For the second time in the inaugural season of Women's Professional Soccer, Sky Blue FC (New Jersey/New York) is going through a coaching change. This past Wednesday, Kelly Lindsey resigned abruptly, and team captain Christie Rampone has been named player/coach in the interim. Sky Blue FC (6-7-5, 23 points) currently is in fifth place in WPS and still is in contention for one of two remaining playoff spots.
Assistant head coach Joe Dorini resigned along with Lindsey, who had replaced the fired Ian Sawyers earlier this season. When reached by telephone Monday morning, Sky Blue FC general manager Gerry Marrone said Lindsey arrived at the start of practice Wednesday and handed him two one-sentence resignation letters (one from her and one from Dorini), quickly told the team she was resigning, and left.
Marrone said Dorini had been suspended about 8:30 a.m. Wednesday because of a "pretty serious personnel issue." He said he couldn't give further details on the situation but that "any employer would've dealt with [the issue] exactly the same way."
Dorini did not immediately return a message left on his cell phone seeking comment.
Marrone said the nature of the issue didn't allow him to bring Lindsey into the loop before he suspended Dorini, but because Lindsey and Dorini were friends, he thought she knew about his meeting with Dorini. He said he immediately reached out to Lindsey by phone, text and e-mail after the meeting but did not hear back from her.
"One of the text messages that I sent her probably around 10 or 10:30 on Wednesday was, 'Kelly, I know you know what's going on with Joe. I need to talk to you urgently. Please call me.' And I got no response," Marrone said.
With practice starting at noon, Marrone arrived at the facilities a half-hour before, but Lindsey was not at the field until she arrived at the start of practice and resigned.
"She never bothered to get that information [about Dorini] from me. In my opinion, she made an incredibly uninformed decision to leave. No matter what that issue was, had she taken the time to hear what I could've told her about it -- she could've made an informed decision. Instead, she chose to walk out on the players who were playing for her, with 10 days to go in the season, two games to play and us in the middle of a playoff race. I can't imagine any circumstance if I was in her shoes that would've been justifiable to walk out on my team with 10 days to go. None," Marrone said.
Lindsey began the season as the assistant head coach under Sawyers but was elevated to head coach after the club suspended Sawyers on May 23 (he was fired several days later). The team was 1-3-2 with Sawyers at the helm and 5-4-3 under Lindsey. While many fans might have thought things were going well, Marrone said Lindsey struggled as head coach. He also said she made "multiple decisions without telling the management first," including recently allowing a player to miss a game because of a family commitment without consulting him, a move he did not agree with.
"I don't second-guess that decision [to name Lindsey the coach] at all," Marrone said. "However, you have to understand that the carryover from Ian's time here. Kelly was always seen as 'Ian's person.' Ian brought Kelly in. Ian brought Joe in. I just think that she never really won the respect of the team."
In an e-mail sent to ESPNsoccernet Tuesday morning, Lindsey wrote, "I am disappointed by what has been said in the press, and that Sky Blue has decided to challenge my abilities. I will not do the same instead I will share my views with the ownership group privately. I will let my record as a head coach speak for itself. At this time, as to why I left, especially when the team was on the verge of securing a playoff bid, I point to the public comments made by Sky Blue as an example of the behavior I do not wish to be a part of any longer. Most importantly, I thank the team for their efforts and hard work, and wish them the best of luck with the rest of the season."
Marrone said that even before Lindsey's resignation, he was looking to next season to see who he could bring in as coach.
"I think that Kelly did a good job with the situation that she came into, without question. You saw a change in the team," Marrone said. "Now all I would question is, was that change in the team because it was Kelly? Or is the change in the team because it was anybody but Ian? And that's a question that nobody can answer."
Marrone also said he felt the team played well when Lindsey first took over but that Sky Blue FC was struggling on the field in its past two games (a 1-0 loss in St. Louis on July 22 and a 0-0 draw in Boston on July 25).
"[The players] look at the tapes, and they'll agree that their play was not good. So is that now not [Lindsey's] responsibility? Does she only get credit for the fact that we were winning some games?" he said. "Because at the end of the day, we all know that the players win games. The game is won or lost between the lines. And the coach's input is on the training field. So, were we now playing poorly a little bit because of poor training between the time we had our run and now? There's no way to answer that."
A look at Sky Blue FC's schedule indicates the team has achieved nearly all its success against the Boston Breakers and the Chicago Red Stars but has not won a game against the rest of the league. Including two games against the Red Stars during Sawyers' tenure, Sky Blue FC is 6-0-2 against Boston and Chicago but 0-7-3 against Los Angeles, Saint Louis, Washington and FC Gold Pride.
Despite the team's being on its third coach this season, Marrone said he wasn't concerned about public perception and that there had been no change in ticket sales.
"I try to worry about things I can control and not worry about things I can't control. And I can't control what our perception is," he said. "I think our fans watch our players. They don't watch our coach."
Rampone, the 34-year-old captain of Sky Blue FC and the U.S. women's national team, will take over the coaching duties for the final two games of the season as the team tries to claim a spot in the playoffs. Marrone said Rampone immediately agreed to be player/coach for the remainder of the season, a move he preferred to bringing in an outside coach so late in the season.
The final stretch
While drama swirls off the field, there's been plenty of drama on the field as well. There are only five games left in the season, and three have major playoff implications. Los Angeles and Saint Louis already have clinched the No. 1 and 2 seeds, respectively, and Washington, Boston and Sky Blue FC still are in contention for the final two playoff spots. Here's a look at perhaps the most important games of the WPS season:
FC Gold Pride (4-9-5, 17 points) at Sky Blue FC (6-7-5, 23 points): Sky Blue FC needs two wins to make the playoffs, so it all starts Wednesday night in Piscataway, N.J. FC Gold Pride already has been eliminated, but it delayed Washington's bid to clinch a playoff spot this past weekend and could play spoiler again. Sky Blue FC's interim coach/defender Christie Rampone could return to the field after abdominal surgery two weeks ago and as coach will have to restore order to a team going through its second coaching change of the season.
Sky Blue FC at Washington Freedom (7-7-5, 26 points): If Boston wins Sunday (see below), only one of these two teams will make the playoffs, so getting three points will be critical. If Sky Blue FC gets a win over FC Gold Pride on Wednesday, both Washington and Sky Blue FC will have 26 points on the season entering this game. Washington can clinch a playoff spot with a tie. The Freeom are coming off a tough 3-2 loss at FC Gold Pride this past weekend after losing a 2-1 halftime lead. There have been only three come-from-behind wins in WPS this season, and the Freedom have been involved in all three, winning one and losing two.
Los Angeles Sol (11-3-5, 38 points) at Boston Breakers (7-8-4, 25 points): After 1-0 losses in their past two games and missing out on a chance to clinch a playoff spot in both games, the Breakers have the unenviable task of needing a win over first-place Los Angeles to assure themselves of a playoff spot. Boston still could make it without a win, depending on how Sky Blue FC does in its two games this week, but the Breakers surely will want to find a way to get a win and find the back of the net after being shutout in their past three games. They also are coming off a rough week that saw Alex Scott get red carded in the 6th minute of their 1-0 loss to Washington on Wednesday, Tony DiCicco rip into the officiating after the match, DiCicco get a one-game suspension for his comments and the Breakers lose 1-0 in St. Louis without both Scott and DiCicco. The Sol will look to come out strong after surrendering three goals (the most they've conceded this season) in a 3-1 loss in Chicago on Sunday.