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The Starting XI: Questions await week ahead for WPS, USWNT

It has already been a busy week in women’s soccer, but with the U.S. Women’s National Team playing Japan on Wednesday night and a full slate of critical WPS games this weekend, here are 11 points of interest for the coming days:

1. Destination New York? The most surprising news of Tuesday came courtesy of Michael Lewis, who reports that Paul Riley’s New York Fury WPSL franchise is looking to enter WPS in 2013. That is interesting news and would seemingly continue the trend of teams looking to move up from WPSL or the W-League into WPS. Riley says he has five owners and needs five more, but 2013 is a long way out and WPS needs to get to that point first.

2. How about that D? What defense will Pia Sundhage utilize tonight against Japan? Becky Sauerbrunn was the United States’ best defender on Saturday in a 2-0 win over Japan, but will she get another start in the rematch tonight? Christie Rampone likely won’t be risked tonight and Heather Mitts’ World Cup status remains questionable, but is Amy LePeilbet ready for action?  My guess is we’ll see Sauerbrunn and Buehler pair centrally again.

3. Farr-elly new to the scene: Alright, that was a cheesy pun.  But hey, Sinead Farrelly is in camp with the U.S. Women’s National Team following Lindsay Tarpley’s injury. Farrelly is off to a hot start with the Philadelphia Independence, but will she see the field on Wednesday? More importantly, is she now headed to Germany? It sure looks that way.

4. Will Japan break through and get on the scoreboard? The team looked good in defense and the midfield, but it’s finishing abilities are clearly sub-par. Besides Yuki Nagasato and Shinobu Ohno, Japan’s best options going forward were defenders Yukari Kinga and Saki Kumagai. That isn’t going to cut it against the U.S. or in Germany six weeks from now. Japan needs to find ways to score. Otherwise, the team looks pretty good, but not quite on the level of the U.S.

5. Will the U.S. put in a full 90 minute performance? The level of play dropped off in the second half on Saturday and some of that was due to Pia Sundhage toying with some different things. Heather O’Reilly and Megan Rapinoe did well to give the U.S. width in the first half, but they were removed at halftime and the creativity seemed to drop off slightly with Tobin Heath and Lindsay Tarpley (now out of the Women’s World Cup picture) on the flanks.

6. magicTube: Don’t look now, but magicJack has a YouTube account. The team still has not uploaded any videos to Match Analysis, the internal highlights system coaches use to scout other teams, but the videos on YouTube seem to be a step…maybe. They certainly show effort from magicJack, but the move seems to be yet another stance from Dan Borislow that things will be done his way. The quality of the videos is also extremely low. It’s tough to see the ball on many occasions and making out players is a real task.

7. Battle of the Unbeatens: The Western New York Flash host magicJack on Sunday in the game of the week and it should be a dandy. Rochester’s biggest crowd of the year thus far will turn up for Abby Wambach’s homecoming as a professional player in what is the early game of the season. Will magicJack have enough guts to play its usual 3-4-3 formation against a dangerous Flash team with three world class strikers? Actually, it’s very possible, but either way it should make for a fun game. Don’t be surprised if this is a goal fest. The Flash have been scoring at will but has given up a few cheap goals in games it has dominated. Tight defense on a small home field has seen magicJack give up just one goal in three games, but the potential for an offensive explosion is there too.

8. Basement Battle: Sky Blue FC hosts Atlanta on Saturday and it might not be too early to say that the loser of this game could be kissing its season goodbye before June even arrives. That’s a stretch, sure, but this bottom of the table clash is critical for both teams. Sky Blue FC (0-3-1, 1 pt.) is still the only team in the league without a win. This is probably the best opportunity to pick one up against an Atlanta (1-4-1, 4 pts.) side that beat Sky Blue FC 1-0 in Week 2.

9. Round Two: The Boston Breakers host the Philadelphia Independence on Sunday night in a battle for third place. Philadelphia (2-1-1, 7 pts.) currently sits in third and Boston (2-4-0, 6 pts.) in fourth but a magicJack loss combined with a win for either would send them into second place about one-third of the way through the season. About 3,000 tickets have been pre-sold for Kristine Lilly’s jersey retirement so there should be a typically good crowd in Boston to take in this one. Now the question remains: Can Boston handle Tasha Kai, Amy Rodriguez and Laura del Rio up top? It could not two weeks ago, but we’ll if anything has changed on Sunday.

10. Averbuch Talks: Finally, here are a couple of chats form last Friday’s Flash-Breakers game that I hadn’t previously released.  First up, Yael Averbuch on her first game with the Flash and being left off of the U.S. World Cup roster:

First game: How did you feel?  “I felt pretty pretty good. In practice our midfielders were playing really well together, just finding each other with one, two touch passes and I think for moments of the game today we were able to do that. Hopefully we’ll continue to grow on those things, though, and make it better.”

Was it tough to step in right away? “A little bit, but honestly the way the team plays makes it really easy. I think a big thing Aaran always talks about is including everybody and keeping the ball moving, which, when you are doing that it’s so easy to get acclimated.”

Thoughts on not making the U.S. roster? “Obviously I was disappointed. It had been my goal to make that team, but I learned that – of course momentarily I was pretty upset, but when I really sat back and reflected on it I was excited to come here. This is a great team. This has been great for me because it’s a new goal, a new environment.”

Talk about the decision to stay with U.S. and not play with the Flash for the beginning of the season: “I think every athlete is different but I decided that for me, my body, my mind would be fresher and better if I could focus on one thing at a time and then when it is time to show up here I can be completely devoted to this team. And so I think that that was the right choice for me.”

Now the focus is on the Olympics? “Yeah, I mean it’s still a while away. Right now I am focused on this season, but long-term with the national team, yes, that is my next goal.”

11. Sahlen’s first match: Alex Sahlen, that is, the Flash’s team president who also happens to be a defender.  Sahlen was out for five weeks with broken right rib. She just began training full contact last week.  “I was able to run an everything, but there is nothing like playing.”

How has the unprecedented player-president role been going? “I couldn’t do anything for two weeks almost because of the rib, so it actually almost – it was like, everyone always says things happen for a reason. It was out first year and it was really busy, especially getting Marta here and [her visa] and stuff, so I was so preoccupied with that kind of stuff that it actually kind of worked out. I mean, the president side of me, but obviously the players side of me was tough sitting out and not being able to get better and training with the team. But yeah, it’s been busy.”

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