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NWSL Aug 24, 2013

NWSL playoffs: Western NY Flash cruise past Sky Blue 2-0, will host championship

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The Western New York Flash clinched a spot Saturday in the National Women’s Soccer League championship with a 2-0 victory over Sky Blue FC in front of 7,316 fans in Rochester. Both goals were scored by midfielder Carli Lloyd, continuing her impressive goal-scoring run up the NWSL leaderboard.

The Flash opened scoring in the 33rd minute when Katherine Reynolds raced toward the end line and delivered a sharp cross into the box. Lloyd, unmarked, finished with a low driving header past goalkeeper Brittany Cameron.

In stoppage time with only about a minute left to play, Lloyd scored again when Sky Blue’s defense gave her the space to fire a shot past Cameron.

Sky Blue went into Saturday’s match with a poor series against Western New York, having beaten the Flash just once back in April for their season home opener in New Jersey. Since then, the Flash beat Sky Blue three times – twice at home and once away – with one of those times breaking a five-game unbeaten streak for Sky Blue.

“I had a feeling that there was going to be changes,” Flash coach Aaran Lines said. “I thought it might’ve been a 4-4-2, but the fact that they came out with a 3-5-2 – it threw us off the first couple minutes, but we adapted well. It was about finding the space between their outside midfielders and their outside backs in the three. We did well.”

Flash forward Abby Wambach agreed Sky Blue’s changed formation forced the home team to think on their feet and work harder to find open space.

“They came out in a three-back so that changed a lot,” Wambach said. “That changed our game plan. We had to more methodically break them down.”

Sky Blue was outshot 14 to 5, but had some opportunities. In the 37th minute, Flash goalkeeper Adrianna Franch made a gutsy save to cut off what would’ve likely been Sky Blue’s best chance of the night. Forward Lisa De Vanna sped around defender Brittany Taylor with a long touch and Franch ran off her line, resulting in a collision that prevented a shot.

“We needed to be a little more dynamic and create some more chances on goal. We just didn’t threaten their goal enough,” coach Jim Gabarra said.

In the 67th minute, De Vanna tried some fancy football in front of goal with several cutbacks, one after another, before firing off a shot that went wide.

“I just know that she likes her left foot,” Taylor said of De Vanna’s cutbacks. “I figured the longer I could delay her – I knew she was going to cut, cut, cut, so stay on my feet and don’t leave my feet – I’d be able to get cover in behind and force her into an uncomfortable, uneasy shot. So that’s all I was trying to do.”

Western New York have dominated at home with an impressive 8-1-2 record at Sahlen’s Stadium during the regular season. But the playoffs effectively wiped the slate clean, requiring the regular season champs to win to advance or exit the season without a trophy.

The victory advanced the Flash to the championship, which will they will host at Sahlen’s Stadium against the Portland Thorns on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, FoxSoccer2Go.com).

Saturday’s crowd of 7,316 was the Flash’s second-largest attendance of the season.

[+Follow Caitlin Murray on Twitter / Read more articles by Caitlin Murray]