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Sky Blue FC runs the table
by Paul Kennedy, August 24th, 2009 6:45AM



[WPS] Women's Professional Soccer's unique playoff format will certainly spark a lot of debate in the postseason, but there's no doubt who was the best team in the playoffs. Sky Blue FC won its third game in eight days -- all on the road -- with a 1-0 win over the Los Angeles Sol Saturday to complete its improbable run to the league championship.

The title came less than a month after the New Jersey team's interim coach, Kelly Lindsey, up and quit without notice. U.S. national team captain Christie Rampone took over, and Sky Blue FC made the playoffs a week and a half later despite losing its final game of the regular season.

But Sky Blue FC came alive in the playoffs and deservedly won all three playoff games.

In the final, Heather O'Reilly scored the game's only goal in the 16th minute, and Sky Blue FC dominated the favored Sol for the rest of the first half.

The Sol dug a hole for itself when defender Allison Falk received a red card for a foul from behind on Sky Blue FC forward Natasha Kai in the 27th minute.

Los Angeles was always a step too slow in the first half as visiting Sky Blue FC had a huge edge in possession.

Sky Blue FC held Sol star Marta in check, and goalie Jenni Branam stopped Shannon Boxx on the regular-season champion's two best chances of the first half.

Sky Blue FC, which had three coaches during the course of the season, finished 4-1 under Rampone, whose moves in the final were again masterful.

She started Kai for the first time in the playoffs, and the Hawaiian won the ball on Keeley Dowling's cross driven into the area that was flicked on to O'Reilly for the goal.

"I think the intangibles won that game for us," said O'Reilly. "You never wish that you go through so many ups and downs that we went through this season, but I think in the end its character building. I just think the fibers of this team are so close and so tight that nothing was going to break us. The Sol is a great team but I think that those intangibles really showed today."

Rampone also started little-used teenager Francielle, who played the entire game in midfield. In the final, two Brazilians proved to be better than one as Francielle and striker Rosana got the better of countrywoman Marta.

After Sky Blue went ahead, it managed to control play for long stretches with its short passing game led by former North Carolina stars Yael Averbuch and Kacey White on the right side.

Averbuch set up Dowling for the winning goal in the Super Semifinal at St. Louis, while White played Dowling's throw-in back to the former Tennessee star on the final's only goal.

"I think it's an exceptional team we have here with Sky Blue FC," said Rampone. "I think it was a great fun for us, battling back to make it into the playoffs and winning three games in eight days. I think we came out strong, the adrenaline was definitely kicking with us and we went after them and had our legs."

The Sol, as its supporters feared, came out cold at the Home Depot Center.

The oddities of the regular-season schedule (only three Sol games in the last six weeks) and playoff format (a bye for the regular-season champion Sol into the final) impacted the Sol, the runaway winner of the regular-season title that meant it had a bye into the championship game.

"It is disappointing to lose this game, it was our goal all season long to win the championship," said Marta.  "Soccer is a funny game sometimes and you have to deal with that.  As team, though, we should be very proud for what we were able to accomplish all season long."

The final drew 7,218 -- less than half the crowd that had witnessed WPS's opening game, a 2-0 Sol win over Washington on March 29.

Falk was the hero that day with the league's first goal. She was the goat on Saturday -- late on the ball O'Reilly knocked past Karina LeBlanc and sent off 11 minutes later on a red card that Sol coach Abner Rogers later described as a "poor decision" by referee Kari Seitz.

Frenchwoman Camille Abily, who had the other goal on opening day, was unavailable for the final because of Euro '09 commitments. Her absence was dearly felt in midfield, where the Sol was badly outplayed in the first half.

Aug. 22 in Carson, Calif.
Los Angeles 0 Sky Blue FC 0. Goal: O'Reilly (Kai) 16.
Los Angeles -- LeBlanc, Makoski, Falk, Bock, Cox, Zerboni (Nonen, 35), Wagner (Larkin, 62), Boxx, Miyama, Han (Patterson, 78), Marta.
Sky Blue FC -- Branam, Dowling, Buczkowski, Rampone, Schnur, O'Reilly (Keselica, 83), Francielle, Averbuch, White, Kai (Hanks, 67), Rosana (McCallum, 71).
Yellow Card: Los Angeles -- Bock 52.
Red Card: Los Angeles -- Falk 27.
Referee: Kari Seitz
Att.: 7,218.


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