Sky Blue 2, Freedom 1: A look back

SkyBlueFreedom (ISIphotos.com) 

                                                                                     Photo by ISIphotos.com

By CHRISTA MANN

The First Round of the WPS playoffs were in full effect Saturday as the favored Washington Freedom fell to the underdog Sky Blue FC (NJ). New Jersey's  2-1 victory marks the first time in four meetings that SBFC has walked away with the win, and served as vindication for club's 3-1 loss to Washington last week.

The result advances SBFC to Wednesday's Super Semifinal against the St. Louis Athletica where the winner in that game meets the L.A. Sol in the championship game. 

In case you missed the opening round of the WPS Playoffs, these are the highlights: 

       

Solid defending, a fearless goalkeeper, and finished opportunities were all it took for SBFC to handle the First Round challenge in the WOPS playoffs.

Player/coach Christie Rampone kept her defenders in a high restraining line while maintaining cover and balance in each of the four positions. The defensive shape held the Freedom's best weapons, Lisa DeVanna and Abby Wambach, to a scoreless first half with no wide open breakaways or uncontested shots.  On the few balls that did get in behind the defense, New Jersey's fearless goalkeeper, Jenni Branam, came up huge to squash those attacks. In fact, on two occasions she came well outside the box sending potential those potential one v. one opportunities into the stands.

Branam went all out and full steam ahead to prevent Wambach from earning an easy second half finish.  Unfortunately, the two had a full-force collision causing a deflection and lucky bounce to DeVanna's foot.  The Australian put away a great finish to equalize the game.The fact that SBFC even contained one of one of the most dangerous attacking duos in WPS was a feat in itself for this club.

As play/coach Rampone held things together on the field, she also made some key second half substitutions.  In the 54th minute, Natasha Kai replaced Kerri Hanks and finished the first goal of the match within 45 seconds of taking the field.  As usual, it was the Hawaiian's ridiculous work rate that led to the finish, but her opening goal was only the first of two game changing performances.

Halfway through the second half, Brazilian midfielder Francielle came off the bench to control the center of the park.  She helped maintain possession before breaking out with the game winner. The replay really says it all when she completely jukes Alex Singer out of her shorts to get the shot off. 

To be fair, the Freedom's Homare Sawa created some dangerous plays with textured balls over the top and into feet.  Washington had its chances but the second half, possession-wise goes without question the the New Jersey side.

Saturday's First Round finish was a  great postseason start for Sky Blue FC.  Although the club's first half service was a bit over done, the game-long, team defending and second half finishing made all the difference.  

With one postseason victory under its belt, SBFC now awaits its next chance to overcome the odds.

What did you think of the First Round?  Share your thoughts below.

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11 Responses to Sky Blue 2, Freedom 1: A look back

  1. gmen04 says:

    At least we have one team in New Jersey who is winning

  2. Cindy says:

    awesome!! i’m so excited! here’s hoping Sky Blue goes all the way!!

  3. Jim D. says:

    Not to take anything away from Kai and Francielle, whose individual efforts were impressive, but the Freedom sat back on SBFC and didn’t pressure the ball AT ALL until they were in their own defensive third. It’s only due to Becky Sauerbrunn and a few reaction saves from McLeod that the score wasn’t 5 or 6 to 1. SBFC had all day to run their offense and served balls into the 18 pretty much with impunity. For next season they need to start breaking up offenses in the middle third, and getting players who can do that if they’re not already on the roster. (Sonia Bompastor is this kind of player, as well as their most creative offensive player, and she was dearly missed on Saturday. If she was playing I think they might have won, or at least gone to OT.)

  4. Excuse me, I have a Freedom-fan friend I have to go torment… :D

  5. Dominick says:

    I really like the WPS playoff system. It reminds me of the A-League system. I’d love to see MLS tinker with it–perhaps instead of a 1-off game, home and home pryamid playof structure. I think it adds weight to the playoffs.

  6. I have to agree with Jim D. I saw a Freedom midfield that was largely content to give Sky Blue acres of space and uncontested shots 10 yards back of the box — you just can’t do that all day.

    The other thing that was very frustrating to watch was the extremely poor service to Abby most of the day. DeVanna had a Charlie Davies-like day out there but the team as a whole 9 times out of 10 were not able to make the intelligent or creative play to link up to Abby where she could make something of it.

  7. Greg says:

    I didn’t get to watch the game, but if you look at the Match tracker thing on the WPS website, it looks like Sky Blue dominated the game, despite playing at the Freedom’s home field.

    Washington just isn’t the same without Bompastor- she’s the key player for them, even more than Wambach or DeVanna.

  8. Kat says:

    Freedom looked lazy at the game. I don’t know if it was the heat or a missing Frenchwoman but they looked like they weren’t putting much effort at all. They were lucky w/ the Wambach-Branam collision, LDV finally found an opening. The almost-goal by Krieger would have been tight too, but Branam was too awesome. Damn. Oh well, ’til next season.

  9. Leonardo says:

    wow i wanted that blast from ali to go in… darn crossbar keeps getting in the way

  10. SAY says:

    This game was relatively boring compared to some previous WPS matches. Erin McLeod’s pathetic attempt at a save on Francielle’s goal made me again laugh at how bad the WA Freedom defense is. How can Cat Whitehill be a WPS All-Star defender…she showed why her and her defense is the worst in the WPS. Mr. Carin Gabarra will need to find some better defenders for 2010.

    Sky Blue won mainly because the artist formerly known as Christie Pearce….recognized that Natasha Kai is a better sub than starter. Kai thrives off being the “super sub” and there probably isn’t a better sub I would rather have than her on my bench.

    Also whats the big deal about Anita Asante…doesnt seem SBFC even needed her…..maybe WA Freedom will trade for her in the off season. lol.

    Sky Blue is combined 0-5-1 against St. Louis and LA…..I highly doubt they will upset St. Louis, even though I’d rather see Sky Blue play LA so LA can have a field day against them..

    Athletica would be a much better opponent for LA

  11. Adam says:

    LOL MR. CARIN GABARRA _ NOW THATS REVEALING!

    I am glad to at least see someone mention Cat Whitehill and not put the blame on the rookies. I read an article on the WPS that put Alex Singer on the chopping block! Granted, she covered in the middle on the Francielle’s goal- BUT WHERE THE HELL WAS THE MIDFIELD!

    I am not so sure Francielle juked Singer out of her shorts, at least she tried to cover a transparent midfield.