Categorized | Match Reports

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.”

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.”

Sky Blue FC (7-9-4) vs. Philadelphia Independence (10-7-4)
Sunday, August 22, 2010 β€” Yurcak Field

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

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

SKY BLUE FC β€” 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 β€” 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


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


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

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