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Sky Blue FC in playoff hunt with 3-2 win over Boston

With Sunday night’s victory over the Breakers, Sky Blue FC now sits in fifth place, just two points shy of the fourth-ranked Red Stars.

Mike Gridlet, ISI Photos

In their hunt for a playoff position, Sky Blue FC (5-4-4, 15 points) came well within reach with their 3-2 win over the Boston Breakers (1-11-1, 4 points) Sunday night in Boston. The three points earned from their victory was enough to land them in fifth place and just two points shy of the Chicago Red Stars.

In the teams’ previous meeting this season, Sky Blue won 1-0 after a Kelley O’Hara shot was deflected off a Boston defender for an own goal. Sky Blue came to Boston on the heels of a 1-0 home win over the Houston Dash, while the Breakers returned home off a 2-1 loss to the Orlando Pride.

The game was Boston’s first home game since June 10, and they were coming off four consecutive road losses. Despite being home after a four-game road series, the Breakers return was bittersweet as it was defender’s Molly Pathman’s last game before retirement as she pursues a career in the medical field.

However, in a bit of good news for the Boston club, just hours before kickoff, it was announced that the Breakers had signed English-international striker Natasha Dowie. Dowie, who previously played for Breakers Head Coach Matt Beard at Liverpool, was unavailable for Sunday’s game as they were still awaiting her international transfer certificate (ITC).

The first 25 minutes of the game saw a lackluster Sky Blue attack as the ball stayed primarily on their defensive half while Boston played some of their best soccer of season. The Breakers looked to be the stronger team early on, showing good pressure and providing good service to the attack. Goalkeeper Casey had to stop a number of shots in that time frame, while Sky Blue had yet to get a shot off.

Boston struck first in the 3rd minute when Stephanie Verdoia sent the ball into space for Stephanie McCaffrey, who crossed the ball in front of the goal. Eunice Beckman received the ball and took a shot, which was blocked by Casey. Beckman collected the deflection and popped the ball up, which was then volleyed into the goal by Angela Salem to give Boston an early lead.

The Breakers nearly scored a second goal in the 8th minute when Louise Schillgard moved the ball down the right flank and sent a ball to Verdoia’s head, but the header was just wide of the far post.

In the 23rd minute, Boston nearly struck again when Katie Shoepfer sent in a shot from the right flank, but it went just wide of the goal once more. However, had a Breaker been in the goal area, it easily could have been tapped in to give Boston their second goal of the night.

However, momentum began to shift in Sky Blue’s favor when Raquel Rodriguez collected a Taylor Lytle pass and sent the ball through to Leah Galton. Galton received the ball in Boston’s final third in the 27th minute but was taken down from behind by Christen Westphal in the box, earning Sky Blue a penalty kick. Sarah Killion, Sky Blue’s go-to taker of penalty kicks, lined up for the shot and put the ball into the back of the net despite Kranich diving in the right direction, equalizing the score.

In the 36th minute Sky Blue put a second point on the board when Tasha Kai ran down the right side, moving the ball through a couple of Breakers defenders. Timing the ball perfectly, Kai then sent the ball in front of the goal for a streaking Galton, who easily one-touched the ball into a wide open goal to give Sky Blue a 2-1 lead.

Just minutes before the half, Boston nearly tied up the game when McCaffrey was moving into space to take a shot, but Sky Blue defender Kristin Grubka slid in front of the ball to block McCaffrey’s shot. The deflected ball was bobbled around as a number of Boston players attempted to score, but Sky Blue defenders were resilient in preventing a second Breakers goal. Finally, Beckman was able to head the ball towards the goal, but Casey was there to easily stop the shot.

The second half started out with a pretty even back-and-forth between the two teams. Sky Blue came out looking much the same way it did at the start of the first half, while Boston looked much the same way they did at the end of the half.

Taylor Lytle, though, was looking for her second goal of the season in the 57th minute when she again sent a shot in from just outside of the box, but the shot bent and went wide left of the goal.

In the 63rd minute, Leah Galton once again moved the ball down the flank and sent a shot in, but it was deflected by Kranich. Raquel Rodriguez gained possession of the ball and put another shot on goal, but it was jumped on by Kranich to prevent Sky Blue from having another opportunity on goal.

With their second-half substitutions, Boston shifted formation to utilize a three-back defense to put more players into the attack to try to at least equalize the score, with Pathman and Brittany Ratcliffe dropping back to convert the back line to a five-back when needed. However, their efforts were effective when Sky Blue tried to score a run-of-play goal, but it was not effective against their set pieces.

Sky Blue outside back Erica Skroski scored her first professional goal on a play that started off of short corner kick when Kristin Grubka headed the ball to Skroski, who just flicked the ball into the net with her head to put Sky Blue up 3-1.

Boston had not given up though, and in the 86th minute, Louise Schillgard sent a free kick right to Julie King, who headed the ball past Caroline Casey for Boston’s second goal of the night.

Despite the Breakers playing quickly to try to find an equalizing goal, they came up short, and Sky Blue once again was victorious over Boston.

Crucial to Sky Blue in their win over Boston was Leah Galton, who scored her second goal of the season while making a case of herself in the Rookie of the Year race. Her speed on the left flank and her crosses in front of goal create multiple opportunities for the Sky Blue attack. If she could better time her runs to prevent being off sides so often, she could be lethal to just about every defense in the NWSL.  She will surely continue to be a player to watch for Sky Blue in the remainder of their season.

Sky Blue next returns home to take on rivals Washington Spirit on Saturday, July 23.

Scoring Summary 1st 2nd FT
Sky Blue FC 2 1 3
Boston Breakers 1 1 2

BOS - Angela Salem (Eunice Beckman), 3'

NJ - Sarah Killion (penalty kick), 27'

NJ - Leah Galton (Tasha Kai), 36'

NJ - Erica Skroski (Kristin Grubka), 73'

BOS - Julie King (Louise Schillgard), 86'

Sky Blue FC Lineup: Caroline Casey; Erica Skroski, Christie Rampone (C), Kristin Grubka, Erin Simon; Taylor Lytle (Nikki Stanton, 90’+), Raquel Rodriguez, Sarah Killion, Leah Galton; Tasha Kai (Maya Hayes, 75’), Catherine Zimmerman (Kelly Conheeney, 84‘)

Subs Not Used: Jill Loyden, CoCo Goodson, Shawna Gordon

Head Coach: Christy Holly

Boston Breakers Lineup: Jami Kranich; Christen Westphal (Brittany Ratcliffe, 60’), Julie King, Kassey Kallman, Mollie Pathman; Angela Salem, Katie Shoepfer (Kylie Strom, 60’), Stephanie Verdoia, Louise Schillgard; Eunice Beckman (Elise Krieghoff, 73’), Stephanie McCaffrey

Subs Not Used: Libby Stout, Rachel Wood, Kristie Mewis

Head Coach: Matt Beard