The improbable run through the Women's Professional Soccer Playoffs continues for Sky Blue FC. The underdogs from New Jersey advanced again and the only goal of the game came from another likely source.
Defender Keeley Dowling scored her first goal of the season and the defense - backed by goalkeeper Jenni Branam - put together a gutsy shutout performance as fourth-seeded Sky Blue FC knocked off second-seeded Saint Louis Athletica 1-0 in the WPS Super Semifinal at Anheuser-Busch Soccer Park. Sky Blue FC advances to the WPS Championship Presented by MedImmune where it will face the Los Angeles Sol - the WPS regular season champions. Los Angeles will host the WPS Championship on Saturday at 4 p.m. ET at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
Dowling's game-winning goal came in the 30th minute and also marked the second straight playoff game that a Sky Blue FC player's first goal of the season was a game-winner. Francielle broke into the scoring column this past Saturday in a 2-1 win over the Washington Freedom in the first round. Branam finished with four saves to record the shutout in goal while Hope Solo was stellar for Athletica finishing with five saves - most of them of spectacular variety.
Sky Blue FC should have scored more than once but Solo came up big multiple times. In the third minute, Solo set the tone with an awesome save on Kerri Hanks, who got onto the end of a cross from Heather O'Reilly and seemed to have a sure goal but Solo flew across the goal to stuff her former Athletica teammate at the far post from point blank range. In the 15th minute, Solo was there again to make a diving save on Kacey White to keep the game scoreless. The one shot that Solo couldn't save came off the boot of Dowling after Sky Blue FC did well to keep possession in the attacking end. O'Reilly pulled the ball back on the right side and Averbuch ended up with the ball on the top right corner of the box. Averbuch made a great pull-back move through two defenders and then fed Dowling, who curled a left-footed shot just inside the left post for the winner.
"I had possession of the ball, picked my head up, and placed it with my left foot," Dowling said. "It was funny because Hope made such tremendous saves tonight and mine just snuck right by her. We played our game and came out on top. I'm very proud of my goal, but even prouder of my team."
The best chance for Saint Louis in the opening half came in stoppage time as Christie Welsh forced a falling save from Branam from 22 yards out. In the second half, Rosana came up with two good chances from Sky Blue FC but Solo was there both times. In the 49th minute, Solo punched away a shot from the Brazilian forward from the top of the box and in the 60th minute, the Athletica keeper knocked away a header from Rosana off a corner kick that was headed toward the upper left corner. Saint Louis through everything forward in the closing minutes but couldn't break through.
In the 67th minute, Tina Ellertson earned a free kick after a dangerous run from the back but Melissa Tancredi's wide open header on the restart was wide of the goal. Niki Cross nailed a long shot just wide of the left post off a short free kick in the 79th minute and former Sky Blue FC striker Sarah Walsh lobbed a shot over the bar one minute later. In stoppage time, Cross curled a free kick from the top of the box over the bar for Athletica's last good chance.