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The Opening Whistle: Scenarios take shape with three weeks to play

All of a sudden there are only three weekends left in the WPS season.  And for a change nothing has been decided.  Sure it looks like the Independence and Flash will be hosting playoff games and that the Beat won’t play in one home or away, but the last two and a half weeks figure to be fun and frantic.  Here’s a look at how each team stands approaching Week 16:

Philadelphia Independence (9-3-3, 30 points)

The Independence secured a playoff spot by winning 1-0 in Boston on Wednesday, but Head Coach Paul Riley still feels his team needs an extra player.  Freda Magnusdottir has gone back to Iceland and Allison Falk has been ruled out for the season meaning the Independence have only four true defenders on the roster.  On the table they are three points clear of the Flash and own the tiebreaker there, but the Flash have two games in hand.  A draw in Atlanta will secure a home playoff game while a win or Sky Blue and magicJack both not winning will put last year’s runners-up at least as far as the Super Semifinal.

Western New York Flash (8-2-3, 27 points)

The Flash are still in control of things as far as finishing first, but due to the tiebreaker scenario must finish ahead of the Independence to win the regular season.  The bad news is their two games in hand include a finish to the season that goes Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday-Wednesday-Sunday.  The good news is they could use a bunch of games to get Marta, Christine Sinclair, and Alex Morgan in sync.  They’re terrific when clicking on all cylinders.  They get a home playoff game with a win at Sky Blue and at least to the semifinal if they beat Sky Blue and magicJack loses or draws against the Breakers.  They’re still the team to beat.

Sky Blue FC (5-5-4, 19 points)

Don’t look now, but Sky Blue is playing well and could put Jim Gabarra into the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons coaching in WUSA and WPS.  And the best news for them is that the Breakers play magicJack twice more meaning a reasonably good finish should land Sky Blue back in the playoffs and just maybe bring a game to Yurcak Field for the first time.  However, it’s a tough assignment at home against the Flash this weekend.

Boston Breakers (4-6-4, 16 points)

The enigmas of WPS won’t contend for first overall as they were intended to, but they are squarely in the mix for post-season with two of their remaining four matches against magicJack, with whom they are level on points.  Injuries are piling up though with Lauren Cheney’s season likely over and Jordan Angeli having missed most of the campaign with a torn ACL.  Kelly Smith has not played since the World Cup quarterfinals and is listed as questionable for the weekend.  They have been a work in progress most of the season and it is time to put together a consistent finish to get them into the playoffs.

magicJack (5-6-2, 16 points)

Wouldn’t it be something if the penalty point levied against magicJack this spring costs them a playoff berth?  Seems more likely they will miss because they have entirely fallen apart, and early returns are that the World Cup returnees are making minimal, if any, impact.  The talent is there to win the remaining games, and if they beat Boston twice they’re in.  But the ship is heading in the wrong direction and needs something to set it on the right course.

Atlanta Beat (1-10-4, 7 points)

The Beat are officially gone from playoff contention and are just about guaranteed to finish last again.  The good news? That will give them the first overall pick (pending any alterations for expansion) plus magicJack’s first round pick at what is shaping up as a deep 2012 draft.

Three points of interest

1)     Jim Gabarra will coach his 15th game for Sky Blue on Saturday, which will make him the all-time leader for the club.  Sky Blue has employed six coaches in three seasons.  Gabarra needs a win to be the winningest of the six.

2)     Carli Lloyd will miss the Beat’s match against the Independence due to yellow card accumulation.

3)     An article by Beau Dure on ESPNW quoted Vancouver Whitecaps FC President Bob Lenarduzzi as saying the club is happy operating their women’s team in the W-League.  That is different from the talk coming out of Vancouver earlier this year and not a great sign for the prospects of West Coast expansion.


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