August 15, 2009

Sky Blue Defeats Washington 2-1

Sky Blue FC defeated the Washington Freedom 2-1 on Saturday afternoon and the winning goal came from one of the most unlikeliest of sources. Francielle, obtained in a midseason trade from Saint Louis, drilled the winning goal in the 84th minute. She had played all of 28 minutes in just one game for Sky Blue coming into this match. At 19 years old, she is the youngest player in the WPS.

Both teams played conservatively in the 1st half, which turned out to be mostly a feeling out process. Sky Blue did get more shots, but neither team came all that close to scoring. Washington made the first substitution of the game at halftime, bringing in Alex Singer for Jill Gilbeau, who had started the game at midfield. The Freedom decided to move Ali Krieger to midfield in an attempt to get more speed forward.

Coach Christie Rampone elected to start Kerri Hanks for Natasha Kai, thus saving her speedy star forward for later in the game. Kai entered the game in the 54th minute and quickly made her presence felt. The ball was crossed to Kacey White who was just outside the penalty area and she popped the ball up into the penalty area. While Cat Whitehill appeared to wait for the ball to settle down, Kai broke between her and Becky Sauerbrunn, bodied the ball down to her foot and tipped the ball past Freedom goalkeeper Erin McLeod, who barely got her arm on it, to put the Sky Blue up 1-0 in the 55th minute.

By the 73rd minute, both teams had used up their substitutions. Sky Blue brought in Francielle and Kelly Parker to replace Collette McCallum and Kacey White. Washington brought in Sarah Huffman and Allie Long to replace Lori Lindsey and Rebecca Moros. For Huffman, who has been injured since preseason, it was her first action of the regular season.

The Freedom picked up their intensity and started to have chances. Ali Krieger hit the cross bar with a blistering shot in the 68th minute. Then, in the 78th minute, Homare Sawa chipped one toward the penalty area. Sky Blue keeper Jen Branam came rushing out to punch the ball out. She did but collided hard with onrushing Abby Wambach as she did. Branam went down and the ball went directly to Lisa DeVanna. DeVanna made no mistake in blasting the ball into the net from about 18 yards as two Sky Blue defenders were unable to do anything but watch at the goal line. Branam appeared to be injured on the play, but with no substitutions left, she toughed out the rest of the match sporting a substantial limp. She did not take any of the goal kicks or free kicks for the remainder of the match.

With the score tied 1-1 and less than 10 minutes of regulation remaining, the game looked to be heading to overtime. But then came Francielle with her late game heroics. Heather O'Reilly received the ball on the right sideline and reversed the ball to Yael Averbuch. Averbuch hit a square pass to Francielle, who was about 35 yards from the goal and nothing but space in front of her. She dribbled around Alex Singer to the top of the penalty circle and hit a shot to the lower right corner of the goal that just beat McLeod. It was her first goal of the season.

Sky Blue was able to hold on for the final 6 minutes and stoppage for the victory. Sky Blue outshot Washington 24-12 for the match. They will now go on to meet Athletica in the Super Semifinal next Wednesday in St. Louis.