leslie Osborne was placed on the season ending injury list after suffering a broken collarbone in the latter stages of the Breakers dominating performance against Sky Blue FC on 8/15.

FC Gold Pride

Currently:  12-3-4 (40 pts)

Last 3 Matches:

8/1 at Atlanta: 0-0 tie
8/7 vs. Chicago: 0-0 tie
8/14 vs. Washington: 0-0 tie

The defense has been very strong the last three matches, not allowing its opponents to put the ball in the back of the net. However, the Pride’s offense has been mysteriously absent the last three games.

Remaining Schedule:

8/22 at Chicago
8/28 at Atlanta
9/1 at Sky Blue FC
9/5 vs. Boston
9/11 vs. Philadelphia

Playoff Implications:

FC Gold Pride has clinched a home playoff game. They can clinch at least second place this weekend with a win on 8/22 versus Chicago and a Boston loss or tie on 8/21. They can clinch at least a tie for first place with a win on 8/22 and a loss by Philadelphia on 8/22 and a Boston loss or tie on 8/21.

They can still be edged out by Philadelphia on goal differential for first place overall, so they cannot clinch the right to host the WPS Championship this weekend.

Key Matchups:

The last two games of the season come against the two teams chasing FC Gold Pride in the standings. Should FC Gold Pride’s scoreless streak continue, the final home match against Philadelphia could turn into a fight for the right to host the WPS Championship.

Players to Watch:

Marta:  She leads the league in goal scoring, with 13 goals on the season, but has been relatively quiet the last three games for the Pride. Whether FC Gold Pride is scoring or not, the Brazilian international is always a player the opposing defenders must watch. Look for Marta to help her team get back in the winning column.

Christine Sinclair:  Sinclair is tied for second in the league in assists with seven and is fifth in the league in goals scored, with eight.  She has paired very well with Marta up top and with Marta drawing such attention from opposing defenders, it can leave Sinclair with more space in the attacking third.

Rachel Buehler:  Buehler has been a rock this season, playing in every minute of every game she's played in this season (she’s only missed two games, both due to National team duty). She has led an FC Gold Pride defense that has allowed less than a goal a game at 0.74. The Pride haven’t been scoring as of late, but the defense has held strong, not allowing opponents to get three points. And, as the saying goes, “Offense wins games, but defense wins championships.”

Notable:

FC Gold Pride was red-hot, winning five straight games in July.  August has been a mystery for the FC Gold Pride offense, who has been shut out in 271 minutes of action.

Sky Blue FC

Currently:  6-9-4 (22 pts) 5th

Last 3 matches:

8/7 – at Atlanta: 2-1 win
8/11 – vs. Washington: 1-1 tie
8/15 – at Boston: 4-0 loss

After two hard fought performances against Washington and Atlanta, Sky Blue FC was dominated by the Boston Breakers from the opening whistle. They are getting some opportunities, but will need to start finishing those opportunities if they want to defend their title.

Remaining Schedule:

8/22 vs. Philadelphia
8/28 at Washington
9/1 vs. FC Gold Pride
9/5 at Atlanta
9/11 vs. Boston

Playoff Implications:

They have a rough schedule, playing all four of the teams that are currently in playoff contention. They are three points behind the Washington Freedom, who won its match on 8/19 versus the Chicago Red Stars, but do have two games in hand over the Freedom going into the weekend. Bottom line is this:  Sky Blue FC must start winning games. 

Key Matchups:

Every point is critical at this point in the season.  Sunday’s matchup with the Philadelphia Independence will be key for this team. Can Sky Blue FC’s defense finally hold Philadelphia’s potent offense? The last two matches between these two teams have ended in a pair of 4-1 losses for the reigning WPS champs. 

The final match with the Washington Freedom will be crucial, as both teams are fighting for that final playoff spot.  Neither team has won a game in the season series, so a win could be the difference between a chance to defend their title or a ticket to the offseason.

Sky Blue FC’s final match of the regular season against the Boston Breakers (currently in third place in the standings) could be a last gasp effort for the reigning champions to make it.

Players to Watch:

Heather O’Reilly:  O’Reilly has had a quiet season thus far, scoring only one goal and adding three assists on the year. The East Brunswick native has had several close calls this season, but hasn’t been able to find the back of the net on many of those chances. But O’Reilly thrives on pressureand these last five games are pressure packed as Sky Blue fights for its playoff life.

Laura Kalmari:  The Finnish striker has battled injury this season, but has still found a way to lead Sky Blue FC in scoring, with five goals in the year. The final stretch of the season will be the perfect time for her to add a couple more to her total.

Tasha Kai:  Kai has been battling injuries all season, which has limited her minutes played, as well as her production. But she does bring a spark in off the bench late in games that has paid off several times for the New Jersey club. 

Notable:

Sky Blue FC is 1-3-2 since Rick Stainton took over for Pauliina Miettinen on July 19.

The Early Goal:  Sky Blue FC has given up at least one goal in the first 15 minutes of four of their last seven matches.  They are 0-8-1 on the season when giving up a goal in the first 15 minutes.

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