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The Opening Whistle: Every game matters on Sunday

Three games to go and they all matter—maybe.  Let’s get right to it.

Sunday:  Sky Blue FC (5-8-4, 19 pts) at Boston Breakers (4-9-4, 16 pts)

The match of the year insomuch as the winner goes to Florida on Wednesday night for a playoff game and the loser’s season is over.  If they draw, Sky Blue moves on and the Breakers are done.  There will be much time to examine the Breakers’ disappointing season.  For now they will have to figure out how to score.  It is an issue that has dogged them on and off for their three years of play, and a similar goal drought was the root of their 2009 collapse.  Sky Blue must recover from being within minutes of a playoff spot only to lose 2-1 on what looked to be an offside goal scores by Philadelphia’s Lianne Sanderson.

KEYS TO THE MATCH: Injuries.  Sky Blue center back Carrie Dew is suspended and her partner, the more accomplished Anita Asante, has been hobbled by injury and is expected to be a game time decision.  On the other side Lauren Cheney and Kelly Smith both came back injured from the World Cup and have not been the same since.

STAT FUN:  Sky Blue goalkeeper Jenni Branam, in her last professional season, has five shutouts and can do no worse than tie for the league lead.  A clean sheet in this one will assure her the title by herself as well as clinch a playoff berth for her squad.  Therese Sjogran is one assist off the league lead.

Breakers’ goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher will lead the league in saves.  She needs eight more for 100.

Sunday:  Philadelphia Independence (11-3-3, 36 pts) at magicJack (8-7-2, 23 pts)

The Independence needs a victory to put the heat on the Flash to get a result in the Fox Soccer match in terms of the regular season championship.  magicJack is already locked into the No. 3 seed and crippled the Independence’s chances of finishing first by losing 2-1 to the Flash on Wednesday.

KEYS TO THE MATCH: magicJack has played a daunting schedule and has a mid-week playoff game ahead so logic would dictate they would rest a few of their regular players.  But logic is not something that has followed the club in its maiden season in Florida.  For the Independence all they need to do is run Veronica Boquete out to the pitch and they don’t lose—literally.

STAT FUN: Tasha Kai’s scoring pace has slowed in recent weeks, but she still comes to the match with nine, one behind Christine Sinclair for the league lead.  Val Henderson’s four shutouts are one behind Jenni Branam, but Nicole Barnhart appears to be the first choice keeper for the Independence.

For magicJack, Abby Wambach has nine goals, one behind Christine Sinclair, and Nikki Washington’s seven assists are tied for the league lead with Sinclair.

Sunday:  Atlanta Beat (1-12-4, 7 points) at Western New York Flash (12-2-3, 39 pts)

If the Independence does not beat magicJack, the Flash will clinch first place and a bye to the final before this one even gets started.  Short of that they will need a draw to win the title.  The Beat have won but a single match back in April—on a controversial goal at that—and have not scored since mid-June.

KEYS TO THE MATCH: The Flash is quite simply better in every corner of the field and should have no trouble securing the point needed to finish atop the standings.

STAT FUN: Christine Sinclair enters the weekend with 10 goals and teammate Marta is part of the chasing pack on nine goals.  Both have outscored the Beat, which has seven.  Marta has led the league during its first two seasons and should she strike the top would complete an unlikely trifecta of leading a league in goals three straight seasons while playing for three different teams.  Sinclair also leads the loop with seven assists, tied with Nikki Washington.  Sinclair won the assist title in 2010.

Flash goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris will win the goals against average title and is one shutout behind Jenni Branam.  Harris’s 12 wins are far and away best in the league.  A 13th would equal Nicole Barnhart’s mark from last year when the season was six games longer.

For the Beat, defender Katherine Reynolds has played every minute of the season.

Three points of interest

1)     Whoever finishes second will have to overcome a brief but negative trend.  The second place teams have lost their home playoff games both WPS seasons.

2)     The Sky Blue-Breakers match is not only for the final playoff spot, but the two coaches enter the match with 21 wins, tied with Paul Riley for the most in WPS.  The trio went by Albertin Montoya, who amassed 20 wins in two seasons with FC Gold Pride.

3)     Is there a more underrated WPS player than Becky Edwards?


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