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Sky Blue FC keep playoffs hopes alive -- for a while -- before sellout crowd

Nadia Nadim scores the game-winner in the first half and Brittany Cameron makes two diving saves on Alex Morgan for the win. But an FC Kansas City victory eliminate NJ.

Sky Blue Photo/Robyn McNeil

The Sky Blue FC gave the screaming sellout crowd of 5,547 at Rutgers University’s Yurcak Field all the excitement they could handle, keeping everyone on the edge of their seats until the very end before dispatching of the Portland Thorns FC, 1-0, and keep their longshot playoff hope alive – at least for a while.

The Sky Blue still needed the Boston Breakers to tie or beat FC Kansas City. Kansas Citybeat Boston, 3-0, on two goals by Amy Rodriguez and one by Lauren Holliday  to eliminate the Sky Blue from the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) playoff hopes for the second straight year.

"Our objective was to come in here and get three points and control what we could control," said Sky Blue FC coach Jim Gabarra. "I thought both teams did a good job about showing what this league is about. Quality wise and intensity wise. I think everyone is leaving here feeling good about this."

Sky Blue goalkeeper Brittany Cameron was the woman of the hour – going from potential goal to hero in the 89th minute. Cameron came out to challenge Portland striker Christine Sinclair at the end of the penalty area.  Center official Farhad Dadko wasted no time in pointing to the spot and showing the Sky Blue goalkeeper a yellow card.

Alex Morgan, who entered the match in the 60th minute, stepped up to take the spot kick. Cameron correctly guessed, diving to her right but putting the ball straight the US international. Morgan guided the ball to the far post but Cameron dived across the goal to get her hand on it, steering it to safety.

"I don’t want to give away any secrets but I had a little bit of intelligence (on where Morgan would shoot)," said Cameron. I just said "whoops. I made a mistake and gave up a rebound in the center of the park and just got there."

Sinclair suffered a severe ankle injury according to Portland coach Paul Riley.

The double saves made a 19th minute goal by Nadia Nadim stand up.

Sam Kerr took the ball on the left flank, about 40 yards out and found Kellley O’Hara on the right side. O’Hara settled the ball and froze goalkeeper Nadine Angerer off her line. Instead of shooting, O’Hara slid the ball across to Nadim, who deflected the ball off Portland central defender Kat Williamson and into the net, for her fifth goal of the year.

The goal came less than a minute after Nadim had a goal called back for offside.

Sky Blue FC came out strong in the opening minutes with plenty of room available on the flanks for Kerr and O'Hara. That gave Nadim plenty of room but their service was just off and didn't result in any more goals.

The penalty kick came after a wild second half in which both teams opened up plays with counter attacks, leaving both defenses vulnerable although no further goals would be scored.

Kerr had nearly doubled the lead on a long ball played to her by Sarah Killion. Kerr went one on one with Portland goalkeeper Angerer, the German international, but the goalkeeper managed the kick save. The ball was then cleared down to Sinclair who went in alone.

Both teams had chances minutes before. Kerr, who had a field day running wide along with teammate  O’Hara, hit to post on a curving shot from the left side with the ball bouncing just outside of  Nadim’s reach.

"We need to do a better job on our counter and put our chances away," said Gabarra. "We had a bunch of chances and the same thing the in the first half and we’re fortunate it didn’t bite us like it did earlier in the year."

The victory, which was in doubt until the final whistle, gives Sky Blue FC the chance to play meaningful soccer for at least one more game or a few hours.

The crowd was a record number for the Sky Blue FC at Yurcak Field. They had more than 6,000 attend the team’s first ever match in April 2009 at TD Bank Park in Bridgewater.