Photo by ISIphotos.com
By CHRISTA MANN
As some key internationals return to the league, a renewed confidence from restored starting line-ups will settle the worries of last week's struggling teams.
When neither L.A. nor Boston played up to expected standards, the teams lacked not only Marta and Kelly Smith but they also lacked chemistry, possession, and goal scoring. As two of the league's three strongest teams, they are both looking to recover from a scoreless finish last week.
With both Sky Blue FC and St. Louis Athletica still working towards a first win, the FC Gold Pride and Washington Freedom are in no position to take a third loss.
In fact, Washington is the only team that really has momentum coming into the weekend. After a 4-3 stoppage time win, the Freedom play the bottom team at home and will honor Mia Hamm and Siri Mullinix as recent inductees into the Washington Freedom Hall of Fame.
In Week Six of Womens Pro Soccer, the L.A. Sol (3-0-1) travels to the Boston Breakers (2-2-0), the Bay Area's FC Gold Pride (1-2-1) hosts Jersey's Sky Blue FC (0-1-2) and the televised match-up (FSC 8PM ET) sends the St. Louis Athletica (0-2-1) to the Washington Freedom (1-2-1). After a 4-0 win last week, the Red Stars are more than deserving of their bye week.
When the number one ranked L.A. Sol meets the number three ranked Boston Breakers, there will be no excuses for either team to perform below expectations. Both defensive lines will face a tough challenge with the return of Marta for the Sol and Kelly Smith for the Breakers, but attacking powers up-top and in the midfield should bury some good finishes.
As Boston prepares for a strong return from last week's disappointing appearance, Head Coach Tony DiCicco shared a little strategy with me. Obviously, containing Marta is number one, but the coach mentioned that quite frankly, he's "not sure that anyone in the world can contain Marta."
He said that "the team would have to play great defense," but that "[the Breakers] are not going to be able to fully contain her. [They] just need to keep her from having a Marta type game.
Other than that, DiCicco emphasized that limiting the space in which Marta can create will make defending a strong attacking team like L.A. a little bit easier.
He noted that although Marta is the main player of interest, she is not the entire team. DiCicco also named the Sol's Aya Miyama, Han Duan, Aly Wagner and Shannon Boxx as other players of interest that the Breakers need to contain. For Boston, the task defensively is pretty huge. But, according to the coach, there are a few things the team can do well to come out on top:
1. Possess the ball and find Boston's personality players on their parts of the field.
2. Be a good defensive team and have numbers behind the ball when Marta and other players of interest get it
3. Go in with confidence and have a winners mentality.
Boston is definitely looking for the home win out of this one while L.A. is definitely looking to bounce back from last week's 0-0 tie against St. Louis.
The Sol had a rough week without Marta but thank goodness for goal keeper Karina LeBlanc. The Sol has maintained cleen sheets up to this point, and its offense usually does a great job of creating chances. With a few missed opportunities in recent games, the Sol is in need of some finishes to get back on track.
The Breakers will present some strong opposition and could potentially hand the Sol its first loss.
After Saturday's East Coast/West Coast battle between Boston and L.A., Sunday action kicks off with FC Gold Pride (Bay Area) and Sky Blue FC (Jersey).
The Bay Area comes into the game with a noticeable edge based upon its record and its ability to finish. There is no question that FCGP has the upper hand in this one. It maintains possession throughout the game and builds a very controlled attack. With Tiffany Weimer, Tiffeny Milbrett and Eriko Arakawa up front, Kandace Wilson and Rachael Buehler on the backline will need to prevent improve on the set pieces and services that led to three of last week's four goals against them.
With the Bay Area coming off of a close game and some confident finishes, the team still ranks fourth out seven teams. SBFC currently sits at sixth and is coming off of a 0-0 tie to Chicago, a barely 2-1 exhibition win over FC Indiana, and a very long bye week.
If SBFC can capitalize on some of its through balls to Collete McCallum and Julianne Sitch, there is a chance that this team will find its second goal of the season. Overall team possession with a build up through the midfield is really the only way that this team will earn some of similar chances that it had against Chicago.
In this game, Jersey will have a tough time containing the FCGP front runners, but SBFC fights hard to save a lot of close calls. The Bay Area still has the advantage coming into this one, but its defense must do better especially in shutting down the right flank.
If SBFC can pull the upset, it will replace FCGP as number four in the standings and the Bay Area will become number five. That scenario seems highly unlikely, but it does give Jersey something to hope for.
With the bigger hopes than any team, the St. Louis Athletica will travel to the Washington Freedom in the final game and the most intriguing match-up of Week Six.
As St. Louis once again pursues that first goal and first win of the season, it has establisheda pretty impressive first-half standard. If the Athletica can maintain their streak of keeping opponents scoreless in the first half, they could have the opportunity to finally receive a reward this week.
Since K.J. Spisak will start in goal again for the Freedom, St. Louis needs to test her early. She gave up three goals in her professional debut, so the Athletica really needs to keep its shots on target.
Defensively, it looks like the St. Louis backline is starting to gel even with the few changes it had to make last week. When the this week's unit goes back to its original players, a confident Abby Wambach will be no easy task.
Holding the title as the current WPS Player of the Week, Wambach scored two goals and an assist against FCGP last week. In every game she seems to be playing better and better. This week it will all be a matter of how well she finishes off the service and what other chances she can create for Allie Long and Lori Lindsey.
If the Athletica fouls as often as it generally does, there could some identical finishes by Wambach this week.With Cat Whitehill's service behind both of Wambach's goals, expect at least one more assist or near assist on a set piece in front of the home crowd.
Washington has the momentum and the fan support this week to pull off another great win. As the St. Louis fights to get out of the bottom of the bottom the Freedom just might have a chance to break into the top three.
With the chance to gain some big results, all six of these teams really need to make a better appearance this week than they did last time around.
What do you think about this week's match-ups? Which game will be the best?
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