Lloyd Brace Leads Flash to NWSL Title Game

Despite their best efforts, forward Lisa De Vanna and Sky Blue FC fell to the Flash in the NWSL Semifinals (Photo by Howard C. Smith).

Gritty Sky Blue FC Side Sees Season End at the Hands of Top Ranked Western New York

Sky Blue FC accomplished some of its greatest feats in franchise history in 2013, including a record 435-minute shutout streak and going six matches without a loss, but a brace from Western New York Flash striker Carli Lloyd brought an unfortunate end to its season on Saturday night at Sahlen’s Stadium. Lloyd first struck in the 33rd minute before making it a pair in second half stoppage time, advancing the host Flash to the 2013 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Championship Game next Saturday night against Portland Thorns FC.

“I felt that we came out playing great before suffering the letdown that led to the first goal,” Sky Blue FC head coach Jim Gabarra said. “We lost a little bit of confidence prior to halftime, but we came out pretty well in the second half. Unfortunately, we didn’t really threaten the goal enough to get back in the game outside of a chance here and there.

“I’m still very proud of this performance. I’m very proud of how far the team has come this year and how far each individual has come as a player. I think when some time passes to help heal the pain of this loss, they will be able to look back and see how successful the season truly was.”

Over the first 10 minutes of the match, the ball was predominately on the defensive end of Sky Blue FC. Western New York earned a series of free kicks and kept a rather frantic pace that caused the back line of the visiting squad to face a consistent attack. However, their defensive set, led by captain Christie Rampone, was up to the challenge they were facing and did well to slow that tempo. Once things began to settle, Sky Blue FC began to engage some momentum of its own.

While the action was becoming more level in terms of possession, the Flash were still the side that broke the deadlock, registering that go-ahead notch in the 33rd minute. The scoring play occurred on the right flank, where striker Samantha Kerr was holding the ball before feeding an overlapping Katherine Reynolds in the corner. After taking a touch with her right foot, the Flash defender served a well-placed cross into the box for a streaking Lloyd. The U.S. National Team veteran was right on time for the distribution, putting a diving header on the service that flew into the back of the net, giving the hosts a 1-0 advantage in the first half.

After closing out the first session with that lead, Western New York began to knock around the ball more, feeling more comfortable with possession of a 1-0 edge. Opposite the host side, Sky Blue FC was focused upon creating a good connection up top so it could find the equalizer. A great chance came for the New Jersey club in the 66th minute after Australian international Lisa De Vanna ran into the box and under a ball sent to her from the midfield. After settling, the crafty forward touched right to freeze Flash defender Brittany Taylor before working into space on her left side and eventually powering a hard shot just wide of the frame.

Still on top by a single tally with critical minutes running off the clock, the Flash soon went into a holding strategy to erase as much time as possible. Sky Blue FC continued to play aggressively as it pursued the equalizer, but Western New York eventually stretched this game to 2-0 in stoppage on another goal from Lloyd. With the ball at her feet, the New Jersey native was able to spilt the defense and earn enough space in front of her to step into a 1v1 situation with Sky Blue FC netminder Brittany Cameron. Without giving Cameron any time to react, Lloyd dug her left foot into the ground and hammered a right-footed shot that hung the final count in this contest, 2-0.

“It is unfortunate that we never really had our full roster, missing 2-6 starters at any given time,” Gabarra reflected. “However, being forced into that situation made it possible for other players to step into larger roles, and they did exceptionally well with that. This was a great group and one of the best I’ve ever had in my professional career. I’ve truly enjoyed working with every last one of these players. It’s a bit of a shame that people haven’t been able to appreciate how much we accomplished. Even when we were down players, other players stepped out there with injuries or into a different role than they were accustomed. It’s been a very rewarding season for me, and I hope that the players feel the same way.”

With the win tonight, the Flash have now earned the right to host the 2013 NWSL Championship, welcoming Portland Thorns FC into Sahlen’s Stadium next Saturday night at 8:00 p.m. Fans unable to make it to Rochester will be able to watch all of the action on FOX Sports 2.

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