By CHRISTA MANN
Sky Blue FC (NJ) will be making an improbable trip to the WPS Championship after pulling off yet another upset when they defeated the St. Louis Athletica 1-0 in the WPS playoff semifinal on Wednesday.
For the first time since July 18, St. Louis came out on the losing end of a one goal decision. This once streaking Athletica team looked strong coming into the game even without its best finisher, Eniola Aluko. The English international was the club's go-to goal scorer in almost every game of the regular season. St. Louis had faith that three goals from Christie Welsh last week was a sign of a continued scoring presence in the absence of Aluko.
In Wednesday's semifinal, there was no shortage of second half chances for the St. Louis Athletica. They got In behind all day to connect on service and to create any number of set piece opportunities. The chances were there; the composure was just missing. Once again, Hope Solo's world class performance was the only thing saving a blowout defeat.
New Jersey defender Keeley Dowling finished the game's only goal in the 31st to continue Sky Blue FC's already pressing momentum. The second half belonged to St. Louis, but SBFC held on for the win.
Check out the highlights:
For much of the second half, both clubs exchanged long balls, giveaways, even an occasional one player taking on the entire other team. Once play settled, St. Louis had the better control of possession but could not find the back of the net. The Athletica's Tina Ellertson, a former forward turned center back, picked off several through balls and went on the attack herself. The effort deserves recognition but a quicker release for some combo play would have been more productive than a forward yard run to lose possession. SBFC's Rosana also had a touch of hero syndrome as she forced bad shots when other players had the better, wide-open angles.
The heart from these two players is definitely something to admire. Ellertson rejuvenated the Athletica's intensity when the team let up late in the game while Rosana went above and beyond as a target. The Brazilian made some great touches to split the defense and used her speed to generate chances. Yet even with these two strong performances, the goalkeepers stole the show.
The highlights alone attest to the ridiculous saves from Hope Solo while the cringing faces of Jenni 's playoff injuries reveal just how much of an impact these GKs have. Branam has taken hard hits in both the first and second round games but had no back-up and the team was out of subs. Hands down, the keepers had the best performance in the semifinal.
St. Louis is out which is something no one saw coming. The Athletica posted convincing results to finish the regular season,well minus the tie to FC Gold Pride, and was expected to play in Saturday's championship game. Now the L.A. Sol will face an emotionally passionate SBFC which has won four straight on the road with the last two against strong opponents in the playoffs. They've had good fortune so far, but will that continue in the biggest game of this inaugural WPS year.
What are your thoughts on the semifinal? Do you believe in Sky Blue? Is the Sol winning the title a foregone conclusion?
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