They hadn’t beaten them all season. Even in a game when the team scored four goals, it still could only manage a draw.
Saturday, however, brought new life to a Sky Blue FC side now under the direction of Interim Player/Coach Christie Rampone and assistant Mike Lyons. After failing to beat the Washington Freedom on three different occasions during the regular season, the New Jersey side got a win when it mattered most on Saturday, taking down the Freedom 2-1 in the opening round of the WPS Playoffs.
The team then headed straight to Saint Louis now looking to overcome even stiffer odds.Saint Louis Athletica will host Sky Blue FC Wednesday night for the chance to advance to the WPS Championship on Saturday against Los Angeles. Athletica beat Sky Blue FC in all three meetings thus far this season, all by just one goal.
All-Star forward Eniola Aluko played a part in three of the four goals Saint Louis scored against Sky Blue FC this season, but she will be missing from Wednesday’s Super Semifinal due to the 2009 European Championships where she will represent England.Aluko scored six of Athletica’s 19 goals this season and assisted on four, making some wonder where any type of offensive production will come from without her. Rampone, however, still sees a very formidable opponent.
“It’s a playoff game and I think everybody comes to play,” she said. “I think they are going to come out strong and they’ve got two great goalscorers up top so we have to be mindful of them as well.”
Christie Welsh and Sarah Walsh are the two that will be called upon to step up in the absence of Aluko. Walsh is a former Sky Blue FC player who ironically came over to Athletica on June 26 in a trade that sent Kerri Hanks and Francielle to New Jersey. Both of those players had key roles in Saturday’s victory over Washington that got Sky Blue FC to this Super Semifinal with Saint Louis.Sky Blue FC could put out a similar looking lineup Wednesday to the one that broke down the Freedom on Saturday. While goalkeeper Jenni Branam injured herself in Saturday’s match, Rampone said she has been recovering well and will be in goal no matter what.
“I think she’s a starter no matter what – no matter how bad she is hurting,” Rampone said.
The New Jersey side will need Branam to continue to be stellar in goal if it expects to take down Athletica.
As Sky Blue FC prepared to leave for Maryland last week, Rampone told the team to pack for Los Angeles. Now, it is just one win away from setting up perhaps the most improbable final imagineable.
“As a player you know that everyone is supporting you from home or if they are at the field,” Rampone said. “I know that this team is fighting for everyone on this staff and everyone that has supported us through this whole journey and this whole year and to be able to go back to them and tell them we are reaching the final would be something amazing.”
The game kicks off from the Anheuser-Busch Soccer Park on Wednesday at 7 p.m. Eastern and will air live on Fox Soccer Channel.
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