Sky Blue FC Suffers Heartbreaking Loss

Sky Blue FC goalkeeeper Jenni Branam tallied 11 saves on the night (Robyn McNeil, ISI Photos).
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Philadelphia Independence Use 90th Minute Goal to Claim 2-1 Result

The effort was strong from Sky Blue FC (5-8-4, 19 points) in Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) action on Sunday night, putting on a gritty performance against the Philadelphia Independence (11-3-3, 36 points) despite being a player down for almost the entirety of the second half. Sky Blue FC goalkeeper Jenni Branam recorded 11 saves on the night, but a 90th minute goal from Philadelphia striker Lianne Sanderson would give the host side an eventual 2-1 victory.

The hometown Independence scored first in this contest, with striker Tasha Kai putting away a 17th minute shot attempt. After distribution was sent forward from the Philadelphia back line, Kai raced onto the delivery and put a touch on the feed. After it took a bounce, the native Hawaiian put a well struck volley on the ball, and it sailed over the head of Branam, who had been getting heavily tested during the opening minutes of the match.

Seven minutes later, Sky Blue FC was able to find the equalizer on a play that started in the midfield. After receiving a ball at the top of the 18-yard box, U.S. National Team midfielder Tobin Heath turned to her left and caused the Independence back line to take a step in her direction. That pursuit resulted in a lane opening in front of her, and Heath took advantage of the opportunity by sending a ball through that area. On the receiving end of a well struck pass was English international Eniola Aluko, who took a step and placed a shot under the outstretched body of Philadelphia goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart.

The intensity of play continued to build between these two regional rivals throughout the remaining minutes of the first half, but the even tally of one goal each was still standing when the halftime whistle was blown.

Sky Blue FC found itself at a big disadvantage in the 51st minute, with defender Carrie Dew being given her second yellow card of the game following a hard tackle. The Notre Dame alumna was handed her first card in the second minute of the contest after being whistled for an aggressive play. With the pair of yellows, Dew was given a red card, and Sky Blue FC would have to go the rest of the way a player down. Also significant is Dew headed to the bench for the first time this season, as she had played every minute up to that point. Defender Brittany Taylor remains the lone Sky Blue FC player to have logged every minute of the schedule, a feat she also accomplished during her 2010 rookie campaign.

The visiting side was forced to make some adjustments to compensate for being a player down, with the first immediate shift being Heath moving to the right back position. The team as a whole displayed great focus, and the level of play remained high throughout the field, especially between the posts where Branam did a great job of stopping numerous would-be goals.

After being a player down for nearly 40 minutes, the Independence was finally able to break this stalemate. Philadelphia crowded the Sky Blue FC penalty area, and Branam appeared to have jumped on a loose ball. However, the road club saw things take an unfortunate turn as second half substitute Lianne Sanderson was able to collect the ball and struck it into the back of the net. That notch would then prove to be the game-winner.

Only one game is left on the schedule for Sky Blue FC, a road meeting next Sunday evening against the Boston Breakers (4-9-4, 16 points), and the match has significant importance concerning the 2011 WPS Playoffs. With a win or tie, Sky Blue FC will clinch a playoff berth. Goal differential is also in favor of Sky Blue FC, which holds a +4 advantage.

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