Jenni Branam (Howard C. Smith, ISI Photos)
Previously in Sky Blue FC's season... The team was riding a five game unbeaten streak and a playoff spot was comfortably in reach as WPS took a break for the Group Stage of the World Cup.
Coming back from the time off, Sky Blue FC looked to keep up the momentum - and did, almost. Facing Philadelphia when play resumed Sky Blue lost to the Independence in a wild 4-3 game. But then - a comeback 2-2 draw with a depleted magicJack side. And Sky Blue's first home loss of the season - 2-0 to Western NY in a match that kicked off just minutes after the US lost to Japan on penalties in the World Cup Final.
With just six games to play and all the internationals back at home, Sky Blue found its way again, baffling Philadelphia in a 2-0 win that showed a team on the field that really was as good as the one paper. Then off to Florida to top a now-full strength magicJack by the same score and Sky Blue was suddenly in a battle for third place with magicJack - comfortably clear of the struggling Boston Breakers below. But that win against magicJack - Sky Blue's fifth victory of the season - was the last points the New Jersey side would see.
Sky Blue FC finished the season with four straight losses, starting with a 4-1 drubbing in the home finale against Western NY on the day that Jenni Branam announced her plans to retire and in front of the largest crowd at Yurcak since the end of the 2009 season. Adding injury to insult, Sky Blue had to finish with ten as Anita Asante went down hurt in the game's waning minutes and never returned - for the rest of the season. Then it was back to Florida, a 3-2 loss after Sky Blue twice came back before giving up the winner in the 86th. But Boston continued to struggle too, and so with two games remaining Sky Blue was still very much in control of its own destiny despite the dip in form.
Needing just a draw and the point that came with it to secure a postseason spot and knock the Breakers out with a game still to play, Sky Blue FC headed back to Philadelphia. Sky Blue had never earned a single point in the state of Pennsylvania, but they'd also scored at least twice in each of the three previous meetings with the Independence this season. Philadelphia took the lead but Aluko equalized seven minutes later and Sky Blue FC seemed playoff bound. Even after Carrie Dew was ejected for a questionable second yellow card at the beginning of the second half, the ten-woman Sky Blue still seemed on pace to earn the point. But then Philadelphia's Lianne Sanderson scored in stoppage time. Branam, who'd played a game that seemed to be in spite of her impending retirement, was furious. Someone had been offside or she'd been fouled on the play, or... something. Something like the following weekend's game in Boston - the final match of the regular season - had suddenly gone from a meaningless one to a winner-take-all, loser-clean-out-your-lockers one.
The postseason fates of Sky Blue FC and Boston Breakers are forever intertwined. In 2009 it was a Breakers loss to LA on the final day that snuck Sky Blue into the playoffs. In 2010, the two met at Yurcak on the final day, this time Sky Blue needing the win to have postseason hope. The game ended 0-0. Now the two were meeting again on the final day. A draw or Sky Blue win sent the Jersey team back to the postseason. A Sky Blue loss put the Breakers through. Boston's Lauren Cheney scored fourteen seconds into the match.
Sky Blue was in serious defensive trouble - already without the injured Asante, the team was now also without the automatically suspended Dew. Sheree Gray, who'd replaced Asante during the World Cup, was also injured and Gabarra was forced to go with Petra Hogewoning, a Dutch defender who'd never played a single minute in WPS. Cheney scored again in the 18th. Gabarra replaced Hogewoning with Casey Nogueira looking for some offense, but Sky Blue couldn't even put much on frame as the clock ticked up to 90 and Boston ultimately took the 2-0 win to the postseason. Three days later the Breakers were eliminated by magicJack 3-1 in the First Round.
For Sky Blue FC it was another season with a familiar story: start with promise, watch it slip away, finish just short, wonder what could have been. But hey, Sky Blue netted a club record 24 goals and Gabarra became the first coach in team history to make it an entire season. So, there's that.