Carolyn Blank (Howard C. Smith, ISI Photos)
Sky Blue FC will take on the Philadelphia Independence on Sunday at 6pm at Leslie Quick Stadium at Widener University in Chester, PA. The two teams have met three previous times this season - a draw and one win for each. Most recently Sky Blue beat Philadelphia 2-0 two weeks ago in New Jersey. Philadelphia has already clinched a home playoff game and is now just battling with Western NY for the regular season title. Sky Blue FC is currently in fourth and still fighting to cement a spot in the postseason. The team is currently three points ahead of Boston for the final berth. Both the Independence and Sky Blue will have one game remaining after Sunday.
Philadelphia is coming off a 1-0 win over Atlanta last weekend, the Independence's second straight victory. Sky Blue suffered a 3-2 loss to magicJack on Wednesday, the New Jersey team's second straight defeat. In two years Sky Blue has never beaten the Independence on the road, either at Philadelphia's old home at West Chester University or this season at Widener. In fact, the New Jersey side has never earned a single point in the Keystone State.
Nicole Barnhart has taken over for Val Henderson in the Philadelphia goal since the loss in New Jersey. Barnhart was Hope Solo's backup at the World Cup and hasn't allowed a goal since returning from Germany. The Sky Blue attack will certainly test Barnhart more than Atlanta did last weekend - Sky Blue has scored at least two goals in each of the three previous meetings this season. Opposite Barnhart, Jenni Branam will likely return between the posts for Sky Blue. Karen Bardsley got the start against magicJack on Wednesday, but looked incredibly shaky, particularly on magicJack's game winner.
That goal, a header from Megan Rapinoe, was hardly entirely Bardsley's fault though. Carolyn Blank started things with a poor clearance and the entire Sky Blue defense seemed to fall asleep as Rapinoe was allowed to get on the end of a Lisa De Vanna cross. Danielle Johnson filled in for the injured Anita Asante against magicJack, but Johnson doesn't have the same poise Asante does. The last time Sky Blue faced Philadelphia Asante was key in Sky Blue's ability to shut down the Independence attack. Granted, the Independence didn't have Vero for that match are were forced into a more direct game that caused little trouble for Sky B
lue, but Philadelphia didn't exactly show up without any offensive threats either. The real problem for Paul Riley's side is that Tasha Kai and Amy Rodriguez have both been quiet lately. Vero has been Philadelphia's lone goal scorer in each of the team's last two wins. Sky Blue will have to figure out how to shut down Vero without leaving Kai or Rodriguez open - despite the recent drop in form both are still plenty dangerous and Kai in particular seems to play with an extra spark when facing her former team. That task becomes much more difficult if Sky Blue is without Asante, who's still listed as questionable after picking up an injury last weekend. Dutch defender Petra Hogewoning is available and could make her debut for Sky Blue FC if Asante isn't 100 percent.
Jim Gabarra will also have to continue to solve the midfield/forward puzzle. Gabarra has rotated players in and out of the lineup during a long span of two-game weeks with varying results. Casey Nogueria provided a spark off the bench last week, but has been quiet over the past two games. Eniola Aluko was ineffective after returning from the World Cup, but came alive after being pulled from the starting eleven on Wednesday. Aluko came off the bench and scored twice in the loss to magicJack, her first goals since May. The brace could get her out of Gabarra's doghouse, but Aluko's speed would cause more trouble for Philadelphia off the bench. Nogueira has been a problem for the Independence in previous contests, scoring both of Sky Blue's goals in the recent 2-0 win. She too has been relegated to sub-duty lately though. Adriana is a sure thing up top, leaving who her running mate will be as the only real offensive question. In addition to Aluko and Nogueira, Laura Kalmari is also available.
The match in Philadelphia will be broadcast live on Fox Soccer. A Sky Blue win or draw combined with a Boston Breakers loss to magicJack would secure a playoff spot for Sky Blue FC and eliminate Boston from playoff contention. Any other result will make next weekend's Boston-Sky Blue season finale the deciding factor for the postseason.