Christie Rampone shined as both a player and a coach in the later stages of Sky Blue FC’s 2009 season. (Andy Mead/YCJ Photo)

This story was posted at in December 2009 as part of its year in review. The franchise, now called NJ/NY Gotham FC, will play the Portland Thorns for the NWSL Challenge Cup crown Saturday.

By Michael Lewis

Christie Rampone shined as both a player and a coach in the later stages of Sky Blue FC’s season.

Yet, when you talk about Sky Blue FC’s year in the inaugural season of Women’s Professional Soccer, that just might be the best way to describe. After all, for a bunch of talented young ladies, the soccer shoe fit perfectly after a rather disastrous start (1-4-2) and to finish to a playoff run for the ages..

That Sky Blue captured the title after barely making the playoffs was a remarkable tale, considering the team went through three coaches, the last one without a minute of experience. Yet, on Aug. 22, the Sky Blue players paraded around with the WPS championship trophy after dispatching the regular-season champs, the Los Angeles Sol, 1-0, in the final.

It is for that reason why Sky Blue’s amazing accomplishment was ranked No. 2 among the top local soccer stories for 2009.

Ian Sawyers, the former Stanford coach and husband of National Soccer Hall of Famer Julie Foudy, was relieved of his duties early on in the season after an incident with a player. The team was forced to start the season at a minor-league baseball stadium in Somerset, N.J., instead of its eventual home, Yurcak Field on the campus of Rutgers University in Piscataway, N.J.

Kelly Lindsey took over as interim coach — until she suddenly left on July 29 — and U.S. Women’s National Team captain and veteran defender Christie Rampone was told by general manager Gerry Marrone that she might have to take over some drills.

It became more than that, much more. Rampone became the team’s third coach of the season. Sky Blue (7-8-5, 26 points) went 1-1 in its final two regular-season games to clinch a playoff berth. The club then ran the table.

But it wasn’t that easy. The team lost its regular-season finale, 3-1, to the Washington Freedom. It had to wait a day to discover its post-season fate, backing in, as the Boston Breakers lost on the final day of the season.

The club then ran the table in an amazing eight days on the road:

* On Aug. 15, Sky Blue, which couldn’t beat the Freedom during the regular season, going 0-2-1, stunned the favored side, 2-1. Natasha Kai and Francielle came off the bench to lead the visitors.

* Three days later, Sky Blue edged host and surprised Saint Louis Athletica, 1-0. Defender Keeley Dowling scored her first goal of the season in the 30th minute for the lone goal of the match as Sky Blue survived seven minutes of stoppage time at the end of the match at Anheuser-Busch Soccer Park. That set up a confrontation between Sky Blue and the Sol, which boasted Brazilian superstar Marta, who was on her way to winning her fourth consecutive FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year Award.

* On Aug. 22, Sky Blue prevailed, 1-0, on Heather O’Reilly’s 16th-minute goal at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.. Despite playing most of the game with 10 players, the Sol regroup and threw everything at Sky Blue, everything but the all-important equalizer.

“I think we struggled a little bit in the second half, but we still had the heart and desire to try to fight them off to get that victory,” Rampone said.

The championship climaxed an incredible season for Rampone, who was coming back from emergency abdominal surgery when she took over the coaching reins. She remained in the lineup as Sky Blue made its late-season run.

Rampone earned the league’s sportswoman of the year.

“It’s been a truly amazing first year,” the Point Pleasant, N.J. native said in accepting the award.

Rampone also discovered that she was pregnant with her second child; she has a three-year-old daughter, Rylie. Rampone is due in March.

“My goal is to be back and playing games in June,” Rampone said.

“It’s been a eventful year to say the least, but the timing of this pregnancy is perfect because I was able to finish off this amazing first season and hopefully get back in time to make a major contribution to Sky Blue FC in 2010. There is a tradition among some US National Team players to time pregnancies right after the Olympics.”

Rampone surmised she would miss about half the season. The WPS season runs from April through August, although there is talk in the league in extending it through September. Nothing has been finalized.

Sounds like Rampone and Sky Blue are setting up for another memorable season in 2010.