Under bright sun on a warm day at The Home Depot Center in Carson, CA, Sky Blue FC capped an improbable run to win the 2009 WPS Championship presented by MedImmune, 1-0, over top-seeded Los Angeles Sol, which came in as the favorite having run away with the 2009 WPS Regular Season title.
A goal in the 16th-minute by Sky Blue FC midfielder Heather O’Reilly held up, as Los Angeles went down a man in the 27th-minute after Referee Kari Seitz showed Allison Falk a red card for a foul from behind on Sky Blue FC forward Natasha Kai.
But the Sol responded quickly with several near misses, despite having just 10 players, and often had the run of play. The Sol continued to press for the entire second half, urged on by a crowd of 7,218 who cheered wildly for the home side.
As the final whistle blew, players on both sides collapsed to the field in exhaustion and Sky Blue FC had won three consecutive road games in the WPS Playoffs, all by one goal, to capture the first-ever WPS Championship.
For her efforts, O'Reilly was selected as WPS Championship MVP. Sky Blue FC player-coach Christie Rampone, who took over as Sky Blue FC's third head coach of the team's roller coaster season on Jul. 30, finished 4-1 during the team's late season run.
Los Angeles Sol Game Report
Los Angeles Sol Fall to Sky Blue FC in First WPS Championship presented by MedImmune
CARSON, CA—Aug. 22, 2009—The Los Angeles Sol (Women’s Professional Soccer) dropped a 1-0 decision to Sky Blue FC (NJ/NY) in the first-ever WPS Championship presented by MedImmune Saturday afternoon at The Home Depot Center in Carson, California.
Midfielder Heather O’Reilly opened the scoring for Sky Blue in the 16th minute. Keeley Dowling crossed the ball into the penalty area from the right wing, it was flicked on by Natasha Kai and deflected to O’Reilly; she calmly put it home past Sol goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc. It was the first goal for Sky Blue FC against the Sol this season.
The Sol were reduced to ten players in the 27th minute when rookie defender Allison Falk was shown a red card by referee Kari Seitz for a tackle from behind on Natasha Kai just outside the area. Despite being down a player, the Sol nearly equalized a minute later, but Sky Blue ‘keeper Jenni Branam leapt off her line to snag Aya Miyama’s cross and diffuse the threat.
The Sol nearly drew even again in the opening stages of the second half when Aly Wagner sent a long, aerial ball into the goalmouth that required Braham to out jump Brittany Bock to catch the ball and keep it out of the net.
Despite being undermanned, the hosts continued to push forward throughout the latter stages of the match as Sky Blue FC’s defense, led by player-coach Christie Rampone, thwarted every offensive surge.
“I’m so proud of this team. Even when we were down a man, we fought until the end and believed we could win this match,” said Captain Shannon Boxx. “We played our hearts out and left everything we had out on the field today. You can’t ask for more from this team. Soccer is a funny game that way and today it just didn’t go our way.”
The victory meant that Sky Blue FC, which had three coaches during the course of the season, finished 4-1 under Rampone, who took over the coaching duties on Jul. 30 with 10 days left in the season, and captured three consecutive playoff games on the road as the No. 4 seed when the WPS Playoffs began.
“I think it’s an exceptional team we have here with Sky Blue FC. I think it was a great fun for us, battling back to make it into the playoffs and winning three games in eight days,” said Rampone. “I think we came out strong, the adrenaline was definitely kicking with us and we went after them and had our legs.”
“I think the intangibles won that game for us.” said WPS Championship MVP Heather O’Reilly. “You never wish that you go through so may ups and downs that went through this season, but I thin kin the end its character building. I just think the fibers of this team are so close and so that that nothing was going to break us.”
08.22.2009—Carson, California—The Home Depot Center
Los Angeles Sol—Sky Blue FC—0:1 (0:1)
1 2 F
Los Angeles 0 0 0
Sky Blue FC 1 0 0
GOAL TIME TEAM GOAL SCORER ASSISTS
1 16 Sky Blue FC Heather O’Reilly Natasha Kai
LA—Allison Falk (ejection) 27’
LA—Brittany Bock (caution) 52’
Los Angeles Sol: Karina LeBlanc; Manya Makoski, Allison Falk, Brittany Bock, Stephanie Cox; McCall Zerboni (35: Sharolta Nonen), Aly Wagner (62, Katie Larkin), Shannon Boxx ©, Aya Miyama; Han Duan (78, Lyndsey Patterson), Marta.
Sky Blue FC: Jenni Branam; Keeley Dowling©, Jenn Buczkowski, Christie Rampone©, Meghan Schnur; Heather O’Reilly© (83, Noelle Keselica), Francielle, Yael Averbuch, Kacey White; Natasha Kai (67, Kerri Hanks), Rosana (71: Collette McCallum).
SHOT 1 2 F
Los Angeles 1 7 8
Sky Blue FC 9 3 12
SHOTS ON GOAL 1 2 F
Los Angeles 1 3 4
Sky Blue FC 3 2 5
SAVES 1 2 F
Los Angeles 2 2 4
Sky Blue FC 1 3 4
CORNER KICKS 1 2 F
Los Angeles 1 5 6
Sky Blue FC 2 3 5
OFFSIDES 1 2 F
Los Angeles 3 0 3
Sky Blue FC 0 1 1
FOULS 1 2 F
Los Angeles 3 0 3
Sky Blue FC 0 1 1
Referee: Kari Seitz
SAR: Marlene Duffy
JAR: Veronica Perez
4th Official: Margaret Domka
Weather: Partly Cloudy and 72 degrees
Sky Blue FC Game Report
Can you Believe It? Sky Blue FC Captures WPS Championship
CARSON, CALIF. (Aug. 22, 2009)—Sky Blue FC’s fairy tale run through the Women’s Professional Soccer Playoffs finished with a happy ending.
Heather O’Reilly scored the only goal of the game as Sky Blue FC captured the inaugural WPS Championship presented by MedImmune with a 1-0 win over the Los Angeles Sol in front of 7,218 fans at the Home Depot Center. The victory capped a worst-to-first transformation for Sky Blue FC, which didn’t clinch a spot in the playoffs until the final day of the regular season.
O’Reilly earned WPS Championship MVP honors for scoring the game-winning goal.
Jenni Branam recorded four saves to notch the shutout for the Sky Blue FC. Branam allowed just one goal in three playoff matches behind the strong effort from the back four of Christie Rampone, Keeley Dowling, Meghan Schnur, and Jen Buczkowski.
"I think it’s an exceptional team we have here with Sky Blue FC," said Rampone, Sky Blue FC's Interim Player/Coach. "It was a great run for us, battling back to make it into the playoffs and winning three games in eight days. We came out strong, the adrenaline was definitely kicking with us and we went after them and had our legs. Then we got ahead with a goal and we just settled in and tried to finish off the game. We struggled a little bit in the second half but we still had the heart and desire to try to fight them off to get that victory."
When Sky Blue FC started the season at 1-4-2, few people outside the state of New Jersey gave the team any chance to make the playoffs let alone capture the WPS Championship. Ironically, Sky Blue FC wouldn’t have qualified for the playoffs if not for the effort of Los Angeles, which needed to win or draw against Boston on the final day of the regular season for Sky Blue FC to finish fourth. The Sol came through with a 2-1 win.
Sky Blue FC grasped the opportunity and made the best of it winning three straight playoff matches on the road to capture the title. After a 2-1 win over the Washington Freedom in the first round, Sky Blue FC added a 1-0 victory over Saint Louis Athletica in the Super Semifinal to set the stage for its improbable championship victory over the Sol, which was dominant during the season earning the league’s regular season title.
With Sky Blue FC playing its third match in eight days, a strong start was crucial and O’Reilly provided just that when she buried a shot in the 16th minute. Keeley Dowling sent in a cross from the right side that Natasha Kai flicked toward the far post. O’Reilly, who also scored Sky Blue FC’s opening goal of the season—the franchise’s first-ever, stepped into the ball and nailed a right-footed shot that deflected off Sol goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc and into the far side netting.
"[The play] was going down the right side and I think Keeley Dowling got a solid cross in the box and I was kind of hanging out back post," O'Reilly said. "Natasha Kai is more well known for headers in the box so I was hanging back post and seeing if Tash was going to get anything on it. She got up well and got a good flick on it and then the ball landed to me in front of the goal. At that point, I was just focusing on keeping it low and getting it on frame and good thing it happened."
The game took a critical turn in the 27th minute when a great run by Kai led to referee Kari Seitz issuing a red card to the Sol’s Allison Falk, leaving Los Angeles with 10 men the rest of the way. Kai carried the ball forward and cut between two defenders leaving Falk on the wrong side of the Sky Blue FC striker. Falk appeared to make contact, sending Kai tumbling and denying a goal-scoring opportunity.
In the second half, Sky Blue FC had the first good chance as LeBlanc had to come out to stuff O’Reilly in the 50th minute. Los Angeles had the better chances the rest of the way but only produced a couple good chances. In the 72nd minute, Shannon Boxx forced Branam into a diving save off a feed from Marta and in the 84th minute, Branam punched away a free kick from Marta and then grabbed a shot from Boxx on the ensuing corner kick.
Aug. 22, 2009—Home Depot Center
1 2 - F
Sky Blue FC 1 0 - 1
Los Angeles Sol 0 0 - 0
Sky Blue FC—Jenni Branam; Meghan Schnur, Christie Rampone [Capt], Jen Buczkowski, Keeley Dowling; Heather O’Reilly (Noelle Keselica 83’), Yael Averbuch, Francielle, Kacey White; Rosana (Collette McCallum 71’), Natasha Kai (Kerri Hanks 67’).
Los Angeles Sol – Karina LeBlanc; Stephanie Cox, Brittany Bock, Allison Falk, Manya Makoski; Aya Miyama, Aly Wagner (Katie Larkin 68’), Shannon Boxx [Capt], McCall Zerboni (Sharolta Nonen 35’); Marta, Han Duan (Lyndsey Patterson 78’).
SBFC—O'Reilly (Kai) 16'
LA—Falk (ejected) 27’
LA—Bock (caution) 52’
Assistant Referees—Marlene Duffy, Veronica Perez
Fourth Official—Margaret Domka
Weather—Mostly couldy, 79 degrees
Interim Player/Coach Christie Rampone, Sky Blue FC
Thoughts on today’s match
I think it’s an exceptional team we have here with Sky Blue FC. I think it was a great run for us, battling back to make it into the playoffs and winning three games in eight days. I think we came out strong, the adrenaline was definitely kicking with us and we went after them and had our legs. Then we got ahead with a goal and I think we just settled in and tried to finish off the game. I think we struggled a little bit in the second half but we still had the heart and desire to try to fight them off to get that victory.
On Allison Falk’s red card
You know, we don’t see a lot of red cards in the league and I thought Tash had a good opportunity on goal and when she got taken down I knew it was a card, I just didn’t know what card was going to be presented. I didn’t see the other defender. Maybe the other defender was out of the play, not being able to close down Tash, but she definitely had a good, strong cut and she was taken down. I was surprised it was a red card because you just don’t see red cards but she was, in my eyes, the last defender.
On her back line
I think we did a good job, especially having Marta – that speed that never tires. I think we did a good job just being mindful of where she was and dropping when we need to and stepping when we needed to and just kind of playing that game with her instead of more man marking her. You know, she’s a great player and you could see it in that 85th minute. I still had to battle her in the corner you know, she’s still going to goal. We definitely have a lot of respect for her and I think our back line did a great job of communicating where she was at all times.
On her team
Pure heart on our team and momentum and I think this team has really worked hard together. I think that shows in finals and in playoff time and its working for each other and not giving up and believing in each other. I think everything we’ve been through we’ve grown so strong as a team. I really don’t think we have any superstars on the team – we’re just one team. Everyone works for each other and we all believe in each other and that’s what gets you there.
Midfielder Heather O’Reilly, Sky Blue FC
On today’s match
I think the intangibles won that game for us. You never wish that you go through so many ups and downs that we went through this season, but I think in the end its character building. I just think the fibers of this team are so close and so tight that nothing was going to break us. The Sol is a great team but I think that those intangibles really showed today.
On her game-winning goal
"[The play] was going down the right side and I think Keeley Dowling got a solid cross in the box and I was kind of hanging out back post. Natasha Kai is even more well known for headers in the box so I was hanging back post and seeing if Tash was going to get anything on it and she got up well and got a good flick on it and then the ball landed to me in front of the goal and at that point, I was just focusing on keeping it low and getting it on frame and good thing it happened."
Forward Natasha Kai, Sky Blue FC
On Allison Falk’s red card
"I think she was the last defender and I had a scoring opportunity and she fouled me from the back. I mean, that was the ref’s call and it could have been any card; she pulled out the red card. That gave us momentum and they played with ten players, we played with eleven. It was the ref’s call, not mine. I’m just a player."
Abner Rogers, Head Coach, Los Angeles Sol
"Firstly, credit to Sky Blue FC. They started off very well. They got the upper hand on us. We just gave them too much room, too much space. I felt they came out and played very well. We had to make some adjustments in the second half and tried to close down the areas. It was really difficult with ten players for 70 minutes, but I felt we did a really good job. I’m very proud of the team the way we fought back. We definitely had some opportunities to tie the game and had we got a goal I think we could have gone on and won the game."
Shannon Boxx, Los Angeles Sol Captain
“Like Abner said, credit to the Jersey team. I think they had a lot to deal with all season long and they ended up on top at the end. They came in with a lot of energy. I think we did start a bit slow and they got a goal early. I’m also proud of this team just in the way that we turned it around second half. I think we went into halftime believing we could score a goal and tie it up and then eventually win. We were close, but not close enough. So credit to Jersey. They did a good job.”
“When the season started we had a bunch of goals. We accomplished all of them but one. So you remember the last thing. I’m not disappointed in our whole season. I think we did a great job all season, so we have a lot we can take to the next season. So I’m not disappointed in feeling like the year was a disaster because I think we played very well all year. Does this one hurt? Yeah, it hurts a lot. But I think what we can do is take something from this game after a while once we’ve had a chance to relax from it and come back next year stronger. Hopefully we’ll have a good core coming back and we can learn from this.”
“I’m so proud of this team. Even when we were down a man, we fought until the end and believed we could win this match. We played our hearts out and left everything we had out on the field today. You can’t ask for more from this team. Soccer is a funny game that way and today it just didn’t go our way.”
Marta, Los Angeles Sol
“It is disappointing to lose this game, it was our goal all season long to win the championship,” said Sol forward Marta. “Soccer is a funny game sometimes and you have to deal with that. As team, though, we should be very proud for what we were able to accomplish all season long.”