Sky Blue FC stuns Athletica 1-0, makes WPS championship game
FENTON, Mo. -- Sky Blue FC is quickly becoming the team to beat in Women's Professional Soccer.
The New Jersey-based club knocked off another opponent Wednesday night, topping St. Louis Athletica 1-0 to advance to the WPS Championship. It marked the second straight match that the underdog -- Sky Blue -- knocked off a higher opponent. This time, they knocked of No. 2 St. Louis and head into Los Angeles 90 minutes away from a WPS title.
"We play for each other and that's the way we play," Sky Blue's Natasha Kai said. "When we win for each other it's the best feeling. It's one of the best feelings I've had. We're the fourth seed and now were in the championship. Athletica is a tremendous team and we went in this game giving them everything we got and it paid off. The best team won tonight."
The visitors started pressuring early in the match. Kerri Hanks forced Athletica goalkeeper Hope Solo to make a save in just the third minute. Solo again stopped a Sky Blue opportunity in the 15th minute, when Kacey White sent the ball toward goal. St. Louis didn't back down. But before Athletica could find the net, Sky Blue worked its magic.
Sky Blue took the lead in the 30th minute. Yael Averbuch challenged an Athletica defender. Keeley Dowling created space for herself. Averbuch slotted a short ball through the St. Louis defense and right to Dowling, who buried the ball into the net for her first WPS goal.
"I had possession of the ball, picked my head up, and placed it with my left foot," Dowling said. "It was funny because Hope made such tremendous saves tonight and mine just snuck right by her. We played our game and came out on top. I'm very proud of my goal, but even prouder of my team."
Christie Welsh almost found the net for St. Louis just before the half ended. Welsch blasted a ball toward goal, where Sky Blue goalkeeper Jenni Branam fell and made the save.
Sky Blue's Rosana looked to get her team a bigger lead in the early part of the second half. Rosana launched a short ball at Solo in the 49th minute, which Solo knocked away. Eleven minutes later, a corner kick resulted in Rosana heading the ball toward goal. Solo again made the save.
In the 80th minute, Athletica's Sarah Walsh had a perfect opportunity. Sending a high ball toward an open net. The ball sailed out.
St. Louis' Kendall Fletcher collided midair with Sky Blue goalkeeper Jenni Branam, which apparently knocked the wind out of the keeper. After trainers attended to her, Branam returned to her post, keeping the net secure for the remainder of the match. Branam collected four saves on the night in the shutout.
"In the first half, we were so successful because we kept the ball moving," Sky Blue FC player/coach Christie Rampone said. "There were a good few combos and in the beginning the combinations really helped the way we played. We didn't do that as much in the second half but still came out on top. There were a lot of goal opportunities for us but we stayed compact and the first ball got us our victory. Midfield did a great job staying back and overall, we couldn't have played a better game."
Solo ended the night with five saves. St. Louis wrapped up its 2009 campaign with the loss. Sky Blue now heads further west to face the Los Angeles Sol in the WPS Championship match on Saturday at 4 p.m. ET.