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Goalless draw ends Sky Blue FC’s season

Posted on 12 September 2010 by lbarker

At midfield, the players from the Boston Breakers and Sky Blue FC shook hands, embraced and likely offered congratulations and condolences. Missing from the group was one player, Tasha Kai. The Sky Blue striker was instead crouching on the field near the sideline, alone, motionless and clearly emotional. 3,810 fans had shown up to Yurcak Field with hopes of giving the home side a proper send off for another magical playoff run. A win – coupled with a Washington Freedom loss or tie – and Sky Blue would be back in the postseason, alive to fight another day, to play one more game at least.

“Win or go home.” For Sky Blue FC it was that simple coming into Saturday night’s match. Of course, the Blue and Orange would also need the result of the Freedom-Beat match happening simultaneously in the nation’s capitol to go their way, but none of that would matter if they couldn’t find a win. For the Breakers, the stakes weren’t quite as high. The Boston team had already secured a postseason berth, this one was simply to help sort out just how close to the top of the table they’d finish. Ninety minutes later, the final match of the season ended the way it started, with a 0-0 scoreline. The result ended Sky Blue FC’s season and left the Breakers to wonder a little longer where they’d finish (2nd, it turned out, as Philadelphia lost to FC Gold Pride later in the evening).

Both teams spent the first ten minutes of the match trying to find their rhythm. In the 10th, Kai collected a through ball and took a shot that Breakers ‘keeper Alyssa Naeher had to come out to block. In the 22nd, Kai had another chance, as Laura Kalmari played a ball over the top of the Boston backline to Kai. The speedy striker beat her defender and Naeher on the dribble and took a shot that rolled across the goalmouth and just wide of the far post.

For much of the rest of the half the back-and-forth continued between the two sides. As the clock closed in on the 45 minute mark the Breakers began to create chances, the best coming in the 39th minute from a Lauren Cheney free kick from 25 yards out that went wide of goal.

After the break, the midfield battles continued. In the 50th minute Fabiana dribbled through the Sky Blue defense but Sky Blue goalkeeper Meghann Burke, making just her third start, made a sliding save to dispossess the Brazilian midfielder.

In the 60th minute Sky Blue FC nearly got on the board as Kai took a close-range shot that was blocked by Naeher. Kalmari collected the rebound, but was unable to get a clean shot off, instead sending the ball wide of frame. A minute later it was Kai again creating trouble for the Boston defense. This time her attempt on a header was deflected out of play.

In the 71st minute, Sky Blue FC Head Coach Rick Stainton made two moves in a last ditch attempt at offense, first switching to three in the back – taking out defender Kendall Fletcher for Rosana – and then replacing Jen Grubb with Yael Averbuch. Stainton said that they were aware on the bench of the Freedom-Beat score, but they didn’t find out until after their own match concluded that Washington had actually won. “It was 0-0 and then obviously at the end of our game we found out that Abby [Wambach] had scored in the 89th so, kinda puts a damper on it, but we fought for it,” said the coach.

In the 82nd minute Kai nearly had a breakaway, but Breakers defender Taryn Hemmings kept pace with the Sky Blue striker and was able to put the ball out of play. Two minutes later the visitors had a chance of their own, from the foot of rookie forward Lauren Cheney, who sent a hard shot from the top of the 18 over the crossbar.

The final minutes were frantic, first with the home side fighting to create one last offensive chance and then with the Breakers peppering Sky Blue with shots. “They threw a lot of numbers at us and so the counter attack for us was on because they only had three players back practically,” said Breakers’ Rookie of the Year candidate Jordan Angeli. “They had thrown everybody else forward, so we were just trying to spring our fresh legs up there with Laura [Del Rio] and trying to get our speedy players in behind them. So, it was definitely wide open at the end.” In the 86th minute Burke made a save on a shot from Cheney inside the six yard box. A minute later Cheney fed a ball to Fabiana, who took a shot that Burke had to tip over the bar. In the 88th minute Sky Blue FC captain Christie Rampone deflected another shot from Cheney out of play. Burke would make one final save on a point-blank Boston shot just before referee Felisha Mariscal blew the whistle that ended the match, and ultimately Sky Blue FC’s season. “It was a good soccer game and I think this is what the season should look like, teams going after it constantly,” commented ageless Boston midfielder Kristine Lilly.

Breakers Head Coach Tony DiCicco was [as] thrilled [as Tony DiCicco can be] at the turnaround his team has experienced this season. “Considering we were in second-to-last at the All-Star Game, for us to finish– not only to get into the playoffs, but to finish second would be a great testament to our second half of the season,” said DiCicco. “It was a good game. We wanted to win it. Obviously, they needed to win it to have any chance of going through.”

Stainton had this to say about the team he took over in mid-July: “We never quit this entire season. We never quit. We worked as hard as we can all the way through it. Through all the ups and downs, through the injuries, through changes, whatever adversity was thrown our way we were fully committed at righting the ship and doing what we could do to make this final push.” And while ultimately his side fell short, the coach was still proud. “We battled. It was a game that we played fairly well for 90 minutes,” said Stainton. “We had some opportunities and unfortunately we didn’t capitalize but we did apply the pressure that we needed and– deflating that we didn’t get the three points that we needed to move forward but overall we had a good season. We have a lot of positives to take out of it.”

And so while the Breakers and their fans rejoiced at a second place finish and bye into the semi-final (and probably at Sky Blue’s misfortune and the great role reversal these two teams experienced – last year it was SBFC who backed into the playoffs on the Breakers’ misfortune), the 3,810 fans there to cheer the home side filed out of Yurcak Field, left with only the memories of a season past, questions about what could have been, and the image of their star striker, and their team, heartbroken. There would be no magical playoff run this time. No one more game to play. No chance to defend their championship. (It should be noted that Washington beat Atlanta 1-0 on an 88th minute goal from Abby Wambach, so even with a victory Sky Blue would have been level on points with the Freedom and the DC side held the tie-breaker – head-to-head record – so Sky Blue wouldn’t have made the postseason anyway. Little consolation for Sky Blue fans who will likely spend the next few months cursing Karen Bardsley’s clavicle, Jenni Branam’s knee, Carli Lloyd’s ankle, Pauliina Miettinen, Carli Lloyd’s yellow card against FCGP, Jenni Branam’s knee again, and probably 50 other things – but it’s something.)

Speaking of consolation, Stainton pointed to one thing in particular when talking about Sky Blue; the team’s character. “The character speaks for itself. It’s a definite bonus, it’s a plus. They’re incredible personalities and as I told them in the huddle, I’m proud just to be associated with them and to have the adventure that we had, it was an incredible experience.”

FUN FACTS:
A moment of silence was held in remembrance of 9/11 before the match…Carli Lloyd was suspended for the match due to yellow card accumulation – three consecutive yellows. Lloyd had received a yellow card in a match on April 25th, later in that game she suffered a broken ankle that kept her off the field for most of the season. She’s made two appearances since returning from the injury, and been booked in both. WPS counts only matches that players have appeared in as “consecutive”, hence the suspension, despite a four month break between the first card and the last two…The 0-0 tie was the second consecutive goalless match, and third consecutive draw for Sky Blue – they played Atlanta to a 0-0 tie on September 5th, and drew 1-1 with FC Gold Pride on September 1st…The clean sheet was the second for Meghann Burke in four appearances…combined, the five goalkeepers Sky Blue used this season have recorded nine shutouts, tying them with Regular Season Champions FC Gold Pride for most in the league…It was the third clean sheet for Alyssa Naeher…Sky Blue FC, along with Atlanta, scored a league worst 20 goals in 2010. Sky Blue scored 19 goals in 2009, but played four fewer games (2010 WPS Golden Boot winner Marta alone scored 19 goals for FC Gold Pride this season)…Rookie Brittany Taylor finished the season as the only player for Sky Blue FC to play every one of the possible 2160 minutes this season…Sky Blue FC have not surpassed the seven win mark in either of their seasons, going 7-10-7 in 2010 and 7-8-5 in 2009 – good for a lifetime record of 14-18-12…Boston was missing English Internationals Kelly Smith and Alex Scott and Sky Blue FC was without Italian International Patrizia Panico – all due to UEFA World Cup Qualifying. Sky Blue was also missing Kelly Parker, who’s away with the Canadian National Team…Because Sky Blue FC failed to make the playoffs, only one team from the 2009 postseason is in the 2010 postseason – the Washington Freedom. The other two playoff teams from ’09, St. Louis Athletica and the Los Angeles Sol, both ceased operations since the 2009 season concluded…The Philadelphia Independence will host the Washington Freedom in the first round, the Boston Breakers will host the winner of that match in the Super Semi-Final, and FC Gold Pride will host the winner of the Semi-Final in the 2010 WPS Championship on September 26th…Sky Blue FC has six players called into the US National Team camp that will start on September 20th for players not in the WPS playoffs: Christie Rampone, Meghan Schnur, Brittany Taylor, Yael Averbuch, Carli Lloyd and Heather O’Reilly.

MATCH FACTS:
Sky Blue FC (7-10-7) vs. Boston Breakers (10-8-6)
Saturday, September 11, 2010 — Yurcak Field
FINAL

SCORING SUMMARY:
Team 1 2 F
NJ: 0 0 0
BOS: 0 0 0

SKY BLUE FC — Meghan Burke, Brittany Taylor, Keeley Dowling, Christie Rampone, Kendall Fletcher (Rosana, 71′), Heather O’Reilly, Jen Grubb (Yael Averbuch, 71′), Laura Kalmari, Meghan Schnur, Kacey White, Tasha Kai

Substitutes Not Used: India Trotter, Jenni Branam, Shannon Myers, Daphne Koster, Danielle Johnson

BOSTON BREAKERS — Alyssa Naeher, Taryn Hemmings, Amy LePeilbet, Ifeoma Dieke, Stephanie Cox, Fabiana, Lindsay Tarpley, Jordan Angeli, Kristine Lilly, Liz Bogus (Laura del Rio, 66′), Lauren Cheney

Substitutes Not Used: Kasey Moore, Chioma Igwe, Ashley Phillips, Analisa Marquez

TEAM STATS:
NJ BOS

Shots 7 16
Shots on Goal 3 11
Fouls 7 3
Offside 6 2
Corner Kicks 4 10
Saves 9 3

MISCONDUCT SUMMARY:
none

Referee: Felisha Mariscal
Referee Assistants: Shelley Finger, John Schmitz
4th Official: Brian Dunn
Attendance: 3810

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WPS: Sky Blue FC, FC Gold Pride draw on stoppage time strike

Posted on 02 September 2010 by Breton Bonnette

In Women’s Professional Soccer, parity is often the name of the game, and things were no different on Wednesday night at Yurcak Field in New Jersey. FC Gold Pride came to the Garden State to take on Sky Blue FC in the final regular season edition of “The Battle of Teams That Choose to Not Identify Geographically”. Continue Reading

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Averbuch strike helps Sky Blue FC top Independence

Posted on 23 August 2010 by lbarker

On August 22, 2009 Sky Blue FC capped off a Cinderella-like run through the WPS playoffs with a victory over the Los Angeles Sol to capture the league’s inaugural championship. The game in LA was the third in eight days and three different time zones for a Sky Blue team that had gone through a roller coaster of a season. By then on their third coach, Sky Blue had sometimes struggled to find points and had barely made it into the playoffs, earning the fourth seed care of a Boston Breakers loss on the final day of the regular season. After defeating the Washington Freedom and St. Louis Athletica, Sky Blue headed to The Home Depot Center to take on a Sol side they’d never beaten. Jenni Branam, Sky Blue’s ‘sweeper-keeper’ had already been involved in several big-time collisions and would take another hit in the finale. In the 17th minute Heather O’Reilly beat Karina LeBlanc to put The Blue and Orange up by one. Seventy-three-plus-a-few minutes later, they were lifting the Championship trophy.

Fast forward a year. August 22, 2010. Sky Blue FC, on their second coach of the season and struggling to find points, faces a team they’ve never beaten. There’s some action in the 17th minute, although of a slightly different variety. Jenni Branam gives everyone a scare, going down after a big collision and Karina LeBlanc is the ‘keeper that gives up the game’s lone goal – on a play that involves Heather O’Reilly. Sound familiar?

But for all the similarities, Sunday’s match was also very different, and had very different implications. Sky Blue’s opponent this time was the Philadelphia Independence, who came to Yurcak Field having never lost to the defending champs. And there was no championship trophy, this one instead a regular season contest, albeit one with big playoff implications for the home side. A loss (or draw) would keep Sky Blue FC three (or two) points behind the Washington Freedom for the fourth and final playoff spot, while a win would pull the Blue and Orange level with the Freedom, with a game in hand. And so, just as they did in 2009, Sky Blue came together when it counted, with Yael Averbuch tallying her first pro goal to give the home team a 1-0 victory over the visiting Independence in a game that also featured a lengthy lightning delay. It was the first home win for Sky Blue FC since the season opener (way, way back) on April 11th.

It took just 30 seconds for Sky Blue FC to find their first chance of the evening, with Laura Kalmari getting on the end of a cross from Heather O’Reilly and taking a shot on the volley that went just over the crossbar. The Independence looked to counter, and nearly did, in the 9th minute. Lori Lindsey took a free kick that Amy Rodriguez fired into the side netting, just wide of goal.

The home side was forced to use a substitution just 15 minutes into the match when Kalmari had to be helped off the field by the Sky Blue training staff. The Finnish International sustained a laceration on her right shin that required stitches. She was replaced by Tasha Kai. According to Sky Blue Head Coach Rick Stainton the laceration was the result of Kalmari taking a cleat to shin, but the coach also said he believes she’ll be available for the team’s match next weekend.

Rosana had another chance for the home team in the 16th minute, using some fancy footwork to beat her defender near the top of the 18. The Brazilian International then took a shot that deflected off of a Philadelphia defender, and had another try off the rebound. That one went over the bar.

At 16:02 of the first half, soon after Rosana’s attempt on goal, the match was suspended due to lightning. The delay brought heavy rains, sent fans seeking cover and kept both teams off the field for nearly two hours, with play officially resuming one hour and 52 minutes after it was stopped.

‘Sky Blue FC’ had become synonymous with ‘giving up early goals’ as of late, but Sky Blue captain Christie Rampone said that she hopes the day’s result will help change that. “I think we’re trying to get past that point because I think we’ve been focusing so much on it. I think when you focus too much on something it ends up coming at you. I think it was just kind of the joke going around ‘oh we made it past five minutes’ ‘oh, six minutes.’ So going in we obviously are aware of it, it’s like ‘all right, we’re 16 minutes in, no goals and then let’s play from here’ so I think, hopefully this’ll be the last time that we’re constantly thinking about that early goal,” said Rampone.

After the restart both teams tried to re-establish a rhythm, with neither finding many dangerous chances for much of the half. Sky Blue nearly broke through at the tail end of the first frame. In the 41st Kai was able to beat her defender and feed a ball through to O’Reilly, but the speedy midfielder wasn’t able to get a clean touch on the ball.

The Blue and Orange got a scare just before the halftime whistle, as Independence forward Danesha Adams collided with Sky Blue goalkeeper Jenni Branam as she tried to make a save. Branam stayed down and Adams had little trouble putting the ball around Branam and into the net. The goal wouldn’t count however, with referee Bryan Roslund whistling a foul on the visitors. Shortly after play resumed the whistle blew again, this time signaling the half.

Sky Blue started the second half much like they did the first, with an early opportunity. In the 49th minute Kai took a shot off a header that Independence ‘keeper Karina LeBlanc had to stretch to parry over the crossbar. Philadelphia tried to counter in the 58th, but Tina DiMartino’s shot went right at Branam. “She had a great game. Coming in, gave us a lot of energy, was very dynamic, attacking goal for us and was threatening. And that’s what we need her to do,” said Stainton about Kai.

The Blue and Orange continued to apply pressure on the Independence, and in the 60th minute, it finally paid off for the home team. O’Reilly chipped a ball in to Yael Averbuch. The midfielder was open on the back post and was able to one-time a hard right footed shot to the upper 90. “I knew HAO [Heather O’Reilly] was gonna cross it, we’ve been working a lot on that, and she’s great with her services from the flank. So I kinda just tried to hang out a little ’cause Kacey [White] and Rosana had sucked a lot of players across and it got over the top so I said ‘you know what, I’m gonna go for it,'” said Averbuch as she described her first ever professional goal. “It’s one of those ones you hit and it either goes upper corner or somewhere in the stands.”

Sky Blue controlled the tempo for much of the remainder of the game, and neither team had many good chances through the final half-hour. The Independence got two quick opportunities as the clock ticked down, with shots from Lyndsey Patterson in the 85th and then DiMartino in the 90th, but neither was much trouble for Branam, who made both saves to keep the her first clean sheet of the season.

Philadelphia had outscored Sky Blue 10-3 (2-1, 4-1, 4-1) through the first three meetings between the two teams, but the Blue and Orange seemed to have finally solved their rivals to the south. Yael Averbuch gave some insight into Sky Blue’s strategy, “They’re a great team. I think a big thing for us was the fact that we came out and we kept more of the possession and we had more attack. Make them defend us. ‘Cause if they’re defending us then they can’t be on the ball and doing what they’re good at.” Christie Rampone shared a bit of what she said in the locker room, “Guys, it’s about pride now. Eleven goals on us, it’s about battling back and getting a few goals ourselves” the Sky Blue captain said she told her teammates.

While Sky Blue may have been happy with the result, Independence Head Coach Paul Riley certainly wasn’t. “We did not play at all, we didn’t perform. Very lackluster performance. Credit to Jersey, I thought they played much better obviously than the previous three games. They sat five in the midfield which causes a little bit of a problem. I think Kai actually gave everyone a lift when she came into the game. I think she kind of changed the game and got ’em lifted and got ’em into the game but our performance was unacceptable. Defensively, midfield, forward line,” the coach said. Riley also had something to say about the lack of production from a certain Philly forward. “A-Rod [Amy Rodriguez] was very poor tonight. I think she touched the ba– I think I touched the ball more than her in the warmup. I mean if your best player’s not touching the ball. Our midfield never got a grip. I thought their midfield, Yael was very good in the midfield today and they caused a lot of problems.” Riley acknowledged that his team was missing two players to UEFA World Cup Qualifiers, but also that that was no excuse, “We didn’t play well. I wish I could tell you why. Obviously we’re missing Frida [Holmfridur Magnusdottir – Iceland National Team] at left back which keeps Heather O’Reilly usually very quiet. Heather O’Reilly had a much better game tonight than she did in the previous meetings and then you’re missing [Caroline] Seger [Sweden National Team] in the midfield which is kind of our destroyer. I think they were two big losses for us tonight. But we didn’t play well enough.”

The Independence coach and the Sky Blue captain did agree on one thing, the match featured one of Sky Blue’s best defensive performances of the year. “I wish I had the stats on it, but we were second to every single ball. And every single second ball we were third to I think. They just got ’round the ball no matter where it was, no matter where it ricocheted to, they had numbers around the ball all the time and we just didn’t look sharp. And when you’re not sharp in this league you lose. It doesn’t matter if you’re top or you’re bottom, there’s no difference between the teams if you don’t play well,” said Paul Riley about what went wrong for his side. “We didn’t deserve to win to be honest with you. I thought Sky Blue deserved to win.” Sky Blue’s centerback Rampone took a more philosophical approach, “I think I was getting too locked on to trying to do everything so perfect. And you can’t in the game of soccer. Soccer is a game of mistakes and who makes the least amount of mistakes and who recovers from ’em. And i think our team tries to think it all out and plan it all out, and at the end of the day you just gotta play.”

FUN FACTS:
The clean sheet was the first of the season for Jenni Branam, and the seventh overall for Sky Blue in 2010…Independence defender Heather Mitts had to be subbed out in the 49th minute. Riley said that Mitts complained of dizziness during halftime after taking a knock in the first half…Kelly Parker made her 2010 debut for Sky Blue FC, coming in for Tasha Kai in the 80th minute. Parker spent 2009 with Sky Blue, but parted ways with the team after the season. The Canadian International started 2010 with German side SC Freiburg and then went to the Buffalo Flash of the USL W-League, where she won a championship last month, before re-signing with Sky Blue on August 12th…According to Stainton, Kai was subbed out of the match only because of an awkward collision/landing that occurred minutes earlier… Sky Blue was missing defender Daphne Koster, who was away with The Netherlands for World Cup Qualifiers. Koster is the captain of the Dutch National Team…Averbuch’s goal was the first of her professional career…Brittany Taylor, who’s spent the last few games in the midfield, moved back to defense and defender Meghan Schnur played in the midfield…Sky Blue’s goal had a bit of hometown flavor, both O’Reilly and Averbuch are New Jersey natives…The lightning delay lasted one hour and 52 minutes, it was longest – and only – weather delay at a Sky Blue home game…The Independence’s loss, combined with a win by FC Gold Pride, clinched the regular season title for the Pride. With that, the Bay Area side gets a bye into the WPS Championship, and the right to host that match…The win was the first home victory for Sky Blue FC since April 11th, a 1-0 victory over the Chicago Red Stars to open the season…Christie Rampone said that the rain during the break actually improved the field and increased the speed of play…Sky Blue FC sit level with the Freedom on points with 25, but Sky Blue has played one fewer game than Washington. The two teams meet in Maryland next Saturday…Sunday’s match was the 20th of the season for Sky Blue, with a record of 7-9-4 and 25 points. Sky Blue FC finished 2009 with a record of 7-8-5 and 26 points through 20 games. The 2010 season was extended to 24 games… With the victory against Philadelphia, Sky Blue FC have now beaten every other WPS team at least once, either in the regular season or playoffs…The beginning of the match aired on regional Comcast SportsNet stations in the Philadelphia market, but never returned after the weather delay – the match resumed at 6:15pm Eastern, 15 minutes after the Fox Soccer Channel match kicked off. FSC has exclusive TV rights during the weekly WPS match…Even in defeat, Paul Riley is still one of WPS’s most quotable coaches. On the nearly two hour delay Riley had this to say: “The break never helps anybody. Can’t say it helps one team more than the other. I don’t think it helped either team. I don’t know if it ended the game. I mean, you look at the stats, six shots, pretty disappointing for a 90 minute soccer game. Sorry, a three hour soccer game, pretty disappointing for. Four hour soccer game, sorry. I don’t think it was a very good game for the crowd. We didn’t entertain at all. We brought a lot of fans tonight, I’d like to give them their money back to be honest.” But Riley’s best line of the night was this one: “Terrible day really all the way around. I think we left Philadelphia at 10 o’clock this morning, it feels like the longest day of my life. I feel like we could’ve gone to Gold Pride in a shorter time and played a game.”

MATCH FACTS:
Sky Blue FC (7-9-4) vs. Philadelphia Independence (10-7-4)
Sunday, August 22, 2010 — Yurcak Field
FINAL

SCORING SUMMARY:
Team 1 2 F
NJ: 0 1 1
PHI: 0 0 0

NJ: Yael Averbuch 1 (Heather O’Reilly) 60′

SKY BLUE FC — Jenni Branam, Brittany Taylor, Christie Rampone, Keeley Dowling, Kendall Fletcher, Heather O’Reilly, Meghan Schnur, Kacey White, Yael Averbuch, Laura Kalmari (Tasha Kai, 15′, Kelly Parker, 80′), Rosana (Patrizia Panico, 69′)

Substitutes Not Used: India Trotter, Danielle Johnson, Meghan Burke, Angela Salem

PHILADELPHIA INDEPENDENCE — Karina LeBlanc, Heather Mitts (Sarah Senty, 50′), Allison Falk, Nikki Krzysik, Estelle Johnson, Joanna Lohman (Lyndsey Patterson, 76′), Jen Buczkowski, Lori Lindsey, Tina DiMartino, Amy Rodriguez, Danesha Adams (Lianne Sanderson, 67′)

Substitutes Not Used: Val Henderson, Kelly Henderson

TEAM STATS:
NJ PHI

Shots 11 10
Shots on Goal 6 3
Fouls 6 7
Offsides 1 3
Corner Kicks 6 5
Saves 2 3

MISCONDUCT SUMMARY:
none

Referee: Bryan Roslund
Referee Assistants: Amy Willing, Ian O’Neil
4th Official: Tim Snyder
Attendance: 2572

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WPS: Red Stars spoil Branam’s Sky Blue return

Posted on 02 August 2010 by lbarker

Some 18 weeks after breaking a bone in her knee in Sky Blue FC’s final preseason match (way back on April 5th), goalkeeper Jenni Branam returned between the posts for the defending champs, but the visiting Chicago Red Stars put a damper on her first game back. A fourth minute tally from Ella Masar and a little insurance care of Karen Carney were all the Red Stars needed to hand Sky Blue their fourth consecutive loss. Brittany Taylor netted Sky Blue’s lone goal, but her stoppage time tally was too little, too late for the Blue and Orange.

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Red Stars spoil Branam’s Sky Blue return

Posted on 02 August 2010 by lbarker

Some 18 weeks after breaking a bone in her knee in Sky Blue FC’s final preseason match (way back on April 5th), goalkeeper Jenni Branam returned between the posts for the defending champs, but the visiting Chicago Red Stars put a damper on her first game back. A fourth minute tally from Ella Masar and a little insurance care of Karen Carney were all the Red Stars needed to hand Sky Blue their fourth consecutive loss. Brittany Taylor netted Sky Blue’s lone goal, but her stoppage time tally was too little, too late for the Blue and Orange.

Branam looked to be back to her old “sweeper-keeper” self just two minutes in, venturing some 25 yards off her line to beat a breaking Cristiane to the ball. “It’s awesome” Sky Blue defender and captain Christie Rampone said of Branam’s return. “I like playing a high line, now we just have to get on the same page. She’s good no matter what. She’s flying out of the net, making saves, using her voice, so it’s great to have her back.” Branam’s return wasn’t the only change in back for Sky Blue, Daphne Koster moved from the center to an outside back position, Keeley Dowling returned to the starting lineup as a centerback, and rookie defender Brittany Taylor moved up to the midfield.

That whole “not being on the same page” thing got Sky Blue in trouble early though, as Chicago midfielder Karen Carney had no trouble feeding a ball through to Ella Masar who was able to beat Branam and put the visiting Red Stars up 1-0 in just the fourth minute. Masar’s goal was good for her team-leading fifth of the season. “This one’s finish was phenomenal” Carney, pointing to Masar, said after the match. “It goes to the team,” said Masar of the uptick in goals. “Sometimes I feel lucky ’cause they have to worry about Cris (Cristiane) on the one and Kaz (Carney) and Pinoe (Megan Rapinoe), so I think I get forgotten sometimes.”

Sky Blue FC got their first real opportunity of the match in the eighth minute, as Taylor fed a ball across the Chicago goalmouth. Taylor’s cross beat Loyden but the Chicago defense was able to clear the ball. A minute later Heather O’Reilly nearly had a breakaway, but Whitney Engen tracked back to shoulder O’Reilly off the ball.

In the 17th minute Carney, looking for her second assist of the match, crossed a ball through the box that was just out of Cristiane’s reach. In the 23rd Masar barely missed with a diving header, courtesy of another Carney cross.

The 28th minute brought another chance for Sky Blue, this one from the foot of Laura Kalmari, whose shot from 25 yards out had to be tipped over the bar by Red Stars’ ‘keeper Jillian Loyden. In the 44th minute O’Reilly played a ball through to Kalmari, who took a shot as she and Formiga made contact. The crowd anticipated a PK, but referee Daniel Radford signaled to play on and the half ended with the visitors up 1-0.

The second half began with both teams battling in the midfield, but neither side able to get many quality chances. In the 61st minute, the Red Stars were able to break through and double their lead, care of Carney. Sky Blue had trouble clearing the ball and Chicago defender Marian Dalmy was able to send a cross through to Carney who beat Branam with a far post shot.

Sky Blue looked to get on the board but spent the majority of the remainder of the half struggling to move the ball past midfield. The Chicago defense did well to pull the Sky Blue attack offside on several occasions. In the 77th minute O’Reilly was able to beat her defender before taking a shot that went wide.

Well into the three minutes of announced stoppage time, Sky Blue was finally able to get on the board. Second half sub Tasha Kai crossed a ball to Taylor who went one v. one with her defender before firing a low, hard shot at the Chicago goal. Loyden was able to get a hand on the ball, but couldn’t hold on. The tally was the second in as many games for Taylor. “[Loyden] got a hand on it, so I just wanted to keep it low and hard” said Taylor of her goal. “It’s hard because you want to feel good to get a goal, but it’s hard when you’re losing. I’m kind of excited, I’ll look back and be happy later I guess. I’d prefer to win and not score.”

Despite the late-game efforts, Sky Blue would ultimately run out of time for a comeback. The final whistle blew soon after the restart following Taylor’s goal, with the Red Stars grabbing a 2-1 victory, and perhaps more importantly, a hold on fourth place in the WPS standings. Sky Blue FC meanwhile, drops into a fifth place and out of playoff contention for the first time this season, just one point ahead of the Washington Freedom and Atlanta Beat at the bottom of the table. “Today was a crucial game for us, we understand that, but we gotta look ahead, look forward. There’s still a lot of season, a lot of fight left,” said Sky Blue head coach Rick Stainton.

For Chicago, the importance of getting back to their winning ways with little more than a month left in the season, wasn’t lost on head coach Omid Namazi. “We’re on the back end of a three game losing streak so anytime we get a ‘W’ it’s a good feeling. The belief starts coming back a little bit, the confidence comes back, so it was a good win,” he said after the match. The remainder of Chicago’s season won’t be easy though, with the Red Stars set to face both league leaders FC Gold Pride and the second place Philadelphia Independence twice through the final weeks. “We’ve had a couple rough patches, so now it’s just about being consistent” said Masar.

On the Sky Blue FC side, the Jersey team isn’t giving up on their season just yet. “It is getting better, but it’s still not good enough,” said Rampone. “But I think we’ve gone through a tough season last year and I think the emotions are still going for this season. But it is getting better, I think emotionally we’re getting there, but it’s just individually we need to have more grit.” The Sky Blue captain also acknowledged that with the constant changes in Piscataway, which include two coaches, three goalkeepers, and a slew of injuries to key field players, we haven’t seen a complete Sky Blue FC just yet. “It is getting to be a better environment. I think one or two more games hopefully you’ll see the real Sky Blue team,” she said. “At the end of the day, even though it is a loss, I think we’re working towards something now.” The question is, with just eight games to go, will the real Sky Blue FC stand up in time? Stainton believes they can, and will. “We’re not letting them put their heads down. There’s no reason to put their heads down. We’ve got the talent. We’ve got the depth. We’re just plugging away, trying to organize it all. We gotta believe. That’s the word we keep throwing around, ‘believe.'”

FUN FACTS:
Chicago Red Stars’ midfielders Karen Carney and Nikki Washington both were celebrating their birthdays – Carney turned 23 and Washington 22…Speaking of Washington, the Red Stars are the fourth WPS team the UNC alum has been associated with – originally drafted by the LA Sol in January, her rights were picked up by Sky Blue FC in the dispersal draft. Sky Blue was unable to come to terms with Washington, who was still recovering from a knee injury, and traded her to St. Louis Athletica, along with Anita Asante, in exchange for India Trotter. Washington was reportedly ready to sign with St. Louis, but Athletica folded before a deal was reached. She then signed as a free agent with Chicago and logged her first minutes in WPS as a second half sub on July 25th…Asante also signed with Chicago, but the English International wasn’t rostered for the match, however fellow former Sky Blue FC player Julianne Sitch was, and replaced Formiga in the 62nd minute…Sky Blue’s former Red Star, Carli Lloyd, wasn’t rostered as she continues to recover from a broken ankle…Sky Blue is now winless in their last 5, including four straight losses – the last win came on June 27th – they’ve been outscored 9-2 during that time…Brittany Taylor’s stoppage time goal was just the third Sky Blue has scored at home all season and was the first run-of-play goal Sky Blue FC has scored at Yurcak Field since the sixth minute of their season opener on April 11th, an astonishing 624 minute span – the other goal was a PK that Rosana converted on June 19th…This was the final meeting of the regular season between Chicago and Sky Blue, with each team winning two of the four games. Sky Blue is now 5-2-1 lifetime against Chicago…This season Sky Blue FC is 1-8-1 when their opponent scores first…Sky Blue’s next home game is April 11th, when the team will wear special pink kits as part of WPS and Puma’s ‘Project Pink’ initiative to help raise awareness and funds for breast cancer.

MATCH FACTS:
Sky Blue FC (5-8-3) vs. Chicago Red Stars (5-8-5)
Sunday, August 1, 2010 — Yurcak Field
FINAL

SCORING SUMMARY:
Team 1 2 F
NJ: 0 1 1
CHI: 1 1 2

CHI: Ella Masar 5 (Karen Carney) 4′
CHI: Karen Carney 1 (Marian Dalmy) 61′
NJ: Brittany Taylor 2 (Tasha Kai) 90+

SKY BLUE FC — Jenni Branam, Daphne Koster, Keeley Dowling, Christie Rampone, Meghan Schnur, Brittany Taylor, Kendall Fletcher (Tasha Kai, 73′), Laura Kalmari, Heather O’Reilly, Kacey White (Patrizia Panico, 85′), Rosana (Yael Averbuch, 46′)

Substitutes Not Used: India Trotter, Shannon Myers, Danielle Johnson, Angela Salem

CHICAGO RED STARS — Jillian Loyden, Marian Dalmy, Whitney Engen, Kate Markgraf, Natalie Spilger, Formiga (Julianne Sitch, 62′), Karen Carney, Katie Chapman, Megan Rapinoe, Ella Masar (Nikki Washington, 69′), Cristiane (Casey Nogueira, 79′)

Substitutes Not Used: Lydia Vandenbergh, Meghan Burke

TEAM STATS:
NJ CHI

Shots 11 8
Shots on Goal 3 6
Fouls 6 7
Offsides 8 4
Corner Kicks 8 2
Saves 4 2

MISCONDUCT SUMMARY:
none

Referee: Daniel Radford
Referee Assistants: Mike Kampmeinert, Ryan Dos Reis
4th Official: Hakan Baydere
Attendance: 3539

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Pauliina Miettinen out as Sky Blue FC head coach

Posted on 20 July 2010 by lbarker

Pauliina Miettinen has apparently run out of tickets to continue riding the ever-popular ‘Sky Blue FC Coaching Carousel Ride.’  On Monday the New Jersey-based club announced that head coach Miettinen had been “relieved of her coaching duties.”  Miettinen’s axing came just one day after Sky Blue suffered a disappointing home loss to the bottom-of-the-table Atlanta Beat.  Assistant coach Anne Parnila was also informed that she could no longer ride this ride.  “We respect Pauliina a great deal and appreciate the effort she put forth for our organization,” said Sky Blue FC General Manager Gerry Marrone in a statement from the team.  “Her hard work and passion for the team and the game were never in question. Sometimes, a situation simply does not work out. That is part of the learning process involved when it comes to professional sports. We have to be resilient, as well as continue to adapt and grow.”

Miettinen was brought in by Sky Blue FC in September of 2009, little more than a month after the team won the inaugural WPS Championship with team captain and central defender Christie Rampone at the helm.  Rampone was named player/coach of Sky Blue on June 30, 2009 after Kelly Lindsey unexpectedly resigned with just two regular season games remaining and the team fighting for a playoff spot.  From her spot on the backline Rampone, along with her long-time trainer Mike Lyons* acting as the assistant on the sidelines, guided the Blue and Orange to a 1-1 record through those two final games.  From there the team embarked on a Cinderella-like run through the WPS playoffs, capturing the title with an upset victory over the top-seeded Los Angeles Sol.  Lindsey’s resignation had been especially shocking because she was already Sky Blue’s second coach, coming on after the team’s original head coach, Ian Sawyers, was fired just six games into the ’09 season.  Lindsey was an assistant under Sawyers, but took over the reigns after, as Sky Blue CEO Thomas Hofstetter put it then, “The disagreements between the coach, team and management made it impossible to move forward successfully.”  Lindsey managed to double Sawyers’ six-game tenure – lasting a dozen matches, and helping Sky Blue become a playoff contender – before making her exit.

Sky Blue has had an up-and-down season under Miettinen, the most consistency often coming in the fact that the New Jersey team was perhaps the most inconsistent in WPS.  Sky Blue started the 2010 season with high hopes for defending their title.  Just six minutes in to the season opener Tasha Kai scored what would be the game winner against the Chicago Red Stars.  Kai’s goal on April 11th, 2010 still stands as the only run-of-play goal the team has scored at home this season (Rosana converted a penalty kick on June 19th in Sky Blue’s 4-1 loss to Philadelphia).  Through Miettinen’s 14 game stay in the Garden State Sky Blue has amassed a 5-6-3 record, including a dominant 2-0 win over league leaders FC Gold Pride and the aforementioned [ugly] loss to the last-place Beat.  The team has often looked disconnected and occasionally uninterested, managing just 12 goals through 14 games and what has seemed at times like 1,000 different formations.  The last time anyone in blue and orange found the back of the net for Sky Blue was on July 10th.  Unfortunately it was an own goal from Daphne Koster, whose wayward clearance beat Sky Blue GK Kristin Luckenbill to put the opposing Chicago Red Stars up by two.  The last goal in the correct net came from Kai in the 88th minute of the win at Gold Pride – 272 minutes (that’s 3 full games plus 2 minutes) ago.

Rick Stainton has been named Sky Blue FC’s new head coach.  The New Jersey native is the team’s fifth in one-and-a-half seasons (for you math lovers that’s: 34 regular season games = 3,060 minutes / 5 coaches = an average of a new coach every 612 minutes or 6.8 games).  Stainton comes to Sky Blue FC from Sky Blue FC, where he’s been serving as the team’s goalkeeper coach.  “This is an opportunity that I truly look forward to embracing,” he said. Before coming to Sky Blue at the beginning of the 2010 season, Stainton was the administrator of the women’s soccer program at Seton Hall University, working alongside current US U-17 Women’s NT head coach Kazbek Tambi.  He’s also held various coaching positions at Caldwell College, Rider University and with the W-League NJ Wildcats.  “I am extremely humbled and appreciative of the trust that the organization is showing in me to complete the task at hand,” said Stainton.  “In talking with the team, they have shown a sincere confidence in the direction in which we are going and our ability to be successful. Together, I know we can achieve great things going forward, both on and off the field.”
Sky Blue has ten regular season games remaining and are currently in third place on the seven-team table, with 18 points.  Stainton will make his head coaching debut in the City of Brotherly Love on Saturday, when Sky Blue heads south to take on the second-place Independence.

*Speaking of Mike Lyons, what ever happened to that guy?

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WPS: Sky Blue FC’s scoring woes continue in loss to Atlanta

Posted on 20 July 2010 by lbarker

The Atlanta Beat came to New Jersey with something to prove. The expansion Beat currently sit in last place in the Women’s Professional Soccer table and had just one win on the season coming into Sunday night’s match. A win against defending WPS champions Sky Blue FC would go a long way towards making the case that the Beat are on the way up. Perhaps more importantly it would avenge the 1-0 loss to Sky Blue on an own-goal that put a damper on the Beat’s home opener in early May. Lauren Barker reports.

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Sky Blue FC’s scoring woes continue in loss to Atlanta

Posted on 20 July 2010 by lbarker

The Atlanta Beat came to New Jersey with something to prove. The expansion Beat currently sit in last place in the Women’s Professional Soccer table and had just one win on the season coming into Sunday night’s match. A win against defending WPS champions Sky Blue FC would go a long way towards making the case that the Beat are on the way up. Perhaps more importantly it would avenge the 1-0 loss to Sky Blue on an own-goal that put a damper on the Beat’s home opener in early May.

After 90 minutes the visitors left with three points while the home team was left simply shaking their heads. A seventh minute strike from Eniola Aluko was enough to give the Beat the win against a struggling Sky Blue side. For Jersey’s team, the 1-0 loss raised some serious questions about goals, or lack thereof. Sky Blue has scored just two goals at home all season, one in the sixth minute of the season opener on April 11th and one on a Rosana penalty kick on June 19th. Sky Blue head coach Pauliina Miettinen summed up her team’s poor performance simply: “We just didn’t have the fire in the first half and I don’t even know what happened on the goal. I know there was a cross but I don’t know what– something caused it. We just didn’t have quality pressure on the ball.”

Atlanta applied pressure often in the opening frame. In the fourth minute Beat striker Eniola Aluko was able to dribble inside the 18 yard box before taking a shot that went right at Sky Blue goalkeeper Kristin Luckenbill. Three minutes later Beat midfielder Angie Kerr sent a long cross into the box which Aluko was able to tap past Luckenbill to put the Beat up 1-0. The seventh minute tally was Aluko’s 5th of the season, but her first as a member of the Beat. “One of the objectives of the forwards today was to make very good runs whenever the midfield got the ball and kind of keep the back four on their toes” said Aluko. “Whenever Angie Kerr or Aya Miyama got the ball I was looking to run in behind. And Angie [Kerr] played a great ball and I got on the end of it and fortunately we scored.”

In the 12th minute Aluko had another opportunity for the visitors but her shot was easily saved by Luckenbill.

Sky Blue FC had their first real opportunity – and their first shot on goal of the match – in the 15th minute, but Tasha Kai’s header was saved by Beat ‘keeper Hope Solo. Solo was playing in net for the Beat the day after playing the full 90 for the US Women’s National Team in their 3-0 victory over Sweden in Connecticut. Solo said she did consider not playing for the second night in a row. “I’m pretty beat up, but for me it’s more of a mental game. As long as I’m prepared mentally I’ll be okay physically” said the Beat ‘keeper after the match. “I was pretty slow in the warmup. But you know, at the end of the day, you want to win. I’m a competitor.”

In the 20th minute Rosana took a shot from the top of the 18 that went over the crossbar. Five minutes later the Brazilian International sent another ball over the bar, this one coming off a free kick from about 25 yards out.

Sky Blue FC had what was their best chance of the half in the 41st minute. Kai fed a ball through to Patrizia Panico who took a shot that was saved by Solo. In the 43rd Sky Blue had one final chance also courtesy of Panico, but the Italian International’s shot rolled across the goalmouth and the half ended with the Beat up 1-0.

Sky Blue put some early pressure on the Beat at the start of the second half, first with Daphne Koster making a run towards Solo to get on the end of a deflected free kick. The Dutch International was was beaten to the ball by the Beat keeper. In the 54th minute Rosana tried to send a ball through to Kai but Beat defender Tina Ellertson did just enough to keep Kai from getting a clean shot off. Kai returned to lineup after missing the team’s trip to Chicago last weekend. “It’s good to be back. Played a full 90. We fought hard to the end. I threw everything I got at them, and did everything I could and we came up short. I thought the second half was the better half for us. We just didn’t put one away and they did so, we have stuff to work on for next week” she said after the game.

In the 61st minute Sky Blue had their best chance of the game. Panico fired a hard shot that rang off the crossbar. Kai was able to get her head on the rebound, but ball sailed just wide. In the 68th minute the last good chance for either team came again from Sky Blue. Midfielder Yael Averbuch took a low hard shot that again, went wide.

Both teams traded possession for the remainder of the match and at the final whistle the 1-0 score was enough to give Atlanta their second win of the season. The loss had little affect on Sky Blue’s place in the table, as a Washington Freedom loss earlier in the day kept the DC team one point behind the blue and orange, who currently sit in third with ten games to go. “Two different teams – first half, second half. One with no fire in the first half and when you’ve got nothing to lose you’ve got fire and a totally different game the second half” said Sky Blue coach Miettinen.

Atlanta Beat coach Gareth O’Sullivan was happy with his team’s performance, and called the work of the Beat back line “superb.” “They really fought for everything and did a great job” O’Sullivan said. Aluko also acknowledged her team, as well as a common theme in WPS; parity. “I think in this league anybody can beat anybody on the day. Sky Blue are third, we’re bottom of the league and we just beat them, so every team is talented and I believe in this team, I believe in the talent.”

Solo’s clean sheet was good for her third of the season. But it comes against a Sky Blue FC team that hasn’t scored a goal since their 2-0 victory away against FC Gold Pride on June 27th. They’ve been shutout their last three matches, including their first ever defeat against the Chicago Red Stars on July 10th. The New Jersey team will attempt to right the ship next weekend as they take on the Philadelphia Independence. It will be a tough task for the blue and orange, as they’ve never beaten the Indys in two tries and Philly may also be looking to right its ship after two consecutive losses of their own.

FUN FACTS:
Hope Solo wasn’t the only player in the match who played for the US on Saturday night. Sky Blue defenders Meghan Schnur and Christie Rampone also appeared for the US – Schnur was replaced by Rampone in the 70th minute of the international friendly…Atlanta’s Ramona Bachmann was unavailable for the Beat due to National Team commitments – the 19 year old is currently playing with Switzerland in the U-20 World Cup in Germany…Heather O’Reilly played the full 90 for the US on Saturday and wasn’t available for Sky Blue on Sunday as a result. Miettinen said that Sky Blue simply “just didn’t want to risk her health” but also acknowledged that the team missed the workhorse midfielder…Sky Blue FC wore red jerseys, which were auctioned off during the match, as a benefit for the American Heart Association…Sky Blue defender Brittany Taylor had her number retired by her former W-League team, the Hudson Valley Quickstrike Lady Blues, on Wednesday. Taylor wore number 13 for Quickstrike, but wears 14 for Sky Blue…Tina Ellertson returned to the Beat lineup after missing several games due to injury…the Beat’s Kia McNeill was unavailable for Atlanta. The defender was serving the third and final game of a three-match suspension for a studs up challenge on FC Gold Pride goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart on July 3rd.

MATCH FACTS:
Sky Blue FC (5-6-3) vs. Atlanta Beat (2-7-4)
Sunday, July 18, 2010 — Yurcak Field
FINAL

SCORING SUMMARY:
Team 1 2 F
NJ: 0 0 0
ATL: 1 0 1

ATL: Eniola Aluko (Angie Kerr) 7′

SKY BLUE FC — Kristin Luckenbill, Brittany Taylor, Daphne Koster, Christie Rampone, Keeley Dowling (Meghan Schnur, 46′), Yael Averbuch, Laura Kalmari (Kendall Fletcher, 46′), Kacey White, Tasha Kai, Rosana, Patrizia Panico (Kiersten Dallstream, 81′)

Substitutes Not Used: India Trotter, Jenni Branam, Katie Schoepfer, Angela Salem

ATLANTA BEAT — Hope Solo, Leigh Ann Robinson, Tina Ellertson, Stacy Bishop, McCall Zerboni (Amanda Cinalli, 75′), Angie Kerr, Carolyn Blank, Aya Miyama, Eniola Aluko (Lauren Sesselmann, 79′), Mami Yamaguchi, Johanna Rasmussen (Rebecca Nolin, 70′)

Substitutes Not Used: Katie Larkin, Brett Maron

TEAM STATS:
NJ ATL

Shots 17 16
Shots on Goal 6 6
Fouls 6 13
Offsides 1 2
Corner Kicks 3 8
Saves 5 4

MISCONDUCT SUMMARY:
ATL: Lauren Sesselmann (Caution) 85’

Referee: Margaret Domka
Referee Assistants: Melanie Johnson, Emilie Buse
4th Official: Emilie Buse
Attendance: 2, 808

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Sky Blue, Freedom play another stalemate in the Garden State

Posted on 08 July 2010 by lbarker

Many Sky Blue fans would probably want to forget the last time they saw their team play at home. Those in attendance three weeks ago saw the blue and orange upstaged by the expansion Philadelphia Independence, in an ugly 4-1 drubbing. Since then Sky Blue has been busy, handing first place FC Gold Pride their first home loss of the season, sending six players to the WPS All-Star Game in Atlanta, and then meeting President Barack Obama, who honored the team at the White House on July 1st for their 2009 WPS Championship. They’ve also since lost All-Star goalkeeper Karen Bardsley, likely for the season, with a broken collarbone and Swedish striker Jessica Landstrom to FFC Frankfurt of the Frauen Bundesliga. On Wednesday night at Yurcak Field in New Jersey, Sky Blue FC finally came home and treated the 2,871 in attendance to a good ol’ defensive battle, drawing 0-0 with the Washington Freedom. “A good, solid game” was how Sky Blue coach Pauliina Miettinen described it.

Lauren Barker reports.

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Sky Blue FC, Freedom play to 0-0 draw in [another] Stalemate in the Garden State

Posted on 08 July 2010 by lbarker

Many Sky Blue fans would probably want to forget the last time they saw their team play at home. Those in attendance three weeks ago saw the blue and orange upstaged by the expansion Philadelphia Independence, in an ugly 4-1 drubbing. Since then Sky Blue has been busy, handing first place FC Gold Pride their first home loss of the season, sending six players to the WPS All-Star Game in Atlanta, and then meeting President Barack Obama, who honored the team at the White House on July 1st for their 2009 WPS Championship. They’ve also since lost All-Star goalkeeper Karen Bardsley, likely for the season, with a broken collarbone and Swedish striker Jessica Landstrom to FFC Frankfurt of the Frauen Bundesliga. On Wednesday night at Yurcak Field in New Jersey, Sky Blue FC finally came home and treated the 2,871 in attendance to a good ol’ defensive battle, drawing 0-0 with the Washington Freedom. “A good, solid game” was how Sky Blue coach Pauliina Miettinen described it.

The chances came early for both teams. In the third minute Sky Blue FC ‘keeper Kristin Luckenbill, playing in place of the injured Bardsley and the still injured Jenni Branam, made a save on Freedom forward Lene Mykjaland. The Norwegian International received a feed from Sarah Huffman and fired a low shot that Luckenbill was able to reach. Two minutes later Sky Blue had their first chance of the match, as Heather O’Reilly sent a cross in for India Trotter, who was waiting at the back post, but the Washington defense was able to clear the ball.

In the ninth minute Rosana took a shot that was easily saved by Washington ‘keeper Erin McLeod. McLeod made another save in the 17th minute, this one coming on a shot by Sky Blue defender Brittany Taylor. Sky Blue kept the pressure on and had one of their best chances of the half, also in the 17th. O’Reilly beat the Freedom defense and sent a ball across the open net, but no one was there to put the ball away for the home side.

In the 27th Sky Blue forward Laura Kalmari took a shot from distance that curved towards goal, but it was too high. A minute later Trotter took a shot from almost the same spot, but hers too sailed over the bar. In the 30th minute Rosana had another good chance for Sky Blue, but her shot from near the top of the six yard box rolled just wide of goal.

Both teams exchanged chances through much of the remainder of the half, with the back four on both sides shutting down nearly everything that came their way. In the 34th minute Washington Freedom forward Abby Wambach received a yellow card after making contact with Sky Blue captain Christie Rampone.

In the 40th minute the Freedom got their best, and final, chance of the half, as Mykjaland took a hard shot on goal. Luckenbill made the save and she McLeod both went into the halftime break with zeros on the board.

The heat, which hovered in the 90s for much of the match, was a factor as the night wore on. “It was hot, I mean think we saw at the end of the first half there was a lot of fatigue and so from the middle part of the second half it was difficult to play” said Washington Freedom coach Jim Gabarra, who also acknowledged that the players were probably hotter than he was. “I wasn’t running around but it was hot in the locker room” Gabarra joked after the match. The Freedom coach also got a little heat from the referee. “My job is to protect my players and that’s his job as well” said Gabarra, who had a ‘friendly chat’ with both the fourth official and the referee during the game. “I should not be screaming at him from the sideline and he rightfully came over and said ‘this is your warning.’ But it’s an emotional game and I can’t get out there and play. He gets to run around and blow his whistle, I just get to stand there and yell at him” Gabarra said.

The second half started with Italian National Team captain Patrizia Panico making her WPS and Sky Blue FC debut. Panico, who signed with Sky Blue in early June, made her presence felt almost immediately, playing a ball in the six yard box to Laura Kalmari that was just out of the Finnish International’s reach. In the 54th minute it was again the Italian International kick-starting the Sky Blue attack. Panico, O’Reilly and Kalmari went through a sequence of passes in front of the Freedom goal before Kalmari took a shot that sailed over the crossbar.

Three minutes later it was Kalmari with another shot, this one saved by McLeod. The Freedom ‘keeper and Kalmari made contact on the play and the ball came loose and to O’Reilly who was able to fire a shot off the rebound, but it was almost directly at McLeod, who was nearly at the edge of the 18 yard box and in position just enough to stifle the attempt.

In the 60th minute Rosana sent another shot for Sky Blue harmlessly over the crossbar. In the 62nd O’Reilly took a hard shot that rolled just wide of goal. In the 68th Panico fed a ball through to Rosana, but the Brazilian International sent the ball where so many Sky Blue shots before had gone; over the crossbar (perhaps someone should take a tape measure out to Yurcak and check that those goals are the right size…).

In the 71st the Freedom had one of their better chances, off of a free kick near the corner. Sonia Bompastor’s ball was punched out by Luckenbill. A minute later the Freedom continued to pressure the Sky Blue defense and nearly caught Luckenbill out of position, but the shot went just wide of goal.

In the 82nd minute Sky Blue defender Daphne Koster received a yellow card for contact with Wambach. Three minutes later Panico had what would be the final chance of the match. In the 86th minute Sky Blue’s newest player took a shot from about 25 yards out that went directly at McLeod and the match ended where it started, with a 0-0 scoreline. Sky Blue did manage 19 shots, with five of them on goal. “Last week playing was one of our best games. The week before playing here was one of our worst” said Luckenbill after the match. “And this one was, we could’ve done better on the offensive side, I think finishing our chances, but overall a pretty good team effort.”

The 0-0 draw is the second at home for Sky Blue on the season, the other coming May 29th against Boston. Sky Blue has managed just two goals at home all year, one by Natasha Kai six minutes into the season opener and the other the lone tally in the Philadelphia match, a PK converted by Rosana. “I don’t know what the thing is, but we try our best and I think– I wish we had better results at home and we won all the time but that’s– I think it seems like we play better at away games” said Miettinen when asked about her team’s offensive woes at home.

Luckenbill had a lot to be happy about after the match, turning in a performance that was a little different than her last outing with Sky Blue (that would be the aforementioned 4-1 loss to Philly). “I think it was a good draw. We had some chances. Obviously you’re at home, you want to come away with a win, but I don’t think we have anything to be ashamed of today” said Luckenbill. “It was really hot, we worked our butts off and nobody gave up in this heat, it’s impressive.” Luckenbill saw 16 shots from the Freedom and made five saves on the night.

O’Reilly saw the performance as a sign of things to come for Sky Blue, “I think that more than just even getting the point, which is always nice, it’s just that we’re layering in aspects of our team. I think that we are keeping possession a lot better than we ever did and we had a great game last game.” The Sky Blue midfielder continued, “We definitely grew in some areas today. Obviously the finishing touch wasn’t there, but I think that we’re pleased with our organization on defense and some of our movement offensively off the ball. So we’re really coming together and I think that we walk away from this game pretty happy with our performance.”

FUN FACTS:

The match was played on Rosana’s birthday. The Sky Blue midfielder/forward turned 28…Ddespite the heat, which announced as a record for the hottest WPS match in league history, both teams used only 2 of their alloted substitutions…The match was the 12th of the season for Sky Blue and head coach Pauliina Miettinen. Barring any unforeseen circumstances Saturday’s match in Chicago will be the 13th for Miettinen, earning her the somewhat dubious distinction of ‘longest tenured coach in SBFC’s history’ (coach number two, Kelly Lindsey, made it 12 games before unexpectedly resigning in July of ’09. Officially Miettinen is the team’s fourth coach in half as many seasons)…Koster’s yellow card was her second of the season, no other Sky Blue player has more than one…Abby Wambach’s yellow card was her first of the season and just the third of her WPS career…This game marked the halfway point in the season, but it was the first time this year that Sky Blue and Washington have played each other…Sky Blue has never beaten Washington in the regular season, however they did beat the Freedom in the first round of the ’09 playoffs…This is the second 0-0 draw in a row for the Freedom, they tied Chicago by that score on Sunday…Sky Blue is also coming off a shutout, a 2-0 away win over FC Gold Pride on June 27th…Sky Blue FC plays Chicago on Saturday. In six lifetime meetings, the Red Stars have never beaten the NJ club…Panico wears number 96 for Sky Blue, the highest jersey number of any player in the league. She is the first, and only, Italian player in WPS…Panico is the third National Team captain on Sky Blue’s roster. She joins Christie Rampone (US) and Daphne Koster (Netherlands)…The shutout was Sky Blue’s league-leading sixth of the season…Landstrom “mutually terminated her contract with Sky Blue FC” sometime last week and has since signed with FFC Frankfurt in Germany…Freedom defender Becky Sauerbrunn played the full 90 minutes, continuing her streak of playing every minute of every WPS match the Freedom have played. No other WPS player has done this… Keeley Dowling, who hasn’t seen much time for Sky Blue as of late, played the full 90 minutes in place of an injured Megan Schnur.

MATCH FACTS:

Sky Blue FC (5-4-3) vs. Washington Freedom (4-3-5)
Wednesday, July 7, 2010 — Yurcak Field
FINAL

SCORING SUMMARY:
None

Lineups:

SKY BLUE FC — Kristin Luckenbill, Brittany Taylor, Daphne Koster, Christie Rampone, Keeley Dowling, India Trotter (Patrizia Panico, 45′), Kacey White, Yael Averbuch, Laura Kalmari, Heather O’Reilly, Rosana (Tasha Kai, 73′)

Substitutes Not Used: Kendall Fletcher, Shannon Myers, Kiersten Dallstream, Danielle Johnson, Angela Salem

WASHINGTON FREEDOM — Erin McLeod, Rebecca Moros, Nikki Marshall, Cat Whitehill, Becky Sauerbrunn, Sonia Bompastor, Allie Long, Sarah Huffman, Homare Sawa (Beverly Goebel, 64′), Lene Mykjaland (Christie Welsh, 81′), Abby Wambach

Substitutes Not Used: Brittany Klein, Kristi Eveland, Meagan McCray

TEAM STATS:

NJ WSH

Shots 19 16
Shots on Goal 5 5
Fouls 4 4
Offsides 3 3
Corner Kicks 3 6
Saves 5 3

MISCONDUCT SUMMARY:
WSH: Abby Wambach (Caution) 34′
NJ: Daphne Koster (Caution) 82′

Referee: Daniel Radford
Referee Assistants: Mike Kampmeinert, Juan Guzman
4th Official: Hakan Baydere
Attendance: 2, 871

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