Sol’s championship hopes are dashed
The first name engraved on the championship trophy of Women’s Professional Soccer will be Sky Blue FC of New Jersey, which defeated the Sol, 1-0, on Saturday in the league’s title game in Carson.
If there were room on the silverware, the names of Christie Rampone, Heather O’Reilly, Natasha Kai and Jenni Branam should be there too.
That’s how influential the four U.S. internationals were.
Rampone, drafted as player-coach only three weeks ago after Sky Blue’s second coach of the season walked away from the job, was masterful in guiding her team on an unbeaten run through the playoffs.
O’Reilly, from East Brunswick, N.J., scored the all-important goal Saturday, slotting a shot past goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc 15 minutes 45 seconds into the match.
Kai, the Hawaiian free spirit whose tattoos rival David Beckham’s, drew the foul that saw defender Allison Falk somewhat harshly red-carded by referee Kari Seitz, leaving the Sol a player down for more than an hour.
Rampone, O’Reilly and Kai were all gold-medal winners at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. All three are now 2009 WPS champions.
So is Branam, the goalkeeper who preserved Saturday’s victory with top-notch saves late in the game as the Sol, inspired by Marta and a tireless Shannon Boxx, sought to find a way back.
But the early goal stood up, just as it had in Sky Blue’s 1-0 playoff victories over the Washington Freedom and St. Louis Athletica.
The goal came when Keeley Dowling sent a cross in from the right wing, Kai headed it on and O’Reilly slammed a shot in at the far post.
Eleven minutes later came the ejection, when Falk tangled legs with Kai.
“I didn’t feel it was a red card,” Sol Coach Abner Rogers said. “It was a poor decision.”
It was not a decisive one, however. Sky Blue outplayed the Sol in every aspect of the game, showing more energy in the first half and more soccer savvy in the second.
“Credit to the Jersey team, they had a lot to deal with all season long and they ended up on top at the end,” said Boxx, the Sol’s captain and also a gold-medal winner in Beijing. “We were close, but not close enough.
“When the season started, we had a bunch of goals and we accomplished all of them but one. I’m not disappointed in our season. We have a lot we can take into next season.
“Does this one hurt? Yes. It hurts a lot.”
For Sky Blue, meanwhile, the celebrations were heartfelt.
“It’s an exceptional team we have,” Rampone said. “I think it was a great run for us, battling back from last place just to get to the playoffs and then winning three games in eight days.
“We’ve been through a lot this year, but the team stuck together.”