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For Sky Blue FC, the key was 'D'

They say that defense wins championships, and that held true in the inaugural season of Women’s Professional Soccer.

So much attention has been given to the great defensive efforts put forth by Saint Louis Athletica and the Los Angeles Sol this season that it is easy to overlook the defensive prowess that was put forth in New Jersey.

In the inaugural season of Women’s Professional Soccer, Los Angeles gave up just ten goals in 20 games and Saint Louis just 15 in 20 games, but in the end, it was Sky Blue FC that stole the show.

Led by Interim Player/Coach and center back Christie Rampone, the Sky Blue FC back line still put up some very respectable numbers, ending the regular season with a 1.00 goals against average.

Goalkeeper Jenni Branam deserves a lot of credit for making that happen, but so do the Sky Blue FC defenders, straight down to the ones that do not even see regular action.

Consider this: Even with the stellar defenses in Los Angeles and Saint Louis, Sky Blue FC was the only team to have two candidates nominated for the MedImmune Defender of the Year Award, those being Rampone and center back pairing Anita Asante, who quietly had an incredible season.

Even with the absence of Asante throughout the playoffs due to the 2009 European Championships,relative unknown Jen Buczkowski stepped up to play a vital role in the defense alongside Rampone.  Buczkowski played particularly well in the final, making several critical tackles that included a potential goal-saving one on Marta in the 37th minute.

Buczkowski just added to Sky Blue FC’s depth in defense, and the versatility of players like Keeley Dowling solidified the back line even more.

It wasdefender Keeley Dowling that scored the game-winning goal in the SuperSemifinal win over Saint Louis, and who crossed the ball into the box for the only goal scored in the WPS Championship.

Dowling gave – and, next season, should continue to give – Sky Blue FC an attacking presence at right back, but also the versatility to slide inside to a central role as she showed in the team’s inaugural game when she stepped in for an injured Christie Rampone in just the 27th minute.

Opposite  Dowling was Meghan Schnur, who also provided great two-way play at left back.  The young gun started every game for Sky Blue FC, proving to be a great draft choice at 11th overall in the 2009 WPS Draft.

Rampone’s world-class defending goes without saying.  Her awareness on the fieldand ability to read the game to compensate for her own potential weaknesses is unmatched by any others in Women’s Professional Soccer. She is a savvy veteran that knows exactly how to handle any situation thrown at her.

And where would Sky Blue FC be without the gutsy Jenni Branam in goal?

Probably not holding a championship trophy, for one thing.

Branamwas the ultimate story of perseverance.  She overcame constant dehydration, nagging injuries and tough collisions to help lead her New Jersey teammates to a championship.

At times, her play wasbreath-taking and adventurous (and some might say foolishly risky), buther command over her goal box – and entire half as she ventured out ofthe area – helped direct an already stellar Sky Blue FC back line.

The season may not have started the way the team would have liked.  Heck,that is a terrible understatement after Sky Blue FC went 1-4-2 to open up the season and sat in the basement of the standings, leading to the departure of then Head Coach Ian Sawyers.

Then assistant Kelly Lindsey stepped up, and everyone knows how the story went from there.

It was far from the easiest path taken, but Sky Blue FC figured out a way to come together to win the inaugural Women’s Professional Soccer Championship.  For that, it owes a lot of thanks to a core of defenders that quietly pulled themselves together to produce a solid defensive effort throughout the season (save that 4-4 draw with Washington on July 15th, of course, but everyone needs some drama).

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