Washington Deals Blow to Sky Blue FC

Kai provided the lone Sky Blue FC tally in the 31st minute (Photo by Howard C. Smith, ISI Photos).

Washington Rallies with Two Late Goals to Defeat Sky Blue FC, 2-1

Boyds, Md. (Saturday, August 28, 2010) – For 79 minutes tonight, it appeared that Sky Blue FC (7-10-4, 25 points) was going to hold on for a massive win and three points behind a 31st minute goal from forward Tasha Kai. Unfortunately, the tide quickly turned on the visiting side at that moment, and host Washington Freedom (7-8-7, 28 points) rallied all the way back on a pair of late goals from striker Abby Wambach to steal a 2-1 result.

“Needless to say, it is very unfortunate that this game ended the way that it did,” Sky Blue FC head coach Rick Stainton remarked. “Collectively, we played a good game the majority of the way and kept the ball in possession rather well. As we all know, the game is 90 minutes long, and we found ourselves in two very unfortunate situations there at the end.”

While the loss deals a blow to Sky Blue FC, it certainly does not end its hopes of reaching the postseason.

“We all just spoke in the locker room about how we have to continue to keep the ultimate goal in sight,” he stated. “We all know this type of adversity can make us stronger, and there is still some soccer ahead of us. The last chapter on this season has yet to be written.”

This match had an immediate playoff feel at the opening whistle, with both sides fully aware of what was on the line. Each team made concentrated efforts to make sure no open creases could be found by the opposition, and recovery defense played an important role in the tactical approach of both clubs. No particularly dangerous situations were created in this contest in the early-going, but Sky Blue FC did well with ball distribution as a preparatory measure for later in the game.

In the 31st minute, Kai would be paid dividends for an impressive amount of hustle that she had been displaying since the opening kick. After a bit of a defensive confusion on behalf of Washington at the top of the 18-yard box, the Hawaiian striker assumed possession of a loose ball. Kai then put a brilliant chip on the ball, and her shot attempt went over the head of Freedom goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris and somehow hit the bottom of the top crossbar. The next bounce of the ball would be behind the end line and into the net, giving visiting Sky Blue FC a 1-0 advantage.

What later turned out to be an important play tonight occurred right before the goal by Kai. Right before that Sky Blue FC run, an awkward clearance by netminder Jenni Branam seemed to hamper her a bit. The action was delayed as she tried to shake off the pain, and the next play was the go-ahead tally by Kai. The following possession for Washington led to bit of a collision in the Sky Blue FC box that again involved Branam. The second incident would prove to be too much for her, and Branam was forced to the bench in favor of Meghann Burke.

Sky Blue FC made some slight adjustments when Burke was inserted in net, but the veteran goalkeeper showed immediate confidence once she checked into the match. When the whistle blew for halftime, the 31st minute score from Kai had the visitors on top, 1-0.

In the second half of action, Sky Blue FC played with an aggressive demeanor from the onset, and it received some impressive saves off the fingertips of Burke. The 72nd minute of this game saw Washington Hall of Freedom member Jennifer Grubb check in for Sky Blue FC, with the three-time WUSA All-Star making her Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) debut. Brazilian striker Rosana came off the pitch in the defensive maneuver by Stainton.

When a dangerous ball came rolling towards the direction of Burke in the 79th minute, she charged after it, but a collision with Wambach in the box led to a yellow card and penalty kick try for the Freedom. Wambach then took her time on the ensuing attempt, and she then placed it high to the left and over the head of a diving Burke to equalize. The heartbreaker for Sky Blue FC came just five minutes later when a racing Allie Long found a gap in the opposing defense. She then dished a ball through that crease to where Wambach was awaiting the feed. Wambach immediately took advantage of the placement of the ball and fired it into the net for the go-ahead score.

Sky Blue FC would attempt to find an equalizer in the final six minutes and stoppage time, but it was unable to finish the night on level terms.

With three matches left on its regular season slate, Sky Blue FC will need some help to overcome the Freedom in the WPS Standings. Washington currently holds a rather significant edge in goal differential, so Sky Blue FC will likely need to compile more points than the Freedom to advance to the postseason at the expense of Washington. The Freedom currently holds a three-point lead in the standings while Sky Blue FC does have a game in hand.

The other team which now comes into play is the Boston Breakers, and Boston has four games remaining on its schedule while holding a four-point advantage over Sky Blue FC. That situation will need a few results to become clearer, but it does make a season finale between the Breakers and Sky Blue FC appear very important at the moment.

Sky Blue FC will next take the field when it hosts regular season champion FC Gold Pride (14-3-4, 46 points) this Wednesday at Yurcak Field. Kickoff for that game is 7:00 p.m., and tickets are available by calling 1-888-SBFC-TIX.

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