August 23, 2009
O′Reilly boots Sky Blue past Sol in inaugural WPS title game
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<p>ARSON, Calif. (AP) - The first champion of an unlikely league had an even less plausible rise to the top.<br /><br />Sky Blue FC won the Women&prime;s Professional Soccer title on Saturday by beating the Los Angeles Sol 1-0 in the championship game. The club from New Jersey nearly didn&prime;t make the playoffs after its second coach resigned with two games remaining in the season.<br /><br />Christie Rampone took over as player-coach in late July when Kelly Lindsey resigned one day before practice.</p> <p class="inside-copy">Now she and the nearly two dozen women she played alongside since March are champions of the United States&prime; second try at a women&prime;s soccer league &mdash; launched in a worldwide recession &mdash; after the first one lasted only three seasons.</p> <p class="inside-copy">"We&prime;ve been through a lot this year," Rampone said. "But this team stuck together," Rampone said. "Our goal coming into the playoffs was making sure we had each others&prime; backs and playing with no pressure."</p> <p class="inside-copy">Two months before Lindsey resigned, Sky Blue suspended, then fired its first coach, Ian Sawyers &mdash; who led the San Jose CyberRays to the first title of the Women&prime;s United Soccer Association in 2001.<br /><br />Sky Blue president Thomas Hofstetter said he became concerned early in the season over how Sawyers treated staffers and players.<br /><br />Without offering specifics, Hofstetter said he feared the club was becoming an unpleasant work environment.<br /><br />Under Lindsey, who was promoted from assistant, Sky Blue went 5-4-3 to climb into playoff contention.<br /><br />General manager Gerry Marrone &mdash; also a replacement because Sawyers began the season in that role &mdash; said that on the morning Lindsey resigned, he suspended assistant coach Joe Dorini. He didn&prime;t disclose the nature of the violation.<br /><br />Oh, and two weeks before she had to take over as player-coach, Rampone had surgery for a ruptured ovarian cyst.<br /><br />After all that, winning seemed almost a simple matter: Heather O&prime;Reilly scored in the 16th minute, Los Angeles got a red card 11 minutes later and Sky Blue hung on for a 1-0 win.<br /><br />"The fibers of this team are so close and so tight that nothing was going to break us," O&prime;Reilly said.<br /><br />Sky Blue started the season with only one win in its first seven games, squeaked into the playoffs and then won three games in eight days.<br /><br />The Sol came in as regular-season champs, with scoring leader Marta and the stingiest defense in the league. It wasn&prime;t enough.<br /><br />"Does this hurt?" Sol midfielder Shannon Boxx asked rhetorically. "Yeah. It hurts a lot."<br /><br />In the 16th minute, Natasha Kai&prime;s glancing header off Keeley Dowling&prime;s right-wing cross fell to O&prime;Reilly, whose 8-yard shot deflected off diving Sol goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc.<br /><br />"Natasha is well-known for headers in the box," O&prime;Reilly said. "I was hanging out at the back post and seeing if Tasha was going to get anything out of it. She got up well and got a good flick on it, and the ball landed to me in front of the goal."<br /><br />Defender Allison Falk was sent off for tripping Kai from behind in the 27th minute.<br /><br />"We had to change everything early," LeBlanc said. "It&prime;s a tough call but in the second half, we played our hearts out."<br /><br />The Sol took seven of their eight shots in the second half and forced goalkeeper Jenni Branam to make big plays late.<br /><br />In the 84th, Branam leaped to deflect Marta&prime;s 21-yard free kick as Boxx charged forward. One minute later, Branam fell to her knees to stop Boxx&prime;s 22-yard shot and Lyndsey Patterson&prime;s attempt to convert the rebound.<br /><br />"Had we gotten a goal," Sol coach Abner Rogers said, "I think we would have won the game."<br /><br />Branam finished with four saves in her second consecutive playoff shutout.<br /><br />"We&prime;re a team of hard workers," Rampone said. "Battling back from last place just to get into the playoffs really did show the character and the fight we had."<br /><br />***<br /><br />Sky Blue FC 1, Los Angeles Sol 0<br /><br /></p> <ul> <li>Scoring</li> </ul> <p class="inside-copy"><br />First half: 1, Sky Blue FC, O&prime;Reilly 3 (Kai), 16th minute.<br /><br />Second half: None.<br /><br />Goalies: Sky Blue FC, Jenni Branam; Los Angeles, Karina LeBlanc.<br /><br />Yellow Cards: Bock, Los Angeles, 52nd.<br /><br />Red Cards: Falk, Los Angeles, 27th.<br /><br />Referee: Kari Seitz. Assistant Referees: Marlene Duffy. Veronica Perez. 4th Official: Margaret Domka.<br /><br />Attendance: 7,218 (27,000)<br /><br /></p> <ul> <li>Lineups</li> </ul> <p class="inside-copy"><br />Sky Blue FC: Jenni Branam, Keeley Dowling, Christie Rampone, Francielle, Rosana (Collette McCallum, 71st), Meghan Schnur, Jen Buczkowski, Kacey White, Yael Averbuch, Natasha Kai (Kerri Hanks, 67th), Heather O&prime;Reilly (Noelle Keselica, 83rd).<br /><br />Los Angeles Sol: Karina LeBlanc, Allison Falk, Stephanie Cox, Brittany Bock, Aly Wagner (Katie Larkin, 62nd), Aya Miyama, McCall Zerboni (Sharlota Nonen, 35th), Shannon Boxx, Manya Makoski, Han Duan (Lyndsey Patterson, 78th), Marta.</p> <p class="inside-copy">&nbsp;</p>


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