Chants of “Ole” echoed around the Maryland SoccerPlex on Saturday, but they were not coming from Washington Freedom fans.
At one point late in the second half, Sky Blue FC put together 22 straight passes as their traveling fans helped urge them on to a 2-1 victory of the Freedom in the first round of the inaugural WPS Playoffs. Yes, 22 straight passes. When the game time temperature is 92 degrees Fahrenheit, the ball has to do the work.
“I think the heat is just how you handle it,” interim player/coach Christie Rampone said. “I was telling the girls that everyone was hot – deal with it and make the ball work. I think it definitely slowed the game for both sides but I think we got the better of it; pinging the ball around, especially late in the game, you could see when we were spraying the ball they didn’t want to make the 20-yard run. The key was keeping the ball and not giving away too many balls in the middle.”
Clearly, Sky Blue FC was able to keep the ball. The visitors from New Jersey opened the scoring in the 55th minute when Natasha Kai tapped the ball into the net from an errant Kacey White touch. Kai was an immediate spark plug, scoring just one minute after checking into the match for Kerri Hanks, who surprisingly started the game in place of Kai.
“Tash has been struggling with her shoulders and I thought a good 45 from her would be better than a soft 90 especially with the heat and the 4 o’clock game,” Rampone said in a team-issued press release.
Although Sky Blue FC dominated most of the play, Washington found the equalizer in the 78th minute when Lisa De Vanna finished off a loose ball that popped out from a collision between Jenni Branam and Abby Wambach.
Unfortunately for Washington, another super-sub struck for Sky Blue FC in the 84th minute. This time, though, it was the game winner. The 19-year-old Brazilian playmaker Francielle, who checked into the game for Collette McCallum in the 61st minute, showed visions of brilliance throughout the second half and finally finished off a goal in the 84th.
Similar to teammate Rosana’s goal against the Freedom last week, Francielle went on a long solo run and faked out two Freedom defenders before burying the ball past Washington goalkeeper Erin McLeod. McLeod got a hand to it, but could not keep the well-placed ball out of the net.Sky Blue FC pulled off the improbable 2-1 win after losing the season series 2-0-1 to Washington. This win, though, is the only one that really counts.
Sky Blue FC will next travel directly to Saint Louis to take on Athletica in the Super Semifinal on Wednesday at 7 p.m. on Fox Soccer Channel.
Grading the game:Coaching: Quite simply, Washington got out-coached in this game. If I am Jim Gabarra, I might be a little upset by the fact that a player/coach of a team in supposed turmoil out-coached me. Kelly Parker, who came in for Kacey White in the 71st minute, did not really change the game much, but Kai and Francielle had a goal each off of the bench and were the two best players on the field for Sky Blue FC.
Meanwhile, the Freedom brought Allie Long, Sarah Huffman and Alex Singer off the bench who collectively did a whole lot of nothing.Both teams deserve some criticism for using up all three of their substitutes by the 73rd minute. Sky Blue FC almost got itself into trouble when Branam seemed to be hurt, but she gutted it out and saw her team through to the victory. The difference was, Sky Blue FC’s subs were effective.
Bright Spots:As discussed already, Kai and Francielle were the two best players on the field for Sky Blue FC. They made dynamic runs and did what they were brought on to do: Change the game and score goals.
Kerri Hanks also deserves a lot of credit for her play on Saturday. She hustled to every ball and almost found net on a couple of occasions. I was actually very upset that Hanks was coming out of the game when Sky Blue FC inserted Kai into the game, because I thought she was playing very well. I guess Rampone and Lyons knew what they were doing.As a team, Sky Blue FC also did well to hold together the defense without Anita Asante and will have to do so again on Wednesday.
For Washington, there really were not a whole bunch of bright spots. Lori Lindsey did fairly well containing Rosana in the midfield along with most of the Washington back line, all of whom deserve credit for holding off the Brazilian.Unfortunately, they could not contain the other Brazilian on Sky Blue FC.
Ali Krieger deserves some credit, if for nothing else, for her 68th minute rip of a shot that seemed to shatter the crossbar.
Low Points: There were some definite disappointments for both teams out on the field Saturday, but more so for Washington.First are the low points for the winners. Yael Averbuch had a very poor game. Countless times she opted for a terrible shot from over 20 yards out and completely killed the attack for Sky Blue FC. She has a cannon of a shot when she utilizes it, but it was off today.
I’m also a big fan of Collette McCallum’s play, but there was a reason she got taken out of the game. Lisa De Vanna might have been the biggest disappointment for the Freedom. Forget her goal, she consistently gave the ball away on counter attacks when she could have easily blown by defenders with her speed.
Sarah Senty also had a particularly poor match at left back for Washington. After a respectable game last week, Senty struggled mightily Saturday and could not complete a pass and her whole touch was off.Overall, Washington just could not move the ball with any type of flow. The Freedom players were no match for Sky Blue FC’s 22 straight passes. Ole, ole.
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