Sky Blue FC Ends Washington Freedom's Season With 2-1 Win

By Paul Tenorio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 16, 2009

For one month the Washington Freedom had played its best soccer, coming together as a team just in time to put together a streak that not only booked it a trip to the playoffs but also a home game.

But despite the confidence the team had shown in the past four weeks -- a span of six games during which Washington lost just once -- the Freedom floundered on Saturday afternoon in the game that mattered most, seeing its season end with a 2-1 loss to Sky Blue FC (8-8-5) in front of 4,217 at Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds.

The loss ended the Freedom's inaugural season in Women's Professional Soccer and came at a time when the team seemed to finally be coming together and getting healthy.

The Freedom (8-8-5) struggled to match the form it had shown the previous week when it downed this same New Jersey team, 3-1, to win the No. 3 seed.

U.S. international Natasha Kai punished Washington for a mistake in its box in the 55th minute to put Sky Blue FC up 1-0, and it seemed as though the Freedom would fall by that score.

But Washington pulled back to tie with a goal from forward Lisa De Vanna in the 78th minute and appeared to have energized both itself and the home crowd.

Yet just six minutes after the Freedom had equalized, Sky Blue FC midfielder Francielle put a shot to the near post from 20 yards out to send Washington home for the year.

The Freedom initially fell behind as a result of a crucial mistake by normally reliable defender Cat Whitehill, who watched a flick from Sky Blue's Kacey White bounce in front of her in the box. Kai, who had entered the match less than one minute prior, quickly pounced to step in front and bury the shot to the far post.

Washington had a chance to equalize quickly, but local product Ali Krieger (Forest Park High), missed a shot from the top of the 18-yard box when it was touched by Sky Blue goalkeeper Jenni Branam and glanced off the crossbar.

Krieger also put a shot from within six yards over the top of the crossbar at the start of the second half, an opportunity that could have changed the game.

In the 78th minute, however, a long ball searching for star forward Abby Wambach caused a collision between the charging Branam and the U.S. international. The ball rolled in the box and into the path of De Vanna, who scorched a shot above three Sky Blue defenders who had tracked back to the goal line and under the crossbar, evening the score.

Branam stayed down for several minutes after the collision, but not long after play started another substitute -- this time Francielle -- turned on top of the box and found the inside of the near post to give Sky Blue the win and send it to the semifinal on Wednesday at No. 2 Saint Louis Athletica.

The Freedom was playing without French midfielder Sonia Bompastor, who left to play in the European Championships for her native country.

The team obviously lacked the energy and crossing Bompastor brought to the field, and in the 90-degree heat, her replacement, Jill Gilbeau, tired and struggled to provide much support moving forward at all.

Both teams traded opportunities in the first half, though there were few that provided a true threat at breaking the deadlock.

Washington's De Vanna, Wambach and Rebecca Moros all missed over the top from within 18 yards in the first 15 minutes. Sky Blue forward Rosana should have punished the Freedom when she brought down a cross in the box with her right thigh, but the Brazilian struck the volley right into the gut of Washington goalkeeper Erin McLeod.

The Freedom didn't manage a shot on goal in the first 45 minutes, while Sky Blue forced five saves from McLeod and outshot Washington 14-5 in the first half.

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