Photo by ISIphotos.com
By CHRISTA MANN
The First Round of the WPS playoffs were in full effect Saturday as the favored Washington Freedom fell to the underdog Sky Blue FC (NJ). New Jersey's 2-1 victory marks the first time in four meetings that SBFC has walked away with the win, and served as vindication for club's 3-1 loss to Washington last week.
The result advances SBFC to Wednesday's Super Semifinal against the St. Louis Athletica where the winner in that game meets the L.A. Sol in the championship game.
In case you missed the opening round of the WPS Playoffs, these are the highlights:
Solid defending, a fearless goalkeeper, and finished opportunities were all it took for SBFC to handle the First Round challenge in the WOPS playoffs.
Player/coach Christie Rampone kept her defenders in a high restraining line while maintaining cover and balance in each of the four positions. The defensive shape held the Freedom's best weapons, Lisa DeVanna and Abby Wambach, to a scoreless first half with no wide open breakaways or uncontested shots. On the few balls that did get in behind the defense, New Jersey's fearless goalkeeper, Jenni Branam, came up huge to squash those attacks. In fact, on two occasions she came well outside the box sending potential those potential one v. one opportunities into the stands.
Branam went all out and full steam ahead to prevent Wambach from earning an easy second half finish. Unfortunately, the two had a full-force collision causing a deflection and lucky bounce to DeVanna's foot. The Australian put away a great finish to equalize the game.The fact that SBFC even contained one of one of the most dangerous attacking duos in WPS was a feat in itself for this club.
As play/coach Rampone held things together on the field, she also made some key second half substitutions. In the 54th minute, Natasha Kai replaced Kerri Hanks and finished the first goal of the match within 45 seconds of taking the field. As usual, it was the Hawaiian's ridiculous work rate that led to the finish, but her opening goal was only the first of two game changing performances.
Halfway through the second half, Brazilian midfielder Francielle came off the bench to control the center of the park. She helped maintain possession before breaking out with the game winner. The replay really says it all when she completely jukes Alex Singer out of her shorts to get the shot off.
To be fair, the Freedom's Homare Sawa created some dangerous plays with textured balls over the top and into feet. Washington had its chances but the second half, possession-wise goes without question the the New Jersey side.
Saturday's First Round finish was a great postseason start for Sky Blue FC. Although the club's first half service was a bit over done, the game-long, team defending and second half finishing made all the difference.
With one postseason victory under its belt, SBFC now awaits its next chance to overcome the odds.
What did you think of the First Round? Share your thoughts below.