Sky Blue FC Moves Back into Playoff Fight

Branam recorded the shutout (Howard C. Smith, ISI Photos).

Team Defeats the Atlanta Beat on the Road, 2-1

Kennesaw, Ga. (Saturday, August 7, 2010) – Coming into tonight’s match-up in Kennesaw between Sky Blue FC (6-8-3, 21 points) and the Atlanta Beat (4-9-5, 17 points), both teams knew how critical the outcome of the game would be to the Women’s Professional Soccer Standings. The play of both sides evidenced the fact that each team was well aware, and WPS fans at the state-of-the-art KSU Stadium were treated to a very entertaining match as a result.

“This is a huge win for us, and we look for it to serve as a big step into the right direction,” Sky Blue FC head coach Rick Stainton stated. “It was important for us as a team to get around the bend so we could put ourselves in a position to be successful. As a staff, we’ve been telling the players the time and opportunity will come if we put forth our best efforts every time we take the field. We know we have the talent on this team to be successful, and positive things will continue to happen for us as long as we work hard and maintain a positive mindset.”

Goalkeeper Jenni Branam put in a nice evening of work tonight, recording six saves and getting her first win of the season. The 2-1 victory gives Sky Blue FC an ever-important three road points, and it also put an end to a five-game winless streak. With the win, the team now has 21 points on the WPS Table, which would have the team in the playoffs as the fourth seed if the postseason started today. The win was also Stainton’s first as a professional head coach.

“I know it sounds so cliché, but I truly mean it when I say that it’s not about me or our staff,” Stainton remarked. “This is all about the players who are out there fighting for this team to win. As a coaching staff, we are just doing what we can to put them in a position to succeed. When that success comes, attribute it to the players who are putting in the work.”

Sky Blue FC began the game with intent to create some early offense, and the team was able to do so by means of gaining three corner kicks in the opening minutes of the match. While Atlanta was able to clear away the danger on each occasion, the visiting side looked to increase its momentum from the opportunities. By the 20th minute, Sky Blue FC held a 4-3 corner kick advantage, but only one total shot had been taken in the game.

The first half action was played in the midfield for the most part, and Sky Blue FC ran into some scary moments near the 25th minute of play. Beat forward Eniola Aluko unloaded a hard shot from the right corner, but Branam was there to block the attempt. Midfielder Lori Chalupny then responded on the rebound, but her header flew high of the frame.

With this match approaching stoppage time in the first half, Sky Blue FC was able to break the stalemate in the 44th minute. After midfielder Heather O’Reilly delivered a ball across the face of the Atlanta frame, a scramble inside the host’s penalty box ensued. There to fight through for an attempt was Finnish international Laura Kalmari, who volleyed the go-ahead goal into the back of the net. The score for Kalmari was her team-leading fifth of the season, while the assist for O’Reilly was her team-leading fourth of the year.

After a minute of stoppage time then elapsed, Sky Blue FC found itself with a 1-0 advantage as the whistle was blown for intermission.

Second half action began at a rather furious pace for Atlanta, with midfielder Aya Miyama being the focal point of the attack. The Japanese international was eventually paid off for her steady work rate in the 62nd minute. Miyama raced into the defensive back line of the visiting side before dishing a feed to Aluko, who then struck the ball for an equalizing goal to level the match at one goal each.

In the 71st minute of play, the visiting side caught a break by means of an own goal, marking the second time this season that KSU Stadium has seen Sky Blue FC on the right side of the defensive miscue. With a bit of confusion occurring in the penalty area of the Beat, defender Tina Ellertson made an unfortunate touch of the ball that misdirected past Atlanta netminder Hope Solo. The tally made the count 2-1 in favor of the road club.

The Beat truly turned up the tempo in the final 10 minutes of this match-up, and Branam was tested quite often. The Sky Blue FC back line was there to battle with its goalkeeper, and some outstanding work between the pipes by the UNC product led to the eventual victory.

“We tell the players every day that all we can do is concentrate on ourselves as a team, and we shouldn’t be concerned with what other teams are doing,” Stainton concluded. “We cannot control what other teams do, but we have complete control of the effort and performance that we put forth. As long as we go out there and play to the best of our ability every time we hit the field, we will be in a position for good things to happen for us.”

Sky Blue FC will return home next Wednesday, August 11th, when it hosts the Washington Freedom at Yurcak Field, with kickoff slated for 7:00 p.m. In partnership with the Central and South Jersey Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure chapter, and as part of PUMA’s league-wide Project Pink initiative, the team will be wearing and auctioning off specialty-made pink PUMA jerseys during the match. The game will also be played with a pink PUMA ball in an effort to raise funds for the fight against breast cancer. To receive an exclusive $15 rate on all remaining tickets, including on-field and center circle club seats, fans can click here or call the team today at 1-888-SBFC-TIX.

Sky Blue FC is also an active participant in the Donate Your Gear program to benefit the Schools of Niger, Africa, and the team invites fans to join them in the worthy cause by donating new or gently used items at any of its remaining home games. Among the items which fans are encouraged to bring include clothing, cleats, balls, equipment, coaches' gear and water bottles. Drop boxes will be positioned at the entrance to Yurcak Field for those who wish to contribute.

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