PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Sky Blue FC got a penalty saved from their stand-in goalkeeper, an own goal gifted to them near the end of the first half, and a gift from Abby Wambach when she skied a would-be equalizer over the crossbar on the final meaningful touch of the match. It all added up to a season-opening, 1-0 victory for Sky Blue over the Western New York Flash at Yurcak Field in front of 2,611 fans.
“It was a very physical battle. Both teams fought hard,” Sky Blue FC coach Jim Gabarra said.
The match included several dramatic turns, starting after a quarter hour when CoCo Goodson committed a foul on Veronica Perez in the penalty box resulting in a Flash penalty. Adrianna looked to give the visitors the lead but her penalty was stopped by Brittany Cameron who dove to her right for the clear save.
“Brit saving the penalty was a huge moment for us in the match to get our confidence back,” Gabarra said.
Cameron got the opening night nod in place of Jill Loyden, who broke her hand last month.
Despite squandering the penalty the Flash were clearly the better side over the first 45. Two minutes after having her penalty stopped Adriana dribbled into the box and crossed to Veronica Perez, whose header went wide. Later, Abby Wambach caught Cameron too far off her line and got the chip over the top only to have it hit the crossbar on the way down.
“I thought we created enough chances away from home to at least take a point away from that one,” Flash coach Aaran Lines said.
As it so often happens, the team that wastes chances is a team winds up trailing in the match. Sky Blue lined up for a corner kick in the 42nd minute and Goodson, stationed on the far post, poked it out in front of goal. Flash captain McCall Zerboni inadvertently deflected it into her own goal to give Sky Blue a 1-0 lead.
“We weren’t completely focused on our end,” said Franch, who just returned from national team camp in Europe. “And that’s what happens when you’re not. You give up a goal.”
Franch inserted herself into the storyline in the second half. The highly touted Oklahoma State grad made several outstanding saves, including two on Lisa DeVanna. On each occasion De Vanna was played into the box for a clear chance and both times Franch came up with athletic saves.
“They’re saved, that’s what I’m supposed to do,” Franch said, downplaying her exploits. The 22-year old also dominated her six-yard box making several clean catches in traffic.
“I thought they were both outstanding,” Gabarra said of Franch and Cameron.
The saves were reflective of Sky Blue’s chances as the home side gradually took control of the match after the break. For a long stretch late in the match it appeared as if it was Sky Blue who needed the goal and not the Flash.
“I wasn’t completely happy with the second half performance,” Lines said. “I thought at times we were very deep. We struggled to play out through the midfield at times. These are obviously areas that we’ll need to improve on.”
The Flash did get a boost from second-half sub Jodi Ann Robinson who brought energy to the left side and created some chances, none of which were capitalized on. Four minutes from time she was gifted an opportunity alone on goal following a misplay by Goodson, but Robinson’s first touch eluded her and rolled in to Cameron.
Sky Blue switched to a five-back formation in the closing minutes. Christie Rampone, playing in her seventh professional season dating to 2001, suggested that with five backs, everyone assumed someone else was covering space. And that allowed Wambach to take advantage and grab a loose ball near the top of the penalty box. With a point on her foot she sent the shot high. By the time the ball returned to midfield the final whistle had blown.
“I think we had a lot of opportunities, myself included,” Wambach said. “Obviously I’d like to have those last 10 seconds back. Very disappointed in the fact that we didn’t get at least a point here.”
“On another day you’ll be putting that PK in the back of the net and it’s a different outcome,” Lines said. “We’ll recollect and focus on the next one.”
The next one is Saturday night in Washington for the Sprit home opener. Sky Blue’s next match is also in Washington, April 27 following an early off week.
SBFC – (WNY Own Goal), 42
WNY – A.Franch, A.Sahlen, M.Zerboni (C), Adriana, E.Johnson, B.Taylor, K.Reynolds, V.Perez, A.Wambach, (A.Barczuk 46), (J.Robinson 65), (L. Heyboer 83)
Substitutes Not Used: P. Tajonar, B. McCarthy, K. Yokers, V. DiMartino.
SBFC – B.Cameron, C.Foord, C.Rampone (C), C.Goodson, K.Johnson (M. Thompson 89), B.Bock, S.Schmidt, K.Freels, K.O’Hara, L.De Vanna, D.Adams, (M.Makoski 60), (M.Ocampo 69).
Substitutes Not Used: S. Schmidt, T. Lytle, N. Rangel, M. Booth, A. Baker.
WNY – None
SBFC – None