Sky Blue FC Keeps Playoff Hopes Alive

Keeley Dowling and Sky Blue FC still have the playoffs within reach (Photo by Howard C. Smith, ISI Photos).

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Sky Blue FC and Atlanta Beat Settle for Scoreless Stalemate

Kennesaw, Ga. (Sunday, September 5, 2010) – Sky Blue FC (7-10-6, 27 points) still has its playoff hopes very much alive after playing to a scoreless draw with the Atlanta Beat (5-12-6, 21 points) tonight at KSU Stadium, coupled with a 2-1 loss by the Washington Freedom (7-9-7, 28 points) to the Chicago Red Stars (7-11-6, 27 points). To receive the final berth into the Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) Playoffs, Sky Blue FC will need to win its regular season finale with the Boston Breakers at home next Saturday, while the Freedom will have to lose or tie a Saturday pairing with Atlanta on its home field.

“This was a back-and-forth game that saw both teams create their fair share of opportunities,” Sky Blue FC head coach Rick Stainton remarked. “In the second half, we looked to sway the tempo in our favor by changing our formation, which allowed us to pressure their backs and give us more chances on goal. We had some open looks, and it was a bit unfortunate that we were unable to find the go-ahead.”

With the playoffs still in sight, Stainton stressed the importance of the team continuing to believe the season will be extended.

“There is a reason why we are still alive right now,” he stated. “We must keep pursuing the opportunity in front of us, and we must make it our mission to seek out the reason why we remain alive for the postseason. Needless to say, we must approach next Saturday’s match with Boston as if it is a playoff game.”

Sky Blue FC knew long before the opening kick tonight that this game had to be treated as if it was a playoff match. The team came out with a focused intensity, looking to build some early momentum. The Beat was able to create a few dangerous encounters in the early-going for Mexican striker Monica Ocampo, although, but the Sky Blue FC defense was able to clear away the danger.

In the 31st minute of the game, Sky Blue FC fought through for a dangerous opportunity when a ball was served into the Atlanta box. Showing her trademark intensity was forward Tasha Kai, who battled through to put a head on the ball. While her attempt was wide of the frame, a bit of confidence began to build in the Hawaiian playmaker. Four minutes later, the visitors nearly struck when Kai was fouled, and defender Meghan Schnur fired a free kick towards her target. As the attempt closed in on the frame, Beat goalkeeper Hope Solo was able to handle it.

Atlanta was able to find a couple of opportunities for itself in the waning minutes of the half, but Sky Blue FC netminder Meghann Burke was playing with confidence along with strong play from the back line in front of her. When the first half concluded, this match remained scoreless.

At the half, Stainton subbed midfielder Yael Averbuch onto the pitch for the ageless Jennifer Grubb in an attempt to get Sky Blue FC an extra offensive presence into the action. The team had its first true chance of the half come in the 66th minute when Kai again battled through to aggressively head a ball towards her target, but the attempt was high of the crossbar. In the 74th minute, Averbuch nearly put her team on the board when she fired a hard shot that Solo was able to turn away with a diving save.

The next substitution for Sky Blue FC came in the 76th minute when Schnur came off for midfielder Carli Lloyd, who was playing in her second match since an early season ankle injury. Lloyd immediately began to cause some issues for the opposition, and a ball fed forward in the 82nd minute nearly resulted in a tally for Finnish international Laura Kalmari, who checked in for Rosana in the 70th minute. The following minute, Averbuch served a corner kick into the Beat box, where defender Keeley Dowling almost finished the distribution.

Sky Blue FC continued to attack the Atlanta goal, but the final minutes of this match rolled off the game clock with neither side being able to able to find the back of the net. When 90 minutes of play were in the books, a scoreless draw was the result.

Next weekend will tell the tale for Sky Blue FC and the WPS Playoffs. As previously stated, Sky Blue FC is currently one point behind the Washington Freedom (7-9-7, 28 points) for the fourth and final postseason berth, but the Freedom owns the tiebreaker. What that essentially means is Sky Blue FC will have to win its final home match over the Boston Breakers on Saturday at 7:00 p.m., and Washington will have to lose or tie its season finale against the Atlanta Beat at home on Saturday night.

Don’t miss your last chance to see Sky Blue FC at home in 2010! Tickets for the regular season finale with Boston are available now, and fans can get them today by calling 1-888-SBFC-TIX.

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