August 7, 2011

Last Second Goal Lifts Philly over Shorthanded Sky Blue

Lianne Sanderson scored in stoppage time to give Philadelphia a 2-1 victory over Sky Blue FC on Sunday. It was the third goal of the season for the English striker, who came into the match as a substitute in the 77th minute of action. The victory brings the Independence level with Western New York, but the Flash still have the inside track for first place with two games remaining to Philly's one.

Sky Blue played a player down for almost the entire second half as Carrie Dew picked up a second yellow card for taking down Danesha Adams early in the second half. She had picked up her first in the opening minutes of the first half.

Philadelphia came out buzzing and put good pressure on the Sky Blue goal in the opening minutes of the match. Veronica Boquete's free kick from 24 yards was heading just under the crossbar, but Jen Branam managed to tip the ball over the net in the 2nd minute. On the ensuing corner kick, Boquete started back in the center circle and found herself wide open as she charged toward the penalty area unmarked. But her shot from just outside the box went over the crossbar.

The Independence broke on top in the 17th minute. Leigh Ann Robinson sent a beautiful long ball up the center of the field for Tasha Kai. The ball had spin on it and took a hop to the right. Kai took time to measure it and then placed a beautiful shot in the upper left side over Branam to make it 1-0.

Sky Blue tried to pull even just three minutes later, but Eni Aluko's shot from a tough angle was saved by Nicole Barnhart. However, four minutes later, Tobin Heath made a run up the center of the field. Drawing the defense toward her, she pushed a nice little through pass to Aluko, who finished with her right foot past Barnhart and into the right side of the net to tie the score.

Branam made a nice save on Boquete a few minutes later as Kai's header hit the Spanish striker in stride. Boquete's blast from 20 yards was saved by the agile Branam. In the 41st minute, Adams laid the ball off for Tina DiMartino, whose shot from 22 yards was also saved by Branam.

Sky Blue nearly took the lead just before intermission. A Heather O'Reilly cross went over the head of several players to bounce right to Brittany Taylor. She flicked a header just wide of the left post.

Dew picked up her second yellow card of the match as she slid late into Adams who was dribbling up the center of the field. It did appear that Dew attempted to put on the brakes, but it was too late and Adams went tumbling over the Sky Blue defender and referee Ted Unkel pulled out the yellow and dismissed Dew from the match.

Sky Blue caught a bit of a break in the 67th minute, as Amy Rodriguez chipped a shot over a diving Branam into the right post. With Branam laying on the ground, the ball bounced right back into her lap.

Philadelphia continued to pressure as the half wore on. Laura del Rio hit a hard shot from 15 yards, but Kendall Fletcher headed it clear. In the 77th minute, Branam made a nice save on Rodriguez' shot inside the near post. Branam later made two big saves in one-on-one situations with del Rio to keep the game level at one.

But just when it appeared that Sky Blue might hang on for the tie, one that would have clinched a playoff berth for them, Philadelphia got the game winner. Amy Rodriguez nodded a header forward from the edge of the eighteen. The ball appeared to deflect slightly off of Tobin Heath's head to the front of the goal where three Philly players were waiting against one defender and Branam. Joanna Lohman was able to touch the ball past Branam to Sanderson who finished just before a lunging Kendall Fletcher could get there and the Independence had scored the winner.

For Sky Blue and especially for Jen Branam, it was a harsh result. They needed just a tie to clinch a playoff berth, but were denied in the closing moments. Branam certainly made several great saves to keep her team even until that last second goal. They now face a one game do-or-die contest in Boston next week, still needing only a tie to advance to the playoffs.

Philadelphia's record goes to 11-3-3, good for 36 points and tied with Western New York. They have clinched second place and still have an outside shot at the top position, but the Flash have the inside track with an additional match remaining. The Independence close the season next Sunday in Boca Raton against third place magicJack.

Note: Philadelphia is a perfect 9-0-0 with Veronica Boquete in the starting lineup.

Correction: It was Danielle Johnson, not Kendall Fletcher, who was the last defender trying to block the shot on the game winning goal.

WPS Standings
(1) Western New York 11-2-3, 36 pts; (1) Philadelphia 11-3-3, 36 pts; (3) magicJack 8-6-2, 25 pts; (4) Sky Blue FC 5-8-4, 19 pts; (5) Boston 4-9-4, 16 pts; (6) Atlanta 1-12-4, 7 pts.

Wednesday, August 10
Western New York at magicJack

Sunday, August 14
Philadelphia at magicJack
Sky Blue FC at Boston
Atlanta at Western New York

Playoff Scenarios:
Sky Blue needs a tie or win against Boston to clinch 4th place. Boston needs to win in order to clinch 4th place.

Philadelphia and Western New York are tied for 1st place, with Philadelphia owning the tiebreaker at this point. Western New York has a game in hand.

magicJack has clinched 3rd place and will host the first round of the playoffs.