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Freedom tops Sky Blue FC 3-1, will host opening round playoff game

The Washington Freedom clinched third place and a home playoff game with a 3-1 win over Sky Blue FC on Saturday.

Abby Wambach led the way with two goals and an assist, while Lisa De Vanna aded one of her own and assisted one of Wambach’s goals.Washington’s first real chance came in the 14th minute when Rebecca Moros found herself open 10 yds. out, but her header from Sonia Bompastor’s cross went over the bar.

However, Moros did play a huge part in Washington’s first goal, which came in the 19th minute. After hustling to the corner to collect a loose ball, Moros delivered a perfectly placed cross over Sky Blue FC goalkeeper Jenni Branam to the head of Abby Wambach, who tapped it in and gave the Freedom a 1-0 lead.Sky Blue FC was invisible offensively in the first half, creating very few chances.

“I think we did a good job in the first half keeping possession, but we really never attacked with that mentality to score,” player/coach Christie Rampone said. “We were hitting some long-range shots, everything was going over, but you have to get out there like you are going to score.”

Forward Kacey White found herself open at the top of the box in the 36th minute but rocketed the ball over the crossbar, just minutes after Natasha Kai had a half-chance go wide.

The visitors’ best chance of the half came in the 44th minute when Rosana sent a hard shot from 10 yds. out toward the far upper corner, but Washington goalkeeper Erin McLeod barely got her fingertips to the ball to tip it wide and preserve the 1-0 lead going into halftime.The second half brought about a completely different energy from both teams, one that replicated the intensity of a playoff match.

It was Washington that took advantage of its opportunities first, with De Vanna serving Wambach a perfect square ball across the Sky Blue FC goalmouth that Wambach easily tapped in. The goal was her second of the game and put the Freedom up 2-0 in the 49th minute.

Minutes later, the game changed with one beautiful play from Rosana. This time, she would not be denied by McLeod.Rosana went on a solo run that started about 40 yds. from goal, scissored some defenders and ended with a brilliantly placed left-footed strike in the upper corner of the net to cut the Freedom lead to 2-1 in the 53rd minute.

In a classic case of yo-yo scorelines, the Freedom pulled one back in the 59th when Wambach crossed the ball to De Vanna, who headed it home to restore a two goal lead.

Sky Blue FC would have a few more chances later in the game, including a Rosana free kick that went off the crossbar in the 86th minute, but that would be all for the visitors on the night.

With the win, Washington will host either Sky Blue FC or Boston next Saturday at 4 p.m. at home.

“Home field is a big thing in this league and I’ll be changing my tune if we have to Saint Louis and LA, but it’s a big deal to be able to play at home and we are gaining confidence and understanding that if we can win on the road, we can win at home,” Freedom Head Coach Jim Gabarra said after the game, which had 4,573 fans in attendance.

If Sky Blue FC advances to the playoffs – and there is still a lot to be played for on Sunday – there are some things that the squad must work out.

“I think that we can go back to the drawing board, work on some things, and come with a little bit more stronger mentality in the next game,” Rampone said.

Boston takes on Los Angeles on Sunday with major playoff implications on the line. Anything short of a Breakers win will not be enough for Boston, meaning Sky Blue FC would make the same trip town to Maryland for Saturday’s playoff match.Washington will be missing star midfielder Sonia Bompastor, who leaves for France on Sunday to join her national team in its quest for a 2009 European Championship.

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