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Different Coast, Same Result as Sky Blue FC fall to FC Gold Pride

Posted on 02 May 2010 by lbarker

On a summer-like evening at Yurcak Field – with temperatures in the high 80s at game time – FC Gold Pride came to New Jersey to take on defending WPS champions Sky Blue FC. The “battle of the teams who prefer not to identify geographically” became the “battle for the top of the table” with both teams tied for first place in the league coming into Saturday’s match. Two weeks ago Sky Blue lost to Gold Pride, going down 3-1 on the west coast. And while the home teams were switched, the end result was still the same, with the Pride topping Sky Blue, this time by a 1-0 score.

Christie Sinclair ©WomensProSoccer.com/ISI photos

Gold Pride was back at full strength after playing without forward Christine Sinclair who missed last week’s match on National Team duty for Canada. Sky Blue on the other hand, was missing a several key players. Goalkeeper Jenni Branam is still out with a knee injury, so Karen Bardsley was once again in net for Sky Blue. In back they were without Christie Rampone (maternity leave), Anita Asante (knee) and Meghan Schnur, who missed her second game in three weeks with a knee injury of her own. Sky Blue’s all-star midfield was also minus a player, with Carli Lloyd out until at least June with a broken ankle, sustained in last week’s match at Chicago. Up top speedy striker Natasha Kai was out with a hamstring injury.

Each team had a few chances early in the match, exchanging opportunities for the first few minutes. The Bay Area’s FC Gold Pride had an opportunity in the 5th minute as Christine Sinclair went one-on-one with Bardsley, but Bardsley, acting more like a fifth defender, came out to win the ball. Sky Blue captain Kasey White nearly put her team in front in the 12th minute, ringing a bad-angle shot off the crossbar. As the half wore on, Gold Pride began applying more pressure, and had a golden opportunity in 28th minute. A miscommunication between Bardsley and Dutch defender Daphne Koster left the goal wide open for Sinclair. The Canadian international sent a ball rolling across the goal mouth, but wide. Gold Pride’s best chance of the first half though, came in the 34th minute, as Koster was whistled for a foul after taking Gold Pride’s Kelley O’Hara down in the box. French international Camille Abily went to the spot for the Pride and sent a hard shot in on Bardsley, but the Sky Blue keeper was able to dive and make the save. Marta fired the rebound back towards goal, but Bardsley, apparently channeling Hope Solo (see: last weekend’s Athletica-Breakers game), was able to stop the second chance effort as well. Bardsley’s second save knocked the ball out of play, but the English international wasn’t done, stopping one more Marta shot off the ensuing corner.

Sky Blue FC would counter in the 37th, with Swedish international Jessica Landstrom sending hard shot over the bar. But the spark Sky Blue was expecting from the saved PK was short-lived; Sinclair would tally the game’s only goal a minute later. Daphne Koster was called for a foul on O’Hara, and it was again Abily over the ball. Abily sent the ball into the area, where Carrie Dew headed it to Sinclair, who volleyed a shot past Bardsley. After the match Marta acknowledged that her presence probably drew Sky Blue’s defense away from Sinclair. “By marking [me] it opens up space for somebody else and the other players coming in, that’s gonna be great for us during the season” the Brazilian said through a translator.

Sky Blue would get one more chance late in the first half, as Keeley Dowling fired a shot from distance that Gold Pride keeper Nicole Barnhart initially had trouble controlling. Ultimately though, the first frame ended with the home team down by a goal.

A seemingly much more organized Sky Blue FC came out looking to even the score as the second half got underway. Less than a minute in Heather O’Reilly sent a cross that Landstrom was able to turn and fire on goal, again Barnhart came up with the save. Marta had a near breakaway in the 55th, but Sky Blue’s defense did well to recover. Sky Blue FC quickly went back the other way, with rookie Kiersten Dallstream on a near breakaway of her own, this one stopped by Pride captain Rachel Buehler. The back and forth continued, with Sinclair and another Sky Blue rookie, Brittany Taylor, going 1 v 1. It was Taylor who won the ball. The end to end action continued and in the 61st minute it was Dallstream again, this time sending a ball in for O’Reilly, who had a wide open opportunity for the equalizer. O’Reilly lost her footing (or tripped over the ball?) and wasn’t able to get a shot away. The team from the Bay Area had a chance to put the game away in the 65, as Sinclair sent another shot in on Bardsley. This time, the Sky Blue keeper was able to get her fingertips on it. Although it was Sky Blue FC that looked to be controlling the play for much of the second half, FC Gold Pride had a chance in the 73rd minute, this time with Sinclair and Marta going 2 v 1 against Taylor. Again Taylor thwarted the Pride’s attack. Sky Blue’s last good opportunity came in the 82nd minute. Finnish international Laura Kalmari took a hard shot from the top of the box, it sailed just over the crossbar. Sky Blue FC continued to pressure Gold Pride but time ultimately ran out for the Blue and Orange, and Gold Pride got the win against the New Jersey team for the second time in three weeks. With the victory, FC Gold Pride takes sole possession of first place in the league, a very different position than the Pride found themselves in a year ago, finishing the 2009 season at the bottom of the table. Marta, who came to the Pride in the LA Sol dispersal draft, pointed out that this team isn’t the Gold Pride of ’09. “it’s not like last year’s team. There’s a lot of good players on our team right now, and now the focus should be on our team, this team that we have this year.”

FUN FACTS

Despite this being Sky Blue’s second home game of the season, it was the first time they wore their namesake home “sky blue” kits, playing the previous home match in the away orange…Sky Blue is now 2/2 in stopping penalty kicks, with both coming against FC Gold Pride – in 2009 Jenni Branam stopped a PK from Tiffany Weimer – and they’ve lost both of those matches by the same 1-0 score…Sky Blue will play their fifth match of the season in Atlanta next weekend, opening the Beat’s new stadium – it will be the first time this season Sky Blue has a played a team other than Chicago or FC Gold Pride and the first time ever that Sky Blue and Atlanta face each other…Christine Sinclair has three goals on the season, all are against Sky Blue FC…of Sky Blue’s 4 matches this season, 3 have been decided by 1 goal…FC Gold Pride’s Kiki Bosio, who came in as a second half sub, is one of only a few players in WPS who uses a flip throw-in…Sky Blue FC was missing six starters, including 3 defenders…FC Gold Pride has one NJ native on their roster, developmental keeper Erin Guthrie, but she didn’t make the trip with the team…Sky Blue FC switched developmental goalkeepers on Friday, waiving Ashley Thompson and adding Shannon Myers – Myers spent 2009 with Sky Blue, although she wasn’t on the team’s official roster, and spent the 2010 preseason with Atlanta…Sky Blue’s Megan Snell made her professional debut, coming on for Landstrom in the 83rd

MATCH FACTS

Sky Blue FC (2-2-0) vs. FC Gold Pride (3-1-0)
Saturday, May 1, 2010 — Yurcak Field

SCORING SUMMARY:
BAY: Christine Sinclair 3 (Carrie Dew) 39′

Lineups:

SKY BLUE FC — Karen Bardsley, Keeley Dowling, Daphne Koster, Brittany Taylor, Danielle Johnson (Katie Schoepfer, 81′), Heather O’Reilly, Laura Kalmari, Rosana (Kiersten Dallstream, 55′), Yael Averbuch, Kacey White, Jessica Landstrom (Meagan Snell, 84′)

Substitutes Not Used: Shannon Myers, Angela Salem

FC GOLD PRIDE — Nicole Barnhart, Rachel Buehler, Candace Chapman, Carrie Dew, Becky Edwards, Ali Riley, Camille Abily (Kiki Bosio, 67′), Kristen Graczyk (Kandace Wilson, 91+), Marta, Kelley O’Hara, Christine Sinclair (Tiffeny Milbrett, 82′)

Substitutes Not Used: Brittany Cameron, Solveig Gulbrandsen

TEAM STATS:
NJ // BAY
Shots 10 12
Shots on Goal 6 9
Fouls 10 8
Offsides 4 1
Corner Kicks 6 3
Saves 8 5

MISCONDUCT SUMMARY:
BAY: Becky Edwards (Caution) 26′
BAY: Kelley O’Hara (Caution) 84′

Referee: Stephanie Toth
Referee Assistants: Bryan Roslund, Michael Donovan
4th Official: Jose Carlos Rivero
Attendance: 3798

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Red Stars fail to break Sky Blue curse in 1-0 loss

Posted on 26 April 2010 by mwkajdas

The Chicago Red Stars, who have yet to score against Sky Blue FC, found the back of the net twice Saturday, only to have both goals negated by offside calls. Meanwhile the visitors, who showed little offense throughout the match, once again took advantage of a broken play to score the single goal through Natasha Kai to decide the game in their favor.

ASN’s Michael Kajdas reports from Toyota Park.

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Red Stars fail to break Sky Blue curse in 1-0 loss

Posted on 26 April 2010 by mwkajdas

It was a disappointing game before a disappointing crowd of only 3136 fans who braved disappointing weather conditions to watch their team wallow in the disappointment of having another gallant effort thwarted. The Red Stars, who have yet to score against Sky Blue FC, found the back of the net twice Saturday night, only to have both goals negated by offside calls while Sky Blue, who showed little offense throughout the match, once again took advantage of a broken play to score the single goal that would decide the game.

If you arrived at the stadium a half-hour late you would have missed very little as both teams struggled to advance beyond midfield under the wet and windy conditions. “It’s hard playing in those conditions,” Karen Carney commented after the game. “We don’t like to play in that weather. The wind was tough. So every time we would play the ball, the ball would go out of play or it would go to the keeper where on a good day, like last week, it probably wouldn’t have.”

Red Stars fans got a scare early in the 2nd minute of play when Whitney Engen launched a free kick into the Sky Blue box where a leaping Kosovare Asllani collided with Sky Blue keeper, Karen Bardsley. Asllani had to be helped off the pitch but was able to return to the game four minutes later.

There was also a brief moment of excitement in the 11th minute when Brittany Klein stripped the ball at midfield from her former teammate, Carli Lloyd, and fed it to Karen Carney in the penalty box but Carney shot the ball wide to the right of the net. Lloyd seemed to be renewing acquaintances with several of her old teammates throughout the opening minutes of the match as she played a much more physical game than Red Stars fans were ever used to seeing from her. She was rewarded for her efforts with a yellow card in the 18th minute after one of her body slams sent Cristiane sprawling backwards onto the turf. Karma kicked in 11 minutes later when it was Lloyd’s turn to lay crumpled on the grass. She limped off to her bench where she sat for seven minutes before Kacey White was eventually sent in to replace her.

The Red Stars’ scoring drought against New Jersey appeared to have been broken in the 40th minute when Marian Dalmy, racing with the ball down the right sideline, crossed it to Kosovare Asllani, who then jabbed the ball into the net. Before she could celebrate Chicago’s first ever goal against Sky Blue, however, the offside flag popped up to spoil the party. Four minutes later, a Dalmy free kick from the center line hooked up with Asllani once again. But the young Swede headed the ball right into the goalkeeper’s gloved hands just before both teams retired to their locker rooms after a scoreless half.

Speaking in a half-time interview, Red Stars coach Emma Hayes rejoiced that her team had not conceded a goal in the first five minutes of the game as they had in their two previous outings. But perhaps she should have stayed in the locker room to remind her players again, because they began the second half by giving up an easy goal. As a drizzling rain blew across the field, Kacey White deflected a ball to Tasha Kai who was standing conspicuously alone at the top of the box. But the offside flag stayed down as the ball was flipped up and over a charging Jillian Loyden. Both players watched along with the stunned crowd as the ball rolled slowly over the wet grass and in between the goal posts.

“That goal from Kai came out of nothing. I thought we were in control of the game and we were doing really, really well and then we get sucker-punched,” Karen Carney lamented after the game. Sky Blue coach Paula Miettinen had a different, though equally reserved, reaction. “I saw that Tasha scored and that’s pretty much everything I saw. I can’t remember what happened. I don’t know if it was offside or not but, you know, we’ll take the goal,” she admitted. “I think we got lucky today…there were so many chances that Chicago created all credit to them for those chances. But I think teams have to earn their luck and today we were a little bit luckier.”

Luck was certainly not on Chicago’s side in the second half either despite the fact that they spent most of the time attacking inside Sky Blue’s half of the pitch. In the 50th minute, a Karen Carney shot hit the left post. Five minutes later, Carney crossed the ball to Cristiane inside the box but her shot was blocked. The rebound came back to Carney in front of the net but her blast bounced off the body of Daphne Koster. In the 62nd minute, Asllani crossed to Carney just outside the 6-yard box but her point-blank shot was blocked by Bardsley. Ten minutes later, Carney crossed into the box again but this time Asllani’s header was saved by a diving Bardsley. Ella Masar came into the game in the 75th minute and found herself standing in front of a prone Karen Bardsley after catching the rebound from her save but she failed to find a teammate to take an open shot. Three minutes later Whitney Engen took a corner from Asllani and headed it past Bardsley only to find Keeley Dowling hugging the far right post in just the right place to make the save.

But the worst of their luck came in the 68th minute when Cristiane deflected Karen Carney’s cross into the net and, for the second time, the offside flag was raised. “I don’t know if those finishes, both Asllani’s and Cristiane’s finishes, were they on or offside,” Emma Hayes spoke judiciously afterward, having been fined for her complaints about officiating the week before. “I don’t know that or whether Kai was offside. If either one of them were wrong decisions then it means we don’t quite get inside the luck just yet… At least the crowd thought there was an offside goal on their part and an onside goal on ours. It’s not my job to comment on officials. You can be the judge on that. And I’m sure the league will deal with that appropriately.”

“We didn’t get murdered tonight,” Karen Carney put things into perspective after the game. “We didn’t get murdered last week. Quite the opposite. We just have to find that last little gear and keep on from there.

Match Facts

Chicago Red Stars vs Sky Blue FC
Apr. 25, 2010 – Toyota Park – Bridgeview, IL
Attendance: 3,136
Weather: Windy, rainy and 54 degrees

Scoring
52’ Sky Blue FC: Tasha Kai (Kacey White)

Misconduct
18’ Sky Blue: Carli Lloyd (yellow card)

Lineups
Chicago Red Stars: Jillian Loyden, Marian Dalmy, Ifeoma Dieke, Whitney Engen, Kate Markgraf, Brittany Klein (58: Formiga), Kosovare Asllani, Karen Carney (74: Ella Masar), Katie Chapman, Julianne Sitch (56: Casey Nogueira), Cristiane

Sky Blue FC: Karen Bardsley, Daphne Koster, Tasha Kai (80: Kiersten Dallstream), Meghan Schnur, Heather O’Reilly, Carli Lloyd (36: Kacey White), Rosana, Jessica Landström (70: Katie Schoepfer), Brittany Taylor, Keeley Dowling, Laura Kalmari

Officials
Referee: Margaret Domka
Asst Referees: Kristen Schiereck, Ian Gut
4th Official: Jorge Cuate

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FC Gold Pride find rhythm in home opener

Posted on 18 April 2010 by asu

Sinclair and Marta celebrate after Sinclair's second goal

On this brisk night in April and in front a home crowd, the FC Gold Pride found the back of the net three times in a huge win over reigning Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) Champions, Sky Blue FC. Whether it was due to the Pride’s owner, Nancy NeSmith’s pre-game and accurate 3-1 prediction, forward Christine Sinclair’s new purple with pink-striped shoes, or as coach, Albertin Montoya put it, the team “put[ing] on a show for their fans,” the packed stands (3,757) at Castro Valley High School in Hayward, California, were treated to quality soccer.

ASN’s Alice Su reports.

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FC Gold Pride finds rhythm in home opener

Posted on 18 April 2010 by asu

On this brisk night in April and in front a home crowd, the FC Gold Pride found the back of the net three times in a huge win over reigning Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) Champions, Sky Blue FC. Whether it was due to the Pride’s owner, Nancy NeSmith’s pre-game and accurate 3-1 prediction, forward Christine Sinclair’s new purple with pink-striped shoes, or as coach, Albertin Montoya put it, the team “put[ing] on a show for their fans,” the packed stands (3,757) at Castro Valley High School in Hayward, California, were treated to quality soccer tonight.

Sinclair and Marta celebrate after Sinclair's second goal

The Pride’s desire for a win after their loss last weekend to the St. Louis Athletica was apparent immediately at the 7:00 p.m. kickoff. The Pride offensive team of Sinclair, Camille Abily, and Marta each took multiple shots on goal within ten minutes of the first half, culminating in a goal by Sinclair in the tenth minute with a low and driven ball into the left corner opposite Sky Blue keeper Karen Bardsley’s dive. Though there was some miscommunication between Pride players at the beginning of the match, with failed attempts at give-and-go type plays, Sky Blue was unable to capitalize on any of the loose balls in dangerous Pride territory. As the half wore on, the Pride maintained a majority of the possession, making run after run on the Sky Blue goal, but unable to fit in another goal in the first half.

Sky Blue came out in the second half attacking the Pride goal ferociously and were able to tie the game in the 59th minute on a Rosana goal that hit the near post and bounced across the open goal before rolling past the goal line. However, the Pride definitively announced their presence with another Sinclair goal in the 75th minute. Sinclair was able to beat out two defenders and chip a ball over Bardsley, who came out of the box for a challenge.

Hometown favorite and WPS newcomer Kelley O’Hara assisted in the third and final Pride goal of the night. O’Hara, while drawing two defenders on the wing, crossed a ball to a center-streaking Marta, who dribbled through two defenders and placed the ball directly over Bardsley’s reach into the back of the net.

Though the Pride had multiple missed opportunities in front of an open net, their defense was able to keep Sky Blue powerless on the offensive. Sky Blue appeared to lack the cohesiveness that made their team dominant last season. They had no time to settle the ball or combine for many intrusive set plays, which was likely due to the Pride players following Montoya’s directive that they stay “tight” on their opponents; many Sky Blue players found themselves double teamed. Pride goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart kept vigilant watch in goal, breaking up many Sky Blue offensive chances, showing no fear of getting in to the mix of elbows and cleats.

Montoya was understandably excited, yet reserved, after the game, with a reminder that this was “only the second game of the season,” and to consider that there was “a lot of room to improve.” He did emphasize; however, that “everyone’s going to get that much better.” When questioned about the team chemistry, Sinclair focused more on the apparent cooperative dynamic that was forming within the offensive ranks, and acknowledged the abilities of O’Hara, Abily, and Marta, stating, that with “so much talent” on the field, it was only “a matter of gelling together” and felt that they were not “too far away” from that point.

The season may be young, but if the Pride can play consistently at this level for the remainder of the season, they will be able to show any crowd, whether it be home or away, that they are true contenders for the WPS 2010 Championship.

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WPS opening weekend: Sky Blue top Red Stars

Posted on 12 April 2010 by lbarker

Natasha Kai ©ASN

Heather O’Reilly and Natasha Kai combined for an early goal that would be all defending WPS champions Sky Blue FC needed Sunday night in their home opener. The visiting Chicago Red Stars came close but were unable to break through against their hosts, eventually coming up on the wrong end of a 1-0 result. Chicago has never won in five games against Sky Blue. ASN’s Lauren Barker reports from Yurcak Field.

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Sky Blue FC top Chicago in season opener

Posted on 12 April 2010 by lbarker

New coach, new players, new confidence. The 2010 season kicked off for defending WPS champions Sky Blue FC at home at Yurcak Field in New Jersey on Sunday night with a 1-0 victory over the Chicago Red Stars.

Before Sky Blue version 2.0 could begin its title defense, the teams as well as the fans in attendance got a shiny reminder of the year that was; the 2009 WPS Championship trophy was displayed at midfield as the players were introduced.

The trophy plus the Red Stars’ 0-3-1 record against Sky Blue coming into Sunday’s match may have taken a psychological toll on the team from the Windy City. Most of the Red Stars attack came from Cristiane, who struggled to get a shot on frame. The Brazilian International sent the ball wide several times, and the rest of the Red Stars rarely challenged Sky Blue keeper Karen Bardsley, despite an abundance of corner kick opportunities. Bardsley got the start in net after Sky Blue’s number one keeper Jenni Branam sustained a knee injury in a preseason scrimmage on Monday. Branam is expected to return in early June.

Sky Blue’s back line, missing a pair of central defenders in Christie Rampone (pregnancy) and Anita Asante (knee), looked solid at times and questionable at others. Sky Blue, wearing their away orange kits, gave up 13 corners to Chicago, something head coach Pauliina Miettinen was less than thrilled about. Overall Daphne Koster, captain of the Dutch National Team, but a newcomer to WPS, did well alongside fellow a newcomer, Sky Blue’s first round draft pick Brittany Taylor, to frustrate the Chicago offense. Bardsley acknowledged her back line after the game,”I think we played well. I mean, we could’ve done a few things better. Like I said, it was difficult to kind of get on the same page at first, we’ve got a lot of new faces but I think for the most part we did all right.”

Natasha Kai scored the Sky Blue's only, and winning, goal in their home opener

Sky Blue went on the attack early. New Red Stars keeper Jillian Loyden, coming off a 2009 season as Hope Solo’s backup in St. Louis, had to pull a Yael Averbuch cross out of the air in just the second minute. The Jersey club kept the pressure in the offensive half, and Tasha Kai converted in the sixth minute. Sky Blue pressed Chicago’s defense and forced an awkward clearance from Loyden that Carli Lloyd picked up for New Jersey. Lloyd got the ball to Heather O’Reilly, who sent a pass forward to Kai. The speedy forward slipped past the Chicago defense and then slipped the ball past Loyden, putting Sky Blue on top before the clock reached double digits. Chicago defender Kate Markgraf thought going down early contributed to her team’s struggles. “We let a goal in and it’s tough to come back. New Jersey’s a great team, they have great chemistry. They know how to win” Markgraf said and added, “Natasha Kai is an explosive forward. And [Kalmari], she’s not small.”

Chicago quickly tried to counter off the restart, first with former Sky Blu-er Julianne Sitch, now playing for her hometown Chicago Red Stars, sending a shot in on Bardsley from about 25 yards out, but it was right at the Sky Blue goalkeeper. Then just a minute later, a miscommunication in back brought Bardsley out of position but the Red Stars were unable to convert on the opportunity. Bardsley was quick to point out that a language barrier between her and Koster, who’s from The Netherlands, wasn’t the issue, “Her English is great. I really think it was kind of difficult to hear each other out there.”

Chicago’s next opportunities came in the 10th and 11th minutes, as the Red Stars earned three quick corners. Again they were unable to put anything in the back of the net. The teams exchanged chances in the 15th. Kai sent a ball in to O’Reilly who was open on the back post, but the play was called back for offsides. Chicago went quickly the other way, but Cristiane sent the ball wide.

Sky Blue FC would get another opportunity in the 20th minute as a clearance from Loyden was quickly collected by Sky Blue. It was O’Reilly again feeding the ball to Tasha Kai. Kai made a well timed run towards the corner before sending the ball across to wide open Yael Averbuch. Averbuch took a shot from the top of the 18, but it sailed over the bar. Ella Masar had an opportunity for Chicago in the 27th minute, picking up a ball from Cristiane and beating Daphne Koster before a deflection off Sky Blue’s Keeley Dowling sent the ball out.

Former Chicago Red Star Carli Lloyd nearly added a tally against her former team in the 37th minute. Lloyd collected a pass from Finnish International Laura Kalmari, and dribbled through several Red Stars players before sending a ball just past Loyden and in front of an open Chicago net. The Red Stars’ defense was able to regroup enough to get the ball quickly into the hands of Loyden. Pauliina Miettinen had high praise for Kalmari, pointing to her fellow countrywoman as Sky Blue’s best player in the match. Chicago had a chance of their own three minutes later as Sitch sent a half-volley from the center of the area towards the net, but it was again deflected out.

Chicago came out firing in the second half. Just after the whistle a misplayed ball by Yael Averbuch was picked up by Chicago. Ella Masar sent a nice back-heel through to Katie Chapman, but Chapman’s shot went just wide. In the 64th minute Heather O’Reilly nearly added an insurance goal for Sky Blue FC, sending a ball into the box that ultimately found Loyden after a series of collisions. Kai, making a run towards goal, got tangled up with Marian Dalmy, sending both players to the ground. Red Stars defender Ifeoma Dieke tripped over Dalmy and then collided with Loyden as the Chicago keeper tried to make the save. Fortunately for Chicago, no one from Sky Blue was there to collect the loose ball.

Cristiane had another opportunity in the 72nd minute after a failed clearance by Koster left the ball at the Brazilian International’s feet, but her shot again sailed wide of goal. Swedish International Jessica Landstrom, who replaced Kai, had a chance for Sky Blue FC in the 77th, taking a wide open shot on a ball from O’Reilly. Landstrom’s shot though, was right at Loyden.

In the 79th minute Casey Nogueira had a free kick for Chicago from just outside the box, but the rookie forward sent the ball directly into the Sky Blue defense. Cristiane had another good chance for Chicago a minute later, but Koster was able to recover and stop what would have been a wide open shot on goal.

Rosana had another chance to increase Sky Blue’s lead in the 81st, firing a deceptive shot from distance that Loyden had to stretch to reach. Chicago quickly countered, as poor clearance by Sky Blue landed at the feet of Karen Carney. Carney was failed by her first touch and then went down as a diving Karen Bardsley came out for the ball and the two made contact.

Chicago would get one final chance in the 88th minute. After a short corner, Chicago’s 13th of the match, Cristiane fired a shot that was initially bobbled by Bardsley. Sky Blue would again quickly counter, but that attempt was punched out by Loyden. The New Jersey squad would get one more chance in stoppage time, as Rosana played a ball in for Landstrom, but the Swedish striker couldn’t get her head on it.

Chicago Head Coach Emma Hayes was pleased with her team’s performance despite the loss, but wasn’t happy with the job that referee Ted Unkel and his crew did. “You know, it’s our first game…good performance, disappointing result, shocking officiating,” said Hayes after the game. Chicago defender Kate Markgraf had a slightly lighter view of the officiating. “I think every team that loses thinks there should be some PKs. I’m like 60 yards away most of the time, so I don’t see it. I’m sure they probably think there was a PK, too. So, as long as it’s called the same, what can you do.”

Sky Blue FC Head Coach Pauliina Miettinen had similar praise for her squad. “I overall am very happy. Last year I heard that we lost this game. Now we won this game. We set the tone.” But the coach believes that this team is better than what they showed, “I blame it all on the first game…it’s just nervousness, you know…so excited for the game and then it’s a new system it’s almost like you’re afraid to make a mistake. I think it’s going to be better next game” Miettinen said. As far as the officiating, Miettinen would only say “all in all I think it went both ways.”

Midfielder Kacey White wore the captain’s armband for Sky Blue FC in the absence of Christie Rampone. “I’m extremely honored to represent the team. It’s such a great group of women. It’s a very big honor for me to captain in Christie’s place until she gets back. So I’m very excited about that….We had a vote on the captain [this past week] and I was lucky enough to be honored by my teammates” White said about her new role with the team. And speaking of captains, Kate Markgraf wore the C for the Red Stars. Last year’s captain, Lindsay Tarpley, was traded to St. Louis in the offseason. Markgraf missed the 2009 season after giving birth to twins. But she was excited to be back on the field, and impressed with what she saw from both squads. “The technical ability of the Red Stars as well as, I was impressed with Sky Blue’s mentality and the way they stay together. And they know how to play with each other. And they are a very good team. So, I’m just impressed. I think the level is extremely high.”

FUN FACTS:

Chicago Red Stars midfielder Megan Rapinoe did not make the trip to New Jersey with the team, she is recovering from viral meningitis, Chicago Coach Emma Hayes said that both Rapinoe and Brazilian International Formiga will be ready for next week’s match…Sky Blue’s Christie Rampone was in attendance and is expected back by June…Through four matches Chicago has never scored against Sky Blue FC and the Red Stars have never done better than a tie against the NJ team…Sky Blue FC has not allowed a goal in more than 281 minutes and three games, since the 79th minute of their first round playoff game in 2009…Sky Blue has never lost a game in which Tasha Kai has scored a goal…Chicago coach Emma Hayes and Sky Blue FC coach Pauliina Miettinen are the only two female coaches in WPS…Carli Lloyd and Julianne Sitch were both free agents after 2009 and swapped teams to play in their hometowns, NJ native Lloyd came from Chicago to the Garden State and Illinois native Sitch from Jersey to the Red Stars…the attendance for the match was announced at 4440

MATCH FACTS:

Sky Blue FC (1-0-0) vs. Chicago Red Stars (0-1-0)
Sunday, April 11, 2010 — Yurcak Field

Scoring Summary:

NJ: Tasha Kai 1 (Heather O’Reilly) 6′

TEAM STATS:
NJ CHI

Shots 10 20
Shots on Goal 4 5
Fouls 6 3
Offsides 6 6
Corner Kicks 2 13
Saves 5 3

Lineups:

SKY BLUE FC — Karen Bardsley, Keeley Dowling (Danielle Johnson, 88′), Daphne Koster, Brittany Taylor, Meghan Schnur, Heather O’Reilly, Carli Lloyd, Yael Averbuch (Rosana, 66′), Kacey White, Laura Kalmari, Tasha Kai (Jessica Landstrom, 73′)
Substitutes Not Used: Kiersten Dallstream, Katie Schoepfer, Meagan Snell, Ashley Thompson

CHICAGO RED STARS — Jillian Loyden, Marian Dalmy, Kate Markgraf, Ifeoma Dieke, Whitney Engen (Jessica McDonald, 87′), Kosovare Asllani, Katie Chapman, Brittany Klein, Julianne Sitch (Karen Carney, 66′), Ella Masar (Casey Nogueira, 78′), Cristiane
Substitutes Not Used: Natalie Spilger, Kelsey Davis

MISCONDUCT SUMMARY:

none

OFFICIALS:
Referee: Ted Unkel
Referee Assistants: John Schmitz, Brian Dunn
4th Official: Richard Sanchez

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Notes from WPS Commisioner Antonucci’s Kick-Off Week Conference Call

Posted on 09 April 2010 by lbarker

WPS held its “State of the League” conference call Wednesday as part of WPS Kick-Off Week.  Commissioner Tonya Antonucci spoke to members of the media about where the league stands as it heads into year two.  Antonucci emphasized that the league is working tirelessly to make WPS long-lasting and sustainable.  “Through all the hard work, the off-season adjustments and the last minute preparations, we head into this upcoming weekend and the entire 2010 WPS Season with a sense of optimism, a sense of purpose and a sense that we laid a solid foundation in 2009 upon which we can grow” Commissioner Antonucci said.  She pointed to the two new expansion teams in Philadelphia and Atlanta, the new stadium in Atlanta, FC Gold Pride’s relocation to the East Bay, changes to the schedule including the move of the All-Star Game to mid-season and the longer season, and an increase in the number of countries represented through international players as reasons for said optimism.

Antonucci was equally optimistic about the business side of things, pointing to a 20% increase in season ticket sales, an 150% increase in local sponsorships, the addition of Citi as a founding partner and back-of-jersey sponsor league-wide, and the fact that four of the eight teams have jersey-front sponsors – an increase from just two teams with jersey-front sponsorships in ’09.

Some other points from the call:

  • 2009 saw an average attendance of 4,600 – hopes are for a 5-10% increase.
  • WPS is debuting “Defend Your Turf,” an interactive marketing campaign – in NJ, Chicago, and Washington, DC.
  • The league is looking to add as many as two new teams for 2011, on track with the goal of 12 by ’12.  The focus is the Rockies and west, including bringing a team back to Los Angeles – Antonucci stated that they have at least two interested potential ownership groups for LA 2011 (The Northwest, Dallas, San Diego and Denver were also named as possibilities for expansion).
  • The feeling is that there is a deep enough player pool to support expansion and expansion announcements could be made some time between July and September.
  • Although it varies slightly by franchise, on average the hope is for teams to break even around year five.
  • FSC ‘WPS Sunday’ games will be streamed on WPS website; in addition teams will stream a minimum of two home games online.
  • WPS is working with FSC to increase their international broadcast footprint.
  • “Metrics are trending in the right direction, despite the loss of a team.”  This was Commissioner Antonucci’s answer when asked about the stigma that the loss of the Sol might create.  The Commish was quick to point out that LA was an unfortunate, but isolated incident and that the other eight ownership groups are indeed committed.
  • WPS plans to do its part to honor the World Cup this summer – the league tried to schedule around WC matches, there are plans for viewing parties organized by teams and a hope to tie World Cup festivities in with the WPS All-Star Game.
  • WPS will at some point be announcing a cross-marketing campaign between the league and US Soccer/The USWNT.  Commissioner Antonucci praised US Soccer for what’s been done already to cross-promote, including mentions of players’ WPS clubs during USWNT broadcasts.

With Boston heading to DC on Saturday and FCGP at St. Louis, Atlanta at Philly, and Chicago at SBFC (live on FSC, 6pm ET) on Sunday we’re set to kick of 2010 with the first four-game weekend in WPS history.  For my closing remarks, I yield to WPS Commissioner Tonya Antonucci: “WPS is a super league of amazing stars ready for the mainstream. Ultimately, they are our biggest assets – athletes who have worked their whole lives at their craft simply out of passion for the game, who are incredible role models, heroes and entertainers for everyone both young and old.  They are athletes who do not come to the field with a sense of entitlement, but rather a sense of community. These are athletes that all fans can relate to.”

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Its 22-woman roster named, Sky Blue set sights on defending WPS title

Posted on 04 April 2010 by lbarker

Heather O'Reilly should have plenty to cheer about in 2010 ©Craig Bennett/ASN

With national team stalwarts Heather O’Reilly, Yael Averbuch and Carli Lloyd, the defending champion Sky Blue FC boast a formidable midfield that make them favorites to defend the first WPS title in history. And the rest of the squad is none too shabby either. ASN’s Lauren Barker takes a look at Sky Blue’s 22-woman roster in this entertaining piece. The WPS season kicks off Saturday with the Washington Freedom playing host to the Boston Breakers. Sky Blue host the Chicago Red Stars Sunday.

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A look at Sky Blue’s twenty-two

Posted on 04 April 2010 by lbarker

The second WPS season is just a week away. With rosters officially announced on April 1, it might seem we would have some of idea of who looks good, who looks great, and who will be left on the outside looking in come September. Right? Or maybe not. There’s probably as much a chance of making an accurate guess about who will be lifting the trophy this fall as there is getting the right number in one of those ‘guess how many jellybeans are in this jar’ contests – unless you’re some ‘Numb3rs’-esque math-genius who can come up with a formula to count said jelly beans, which I admittedly, am not (plus, I hate jellybeans).

The January demise of the reigning regular season champion (and playoff runner-up) Los Angeles Sol – and the dispersal draft that followed – meant that an already talent-saturated nine team league became a talent-overflowing-from-everywhere eight team league.

Heather O'Reilly, here in last week's USWNT win over Mexico, should have plenty to cheer about in WPS this season as well ©Julie Harper/ASN

There’s one team though that has something none of the other seven WPS teams have (no Atlanta, I’m not talking about you and that fancy new women’s-soccer-specific stadium, although that’s pretty darn neat). I’m talking about New Jersey’s own Sky Blue FC. What do the ol’ Blue and Orange have, you ask? Oooh, I know! The most coaches ever by a WPS team? Well, yes, but no. Is it the most tattooed player in WPS? How about the leagues most daring goalkeeper? Wait, is it a captain-player-coach-central defender who led her team to the championship while secretly pregnant? Yes, yes, and yes. But also no. The thing Sky Blue FC’s got that no other WPS team does, it’s that little star above the team’s crest (also, a shiny trophy and the only pro soccer championship my beloved home state has ever seen). To the Sky Blue faithful that star is about the ultimate conclusion to the ultimate cinderella story, the icing on top of a cake baked over six months in an oven that didn’t always seem to be heating just right. To the rest of the teams in WPS (and their fans), the addition of that star on the front of the jerseys also means the addition of a giant target on the back.

But the defending champs seem ready to, well, defend. Through five preseason games Sky Blue is unbeaten. The team played three preseason games in Florida, outscoring opponents 14-0 during that stretch, including a 2-0 victory over the only WPS side SBFC faced in exhibition, the Boston Breakers, and 5-0 and 7-0 victories over Florida State University and University of Florida respectively. The team then returned to NJ and topped two more college sides, beating Rutgers 3-0 and UConn 5-0. Along with a perfect 5-0 preseason record, Sky Blue heads to the regular season outscoring opponents 22-0. Even considering that four of the five opponents faced in exhibition were college teams, 22 goals in five games can’t be overlooked from a team that managed only 19 goals in 20 regular season games during the inaugural campaign.

So what will Sky Blue FC look like on April 11 when they take the field for the first time?

GOALKEEPER:
Returning between the posts will be UNC alum and one-time US International Jenni Branam and English International Karen Bardsley. The duo of California natives will become a trio of California natives as Ashley Thompson joins the squad as one of four developmental players. Branam returns from a 2009 season where she cemented her reputation as the league’s most daring ‘keeper. Not afraid to come (way, way, way) off her line to make saves and a part of some big time collisions (Abby Wambach and Brittany Bock to name just two), Branam managed a 1.09 goals against average during 2009, including 6 clean sheets in 18 appearances. She also started and played the full 90 in all three playoff games, and allowed just one goal in that stretch, despite an injury. Karen Bardsley made just four appearances for Sky Blue in 2009, and allowed only 2 goals. She’s been getting some time in net for the English National Team lately, playing 90 minutes in a recent 3-0 win in a World Cup Qualifier against Austria. Ashley Thompson comes to Sky Blue by way of UCLA and the Hudson Valley Quickstrike Lady Blues. Branam will likely start as the number one ‘keeper, with Bardsley a solid backup. Thompson could see some time as Branam’s backup as well, as international call-ups for World Cup Qualifiers could occasionally send Bardsley across the pond.

DEFENSE:

There’s that old saying “defense wins championships” and while Sky Blue’s run to the trophy was certainly a team effort, the back line can’t be overlooked. After all, it was a solid back four that frustrated Marta and stifled the Sol’s attack in the championship game. Returning for year two are Anita Asante, Keeley Dowling, Christie Rampone and Meghan Schnur. English International Asante is still recovering from an ACL injury and US National Team captain (and former SBFC player-coach) Rampone recently gave birth to her second daughter. Both will miss the beginning of the season. Schnur has been getting some deserved attention from Pia Sundhage on the national team, earning her first three caps at the mysterious we-only-know-it-happened-because-Match Tracker-says-so tournament known as the Algarve Cup and adding two more appearances in the ‘fire and ice’ Mexico friendlies. The back line will be bolstered by the additions of SBFC’s first round pick Brittany Taylor, who also earned her first international cap in the ‘ice’ half of the Mexico friendlies; Dutch National Team captain and owner of quite the interesting hairdo, Daphne Koster and Ole Miss alum Danielle Johnson, on the squad as a developmental player.

MIDFIELD:

Should Pauliina Miettinen decide to go with a thematic midfield, there’s the option for the ‘Jersey Line’ featuring returning Sky Blue-rs Heather O’Reilly and Yael Averbuch and new addition Carli Lloyd, all natives of the Garden State. Then there’s the ‘Are You Sure This Isn’t the National Team?’ option, with O’Reilly, Lloyd, Averbuch and Kacey White, all players with appearances for the US National Team. Or perhaps a little college flair is in order? Using a few of the estimated 4,956 UNC alumni on the roster (there are in fact 6 former Tar Heels on SBFC) the ‘Tar Heel Blue Becomes Sky Blue’ is the way to go, a lineup featuring O’Reilly, Averbuch, White and eventually Nikki Washington. O’Reilly has looked like her usual hard-working self in recent national team appearances. Lloyd is hoping to put a less than impressive year in Chicago behind her, and a return to her home state, and to Yurcak Field, where she played collegiately for Rutgers may do the trick. She scored her first international goal in more than a year at the Algarve Cup. Averbuch is quickly establishing herself as one of the best playmaking mids in the game. There’s also Brazilian International Rosana, who struggled early in 2009 before finding her touch later in the season. Kiersten Dallstream, who, like Washington, was originally drafted by LA and picked up by Sky Blue in the dispersal draft is a versatile player who can score goals and has also played at outside back. Washington is still rehabbing a knee injury and isn’t listed on Sky Blue’s 22 player roster, but she’ll be someone who can make an impact once she gets healthy. Angela Salem also joins the club as a developmental player.

FORWARD:

One of the main concerns in 2009 was the lack of scoring. Sky Blue averaged less than a goal a game in the inaugural year, but the 2010 edition of the team looks ready to change that. Newcomer Katie Schoepfer will fight for a spot up top with two more newbies, Finnish International Laura Kalmari and Swedish International Jessica Landstrom as well as last year’s leading scorer and US International, Natasha Kai. Kai seems to be back to form after struggling through much of 2009 with injuries to her shoulders. She’s had surgery on both and promised “The fans should expect a lot more than what they saw last year…more goals and more celebrations. The old Tash is back. The party is ‘bout to start.” Through five preseason games she’s kept that promise, scoring more goals than she did the entire 2009 season. Rosana, Lloyd, White, Kalmari, Dallstream and Schoepfer have also found the back of the net in the exhibition games. Meagan Snell comes on board as a developmental player.

In the long run though, preseason is still preseason. It doesn’t matter if the team scores 5,000 goals against college teams if they can’t convert in games where actual points are at stake. In 2009 Sky Blue beat the Washington Freedom 1-0 in a preseason game. And then went on to be unable to solve the apparent puzzle that was Abby Wambach and Co. during the regular season, finishing with an 0-2-1 record against those representing the capital city, including a wild 4-4 tie in a game Sky Blue led 3-1, and then 4-3, before a stoppage time goal by the Freedom’s Cat Whitehill led to the draw. It wasn’t until the first round of the playoffs, in August, some six months after that preseason game, that Sky Blue managed to put the pieces in the right places and get a result against the Freedom. So what’s changed? Well, the team enters the 2010 with the momentum of last year’s championship run. The 22 preseason goals should also help boost the confidence of a team that’s struggled to score. There’s also the coach factor, with Pauliina Miettinen coming on for 2010, the fourth person to hold the job in half as many seasons.* But the former Finnish player seems to be a good fit, with comments from Miettinen, players, and management all pointing in a positive direction.
*My freshman team in high school went through some five or six coaches – we lost count – before finding one that stuck around, and our season was only three months long, so, you know…

There are two big problems for Pauliina Miettinen and Sky Blue, but as far as problems go, they’re some of the best to have. One is that with the 2011 World Cup just a year away, Sky Blue could be hit hard by international call-ups. Fifteen of the 22 players on the roster have experience at the senior National Team level, for six different countries. WPS has worked with US Soccer to try and limit the conflict, and CONCACAF qualifiers aren’t likely to start until after the WPS season ends, but UEFA and CONMEBOL qualifiers, camps and friendlies are a question. This is where the depth factor could play a huge role. And it’s the depth that leads to the second problem. Sky Blue’s roster is so deep just about everywhere that a lot of talent may not equal a lot of time on the pitch. Taylor is a promising young midfielder, Koster an established international, and Dowling and Schnur have both proven themselves as integral parts of Sky Blue’s back four, but once Rampone and Asante are ready to play, someone (someones?) will be left out of the starting lineup. There’s the same situation at midfield and forward, with more big-time talent than spots on the field. But too much depth? Can you have too much depth? Or does the overflow of talent mean that the product on the field is that much better, with players constantly trying to up their game and earn a spot in the starting XI? If Sky Blue’s 22 can find a balance between that battle and the ‘play for the badge on the front, not the name on the back’ mentality that was the key to overcoming all of 2009’s adversity, another trophy is far from impossible.

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