Heather O'Reilly (Howard C. Smith, ISI Photos)
Parts One and Two broke down the how, why and when it all went wrong for Sky Blue FC - and now in Part Three, the who. There were some that impressed, some that fell short, and a few that never really got a shot to show their stuff. Plus, a new coach that actually stuck around.
Jim Gabarra: First year at the helm of a team not called Washington Freedom was also his first without a playoff appearance. Not a total loss - Gabarra built a team that was capable of some of the league's most attractive soccer. Finished the season with five wins - tied with Kelly Lindsey (2009) and Pauliina Miettinen (2010) for the title of winningest coach in franchise history. Sky Blue's 24 goals this season and a five game unbeaten streak that stretched from May 21st to June 22 are both franchise records. Bonus points for being the first coach in club history to make it a full season. No small feat when you consider he was the sixth person to attempt it.
Jenni Branam: Back healthy a year after a broken kneecap delayed the start of her season and another injury brought a premature end to it. Neither Branam nor Karen Bardsley started off in a particularly convincing fashion, but Branam eventually earned the number one spot. Turned in a vintage performance against Philadelphia at the end of the season to keep things close. Her penchant for forays well outside the 18 wasn't quite as pronounced as in years past, but enough of the sweeper-keeper style remained to give the defense in front of her the ability to get forward. Finished 2011 with 15 appearances, five wins, a league best five clean sheets and a 1.47 goals-against average. The 30 year old retired at the end of the season and hangs up her gloves with a 13-15-8 regular season record, including 12 clean sheets, and a 3-0 playoff record including two more shutouts and a Championship ring from 2009.
Karen Bardsley: Made just three starts a year after a broken collarbone ended her breakout season - and none of them went particularly well. Splitting time between Sky Blue FC and her job as England's number one, Bardsley may have had a star-turn in the World Cup, but she never really found her groove in WPS, finishing the season 0-3-0.
Erin Guthrie and Kristin Arnold: Neither saw any game minutes. A year after six different keepers found themselves associated with Sky Blue at various points in the season, and four of them saw significant time, well... maybe some bonus points for their services not being required.
Anita Asante: Another solid season from the England International. Sky Blue was able to compensate well enough when she was gone during the World Cup, but her return gave the Sky Blue defense another dimension. An injury-related absence through the last three games of the season left an obvious hole that Sky Blue couldn't overcome.
Carrie Dew: Like Asante, Dew's impact is perhaps best defined by how obvious it was when she wasn't on the field. Without Asante Sky Blue got by, in large part because the always-solid Dew was still around to hold down the fort. Played every minute until a pair of questionable yellow cards in the penultimate match ended her season a game early. Sky Blue without Asante and Dew? Defensive disaster.
Brittany Taylor: Started the season - her second as a professional - as Sky Blue's captain. Work rate, and the fact that she's now played every minute for two straight seasons, says something. Some of Sky Blue's most dangerous moments were when Taylor and Kendall Fletcher were able to get forward. Was the one consistent piece in a back line that was anything but in both personnel and quality.
Petra Hogewoning: Inconclusive. Played just 34 minutes, which came in Sky Blue's final game of the season, and that was a disaster. In fairness, the goals 14 seconds and 18 minutes in were hardly entirely Hogewoning's fault. Then again, after Daphne Koster in 2010, maybe Dutch defenders and Sky Blue FC just shouldn't be a thing.
Kendall Fletcher: Like the rest of Sky Blue's defense - solid, sturdy, not flashy. Brought experience on the outside and was threatening going forward, scoring one goal on the season.
Sheree Gray: Inconclusive. Officially joined the team on June 30th to help fill in in Asante's World Cup related absence but made just one start in three appearances before an injury ended her season.
Danielle Johnson: Did well as a utility player, filling in for the injured Fletcher early in the season and Asante at the end.
Michelle Wenino: Inconclusive. Played only 38 minutes over three games. Scored one goal to complete a comeback from 2-0 down against magicJack for a 2-2 draw.
Lindsey Johnson: Sidelined due to injury.
Jennie Clark: Inconclusive. Played 102 minutes in two appearances including one start.
Carolyn Blank: Deceptively tough. Scored one goal in 17 appearances, 16 as a starter. Essential link between the defense and offense.
Allie Long: Deserving wearer of the ten shirt. Won player of the week in week one for her work as a playmaker and was a key part of one of the league's best midfields. Scored three goals and started all 18 games, playing all but 45 minutes of the season. Her vision and link with Therese Sjogran, Adriana and just about all of Sky Blue's 75 midfielders/forwards made for some of the season's most attractive stuff. If only anyone could finish...
Therese Sjogran: The second Swede's the charm? A year after the Jessica Landstrom experiment ended with wholly unproductive results in the middle of the season, Sjogran's contributions were the opposite. Good vision and better execution, see: her team-leading six assists, a number also good for third in the league - just two behind league-leader Christine Sinclair. Bonus points for sticking around until the last possible second - Sjogran had to be subbed off in the 80th minute of Sky Blue's June 12th game... to head to the airport to join Sweden in Germany for the World Cup.
Angie Kerr: Crowded out of a very crowded midfield. Valuable as a late-game sub. Struggled with an injury towards the end of the season.
Tobin Heath: Moments of brilliance, but still looking to find her footing in WPS. 2010's number one draft pick missed almost all of her rookie campaign in Atlanta due to illness and injury and US Women's National Team duty limited her minutes in 2011.
Heather O'Reilly: Always just working. Tallied one goal and one assist in eleven appearances during a disjointed season that saw her split time between Sky Blue and the US Women's National Team. Took over as captain after the World Cup. Created all kinds of trouble on the flanks for opposing teams and was an integral part of a midfield that could baffle opponents with constant movement and quick pace.
Alyssa Mautz: Just one of Sky Blue's two 2011 draft picks and the only one that made the team. Two starts in five appearances, netting one goal. Seemed to be in dangerous positions for just about all of her 236 minutes.
Laura Kalmari: Just like in 2010, decent start but disappeared towards the end. Tallied just two goals in 14 appearances.
Casey Nogueira: Perhaps the most frustrating player in WPS. Capable of some fantastic stuff, including three of the league's best goals of the season - a long bending free kick, a curling outside of the right foot corner kick goal, and a Juan Agudelo/Thierry Henry-style volley to herself around a defender. Led the team with five goals and when she felt like playing it was incredibly fun to watch, but Nogueira's work rate and effort often left something to be desired.
Eniola Aluko: Speaking of frustrating... Came as one-third of a "blockbuster" deal with Atlanta, but turned out mostly as just a bust. Was supposed to be the target striker and did put herself in good positions, but couldn't hit the goal if it was twice the usual size early on. Returned from England's World Cup run and got hot, with three goals in two games as Sky Blue made a late push. Four total goals for the season as it all fell just short.
Adriana: Played a good chunk of her 15 appearances with some kind of full arm brace/cast contraption after an elbow injury and still managed three goals and three assists. Not exactly the breakout season that fellow Spaniard Veronica Boquete had for Philadelphia, but definite potential. Played a little deeper and added yet another dimension to an attack that begs the question: what could have been if only they'd all had a little more time together?