By DAN LAULETTA
Sky Blue FC will be forced to open defense of the WPS championship without the services of goalkeeper Jenni Branam after she suffered a broken patella in a collision during a Monday scrimmage. Branam is expected to undergo surgery on her right knee and the timetable for her return has been estimated at four to six weeks.
“It’s a bummer for her,” head coach Pauliina Miettinen said. “I feel for her. She’s a great keeper. But the thing happened and we move on.”
Branam’s helter-skelter style kept fans on the edge of their seats last summer, but she proved to be effective, posting a sub-1.00 goals against while allowing her back line to play higher than most. Sky Blue FC will also open the season without last year’s central defense pairing. Christie Rampone gave birth recently and Anita Asante has a torn ACL.
Now let’s take a look ahead to Kick-Off Weekend 2010 in WPS:
Boston Breakers at Washington Freedom
The revamped Breakers pay a visit to the Freedom, who made less changes to their roster than any other team. The Breakers will be looking to newcomers Laura Del Rio, Lauren Cheney, and Tiffany Weimer to help fill the goal while the Freedom will be looking to cut back on the league-high 32 goals they conceded in ’09. The Breakers’ backline is not especially quick so whether or not they are able to keep speedy Lisa De Vanna in front of them will be key in this one.
FC Gold Pride at Saint Louis Athletica
Marta makes her FC Gold Pride debut against her old nemesis Hope Solo and Saint Louis Athletica. Both teams made significant changes over the winter so which team has blended together best during training camp could decide this one. Both teams will feature former LA Sol teammates looking to take their magic to other cities. Marta will combine with Camille Abily to headline Gold Pride’s attack. For Athletica, Shannon Boxx and Aya Miyama will be looking to reprise the midfield magic that carried the Sol to the top of the table.
Atlanta Beat at Philadelphia Independence
It’s anyone’s best guess how this one will play out with two expansion teams debuting opposite each other and not much in the way of video evidence to determine how each will play. Tobin Heath made the trip north with the Beat but her appearance in the starting lineup is in doubt. For the Independence, the backline will not resemble what coach Paul Riley would like to see long term. Heather Mitts has been ruled out with a hip injury and Allison Falk is suspended for the red card she drew in last year’s final.
Chicago Red Stars at Sky Blue FC (Fox Soccer Channel, 6pm EDT)
The champs dominated Chicago last year, going 3-0-1 without conceding a goal. In Branam’s absence, new Sky Blue coach Paullina Miettinen announced an open competition between last year’s backup Karen Bardsley and rookie Ashley Thompson. But Bardsley and her National Team experience from England would seem to have the inside track. Look for Daphne Koster and rookie Brittany Taylor to fill the voids on the Sky Blue backline. The Red Stars will also have a new backline with Kate Markgraf and Whitney Engen ready to make their WPS debuts.