Both goals were the players’ firsts of the season and were assisted by Leah Galton, giving her three assists in four matches played this season.
In a game that seemed the exact opposite of the two teams’ first match, a 1-2 home loss for SBFC, Sky Blue struck early and dominated play for the majority of the game.
"We were delighted with the result, although our performance was a little bit patchy at times," Sky Blue FC Head Coach Christy Holly said in a statement. "We got to see two sides of the team tonight. First of all, we showed our ability and decisions on the ball, and we were also able to have moments where we really dominated possession."
While Sky Blue inexplicably tends to play better on the road than at home, personnel changes in the lineup seemed to be the most obvious cause for the shift. Shortly before kickoff, it was announced that Erin Simon would be replacing Kelly Conheeney in the starting XI. Simon started in her usual position at left back while Kelley O’Hara started in Conheeney’s place in the midfield for the first time this season.
With O’Hara playing on the wing, she had more freedom to focus primarily on the attack. While O’Hara has been an integral part of Sky Blue’s attack even when playing outside back, having a four back that could stay in the defensive third and focus on defense while O’Hara focused on the attack strengthened Sky Blue’s entire field.
Despite how dynamic O’Hara was in the midfield, it was English international Leah Galton who was easily the most important player for Sky Blue. Galton caused havoc on the left all night, beating Spirit players as she streaked up the flank to serve multiple balls in for her teammates.
Galton got her first assist against Washington in the eighth minute when she sent a cross in to Raquel Rodriguez, who put the ball past Spirit goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé for Sky Blue’s first goal of the night. The goal was Rodriguez’s first of her professional career and earned her the player of the match accolade.
Sky Blue’s lead was almost doubled in the 31st minutes when Galton switched the field with a ball over to USWNT defender Kelley O’Hara. O’Hara collected the ball and crossed it in front of the goal, and Tasha Kai sent a flying header towards goal, but Labbé came up big with a diving save.
In the second half, Australian international Sam Kerr came in for Tasha Kai in only her second match this season. Kerr has been recovering from an off-season foot injury for the last seven months, and going into Saturday’s match, Kerr had only seen 15 minutes of playing time in 2016.
However, in her first minutes on the pitch, Kerr received a cross sent in once again from the left flank by Galton, and Kerr’s first touch of the match was a rocket into the net for the game-winning goal.
Diana Matheson put the Spirit on the board in the 77th minute, but the goal and a strong push by the Spirit for the remainder of the game fell short thanks to Sky Blue’s back line in one of its strongest showings all season. The center back pairing of captain Christie Rampone and Kristin Grubka continuously robbed the Spirit of chances on goal, often throwing their bodies in front of the ball to shut down the Spirit attack in the box.
"The last 15 to 20 minutes of the game, it was fantastic to see our team work together as a unit and fight it out until the final whistle," Holly said. "Every one of our players deserves a huge amount of credit. Their attitudes towards winning and working together as a team tonight were incredible."
Sky Blue FC next travels to Oregon to take on the undefeated, top-ranking Portland Thorns FC on Saturday, July 2.
|Sky Blue FC||1||1||2|
Sky Blue FC Lineup: Caroline Stanley; Kelley O’Hara, Kristin Grubka, Christie Rampone (C), Erica Skroski; Raquel Rodriguez, Erin Simon (Nikki Stanton, 78’), Sarah Killion, Leah Galton; Taylor Lytle, Tasha Kai (Samantha Kerr, 64’)
Subs Not Used: Caroline Casey, CoCo Goodson, Kim DeCesare, Shawna Gordon
Head Coach: Christy Holly
Washington Spirit Lineup: Stephanie Labbe; Alyssa Kleiner (Cali Farquharson, 78’), Shelina Zadorksy, Megan Oyster, Ali Krieger (C); Christine Nairn (Joanna Lohman, 66’), Tori Huster, Diana Matheson; Crystal Dunn, Francisca Ordega (Katie Stengel, 46’), Estefania Banini
Subs Not Used: Kelsey Wys, Caprice Dydasco, Whitney Church, Cheyna Williams
Head Coach: Jim Gabarra