The Atlanta Beat (1-2-1, 4 pts.) head south on Sunday to take on an undefeated magicJack (2-0-0, 6 pts.) team at FAU Soccer Field, quickly becoming known as ‘the postage stamp.’ The home team will surely be favored, but the small field could play to Atlanta’s advantage.
FAU Soccer Field was just 63 yards wide when it made its WPS debut on April 23 (when FAU plays there, the width is 75 yards). That night, magicJack beat a Boston Breakers team, which could not adjust to the small field, by a 1-0 score through a goal from Ella Masar. Last week, magicJack prevailed 2-1 over the Philadelphia Independence in what Philadelphia Head Coach Paul Riley called “a butcher fest” on a field that had expanded to 66 yards. Each team committed 13 fouls. On the small field, magicJack plays very direct through center back Christie Rampone, who looks to bypass the midfield and find Abby Wambach’s feet up front.
Atlanta has shown its willingness to defend this season, pulling off a 1-0 victory on April 16 against a Sky Blue FC team that out-shot the Beat 18-4 on the day and effectively frustrated the Western New York Flash in a 2-2 draw on April 24. Defending as a unit is Atlanta’s strength and, more specifically, the Beat’s back four serves as the team’s foundation. Composed of Cat Whitehill and Keeley Dowling as center backs with Katherine Reynolds at left back and Heather Mitts at right back, three of Atlanta’s four starting defenders will be with the team the whole season (with Mitts presumably making the United States’ Women’s World Cup roster).
“It’s helped us a lot, especially with this young team that we have,” Whitehill said of the defense staying together. “We have a lot of experience on the back line. Most of the experience is on the back line actually and so it has been nice to keep us compact. We’ve been blessed without injuries, we’ve been blessed without national team stuff to keep the back line. And the more we play together, the better we get.”
On magicJack’s small field, the Beat’s ability to defend with all 11 players could prove frustrating for magicJack. Atlanta had trouble adjusting to life on the road and on turf last week, but neither should factor on Sunday with a short trip to Florida and FAU being a grass field.
Granted, Atlanta suffered an all out whooping Sunday in a 3-0 loss to the Flash, which out-shot the Beat 20-3. Atlanta Head Coach James Galanis, usually positive, admitted that after the game.
“Like I told the girls, I think there were too many of them that had a bad game,” Galanis said after Sunday’s loss. “There were about six players on our team that had a terrible day and I think everyone else was right there behind them too, so I don’t think any of them are happy with their performance today. I don’t think any of them are happy with their effort.”
But that game is behind the Beat and they now focus on magicJack this coming Sunday. With the small field playing in favor of Atlanta, the Beat could just surprise the unbeaten Florida squad.
“I give the ladies credit,” Galanis said. “They have come to training and worked harder than ever so far this week. We have completed three sessions, and it’s evident that they are disappointed with the effort of the team and the effort they gave as individuals. “
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