Sky Blue FC is the first American women's club team to ever play in Turkey.
Branam Makes Two Key Saves to Preserve Shootout Victory
While it may not have gone the way it would normally be written up, Sky Blue FC of Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) was able to advance into the finals of the Alanya International Tournament of Champions in Turkey on Thursday by winning a penalty kick shootout over Fortuna Hjørring of Denmark. Goalkeeper Jenni Branam made two monster saves in the final two rounds of a nine-frame shootout, the first to extend the penalty kicks and the second to give her team the victory after a Kendall Fletcher conversion.
Long before the contest needed extra time, Fortuna Hjørring was able to achieve a corner kick in the early going, but Branam was there to collect the second minute attempt. Sky Blue FC then responded the following minute when forward Casey Nogueira struck a corner kick into the 18 of the opposition, only to see the Fortuna defense clear the ball before any damage was done.
The first tally of this match was then recorded in the sixth minute by the Danish side after a free kick from the middle of the pitch was sent out of bounds for a corner kick. Once the ball was put into play, immediate danger arose as a volley was sent towards the target, but two-time Swedish Player of the Year Therese Sjorgan prevented the surely impending goal after heading it away while protecting the far post. Unfortunately for Sky Blue FC, Danish forward Sine Hovesen was waiting directly in front of the frame and quickly gave her team the go-ahead notch, 1-0.
Sky Blue FC then began to turn on the heat on its attack, and Toms River native Carolyn Blank nearly leveled the terms in the 20th minute when she side stepped a defender and booted a left-footed curler just wide of the target. Just seconds later, Finnish international Laura Kalmari matched that strike when she fired a rocket off the top of the crossbar.
Following a well structured clearance by the Sky Blue FC back line, offensive aggression finally paid dividends for the American side in the 23rd minute. With the ball at her feet, captain Brittany Taylor got the possession headed upfield from the middle, and distribution then ran up the entirety of the right flank. Eventually, English National Team striker Eniola Aluko found forward Casey Nogueira, who pushed the ball through to midfielder Allie Long at the corner of the 18. The North Carolina product then turned on the ball and fired it into the left netting of the goal to equalize the count.
Sky Blue FC dominated possession throughout the remaining minutes of the opening half, also maintaining control of the tempo of the action. The team was finding creases in the Fortuna defense, and some near hit opportunities came as a result. Sky Blue FC continued to apply its offensive pressure, but the match eventually headed into halftime still even at a score each. However, Fortuna did present itself with a dangerous situation in stoppage time, but Branam was there to clean up the chance.
While Sky Blue FC continued to get the better of the opportunities in the second half, the level of play in Fortuna Hjørring was keeping the pace fairly close. Fletcher and Aluko nearly put away individual attempts, but the game remained knotted up at one all as the match entered the final minutes of play. Despite some well plotted ball distribution, it would take penalty kicks to decide which team would gain the right to play in the championship game. No extra time was played due to television restraints.
In the shootout, Long stepped up first and immediately put her team on the board. After Fortuna matched that effort, Sky Blue FC took a 2-1 advantage after Aluko converted and a Fortuna attempt hit the crossbar. Midfielder Angie Kerr then made it three in a row for her club, but Fortuna evened it after four rounds by scoring two attempts coupled with a save of a Taylor strike. The two sides then exchanged conversions for three frames, with Nogueira, Kalmari and Blank scoring for the WPS representatives. Next up, English National Team defender Anita Asante was dealt a great save by Danish netminder Melissa Barbieri, putting all of the pressure on Branam to extend this match. The North Carolina product was more than up to the challenge and made a brilliant diving save to her right to continue the shootout. In the ninth and final round of the penalty kicks, Fletcher stepped onto the ball and pounded it home with veteran savvy. With victory within grasp, Branam gave another outstanding save, providing her team with the win and punching its ticket to the final match of the tournament on Saturday against Damallsvenskan side LdB FC Malmö.
Documentary: Episode One
Documentary: Episode Two
Documentary: Episode Three
Documentary: Episode Four
Documentary: Episode Five
Documentary: Episode Six
Documentary: Episode Seven
Game Recap: FC LdB Malmo