August 19, 2009

Sky Blue Advances to Final with 1-0 Victory over Athletica

Perhaps, with everything that has gone on this year with Sky Blue, they have become the team of destiny. Tonight, they went into Saint Louis and came away with a 1-0 victory and will meet the Los Angeles Sol on Saturday afternoon for the WPS championship. Keeley Dowling scored the only goal of the match in the 31st minute, her first goal of the season.

Sky Blue dominated the early part of the game. Except for a couple of harmless corner kicks, Athletica mounted very little offense for the first 30 minutes of the game. Meanwhile, Sky Blue had several excellent opportunities, with only Athletica keeper Hope Solo keeping the score from being worse than it was. Solo's first big save came in the opening minutes as a Heather O'Reilly cross found Kerri Hanks alone in the 6 yard box. Hanks' shot from point blank range looked to be a sure goal, but Solo dove to her left to make an unbelievable save.

In the 14th minute, Kacey White got loose for a wide open shot from 12 yards, with Solo again making a diving save to deflect the ball wide of the net. Athletica had not played for 10 days and they appeared very flat in the early going. Meanwhile, Sky Blue was clicking, making excellent passes, nice build up, and producing quality chances.

The orange clad Sky Blue team finally broke through in the 31st minute. Yael Averbuch managed to dribble free of three Athletica defenders and nudge the ball to Keeley Dowling who had a wide open shot from 15 yards. Her shot went just inside the left post and a shot that Hope Solo had no chance on to put the Sky Blue up 1-0.

Sky Blue got the first good chance of the 2nd half as well. Rosana got free from 15 yards, but Solo came out to cut off the angle and easily blocked what could have been a dangerous shot on goal.

Athletica started pushing forward and earned a few chances as the 2nd half wore on. A Niki Cross free kick found Melissa Tancredi who's header went just wide. In the 75th minute, Lori Chalupny received a pass on the left side of the box, but shot well wide from about 12 yards. A couple of minutes later, an Athletica free kick set up Niki Cross from 25 yards. Cross had Branam beat with her low shot, but it went inches wide of the left post. Right after that, Sarah Walsh got the ball about 10 yards out with Branam charging out, but Walsh's shot went over the crossbar. A cross from Amanda Cinalli just missed finding Ashlee Pistorius' head just a couple minutes later.

Probably the best opportunity came just into stoppage as Dowling got called for tripping Chalupny just outside the penalty area, setting up a free kick from 20 yards out. Niki Cross put it just a foot over the bar. From that point on, it was just a matter of Sky Blue killing off the clock.

The shots ended up even at 13, with Sky Blue getting far better opportunities in the 1st half and Athletica getting most of the chances in the 2nd half. Both teams were playing without quality players. Athletica was missing their leading scorer, Eniola Aluko, as well as starting defender Sara Larsson. Sky Blue was without one of their top defenders, Anita Asante, and their backup keeper, Karen Bardsley.

Sky Blue, who qualified for the playoffs only after Boston lost their final match, will now go on to the championship in Carson, California. They will meet the Los Angeles Sol, the regular season champs, at 4 pm ET on Saturday.