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Sky Blue FC defeats rival Spirit for second time this season

Leah Galton's goal gives Sky Blue a 1-0 win over region rival Spirit

Catherine Zimmerman battles Caprice Dydasco for possession
Catherine Zimmerman battles Caprice Dydasco for possession
Robyn McNeil, ISI Photos

For the second time this season, Sky Blue FC (6-4-4, 22 points) defeated the second-ranked Washington Spirit (8-3-2, 26 points).

English-international Leah Galton continued making a case for herself in the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) Rookie of the Year race as her first-half goal was enough to give Sky Blue the 1-0 win over the Spirit.

Saturday night was the third meeting between the two regional rivals this season and the second meeting at Yurcak Field. Going into Saturday night’s game, the two teams were tied with one win apiece, both having won 2-1 in the other team’s house.

Washington was the favorite going into the match, as they sat in second place on the table, tied with top-ranking Portland Thorns with 26 points. The Spirit also came to New Jersey with forward Estafania Banini, who was just named the NWSL’s Player of the Week for her performance last week against FC Kansas City.

Sky Blue was also at a disadvantage as they were without two of their starting midfielders, Sarah Killion and Raquel Rodriguez. Although Killion had previously played every minute of the season, she sat out Saturday’s match because of a left quad strain. Rodriguez had been released from Sky Blue to play with Costa Rica for their friendly with the United States Women’s National Team Friday night. With Killion and Rodriguez out of the starting lineup, Shawna Gordon and Nikki Stanton started in their stead in the midfield.

The game started off a little slow and shaky for both teams, the absence of their regular starters obvious, especially in the Sky Blue midfield. However, once Sky Blue got started, they quickly found a rhythm and began moving and possessing the ball well.

That allowed Sky Blue to strike first in the 25th minute when Erin Simon sent a ball along the left flank for Leah Galton, who raced into space to receive the pass. Galton moved the ball the rest of the way and into the box, shooting from just outside the six and past Spirit goalkeeper Kelsey Wys for the what would end up being the lone goal of the night and Galton’s third of the season.

Just a minute later Catherine Zimmerman sent a nice through ball in to Tasha Kai who found herself in a 1v1 with Wys. Wys just managed to get her fingertips on Kai’s shot, and the ball went just inches wide of the near post, preventing a second goal for Sky Blue for the moment.

The Spirit nearly scored on a corner kick in the 35th minute when Christine Nairn’s low ball bounced to the near post and into danger, but Sky Blue goalkeeper Caroline Casey dove to punch the ball out so it could be cleared by her teammates.

That play seemed to kick start the Spirit’s attack, and it became clear that Washington was looking for an equalizer before the end of the first half. The Spirit’s momentum and energy picked up during stoppage time, and they really began moving the ball towards goal. However, the Sky Blue defense was always there to deny them any solid looks on goal, and Sky Blue was able to preserve its 1-0 lead at the half.

The second half saw a strong Spirit squad come out as they were once again looking to even the score. They possessed the ball very well, moving the ball around Sky Blue defenders with relative ease. They had more chances on goal in the first 20 minutes of the second half than they did the entire first half, although they continued to have difficulty finishing.

However, Leah Galton’s speed continued to wreak havoc on the Spirit, much as it has Sky Blue’s opponents since Galton became available forSky Blue in May.

Sky Blue nearly added to their lead in the 55th minute when Leah Galton broke free of her defender and sent a ball in to Catherine Zimmerman. Wys misplayed the ball, but Caprice Dydasco was able to knock the ball out of bounds to prevent Zimmerman from easily tapping the ball into the net.

Washington Spirit followed that up with a near goal of their own as Cheyna Williams moved into the box and took a shot from the top corner of the goal box, but a sliding Kristin Grubka got her foot in front of the ball and caused Williams’ shot to hit the near post. The deflection bounced around in front of the goal for a few seconds before finally being stuffed by Caroline Casey.

Play stopped for a few minutes in the 77th minute when Tasha Kai and Caprice Dydasco collided with one another near midfield. Both players stayed down for a few minutes before Kai was escorted off of the field to have her head bandaged on the sidelines. Dydasco stayed down a little longer but eventually walked off the field on her own accord and, moments later, both players returned to the field to continue playing.

The remainder of the match saw a continuous battle between the two teams as Sky Blue tried to extend their lead while the Spirit continued their search for an equalizer. However, the Sky Blue defense continued their strong showing, and Casey was able to earn another clean sheet for the season.

Saturday night’s win is the third consecutive win for Sky Blue and may be enough to see them sneak into playoff positioning depending on how the rest of the weekend’s matches play out.

Sky Blue FC and the Spirit meet again next Saturday, July 30, at the Maryland SoccerPlex for their fourth and final meeting of the season. Kick off will be at 7 p.m. EST and the game will be streamed on the NWSL Soccer YouTube channel.

Match Summary

Scoring Summary 1st 2nd FT
Sky Blue FC 1 0 1
Washington Spirit 0 0 0

NJ- Leah Galton (Erin Simon), 25'

Sky Blue FC Lineup: Caroline Casey; Erica Skroski, Christie Rampone (C), Kristin Grubka, Erin Simon; Taylor Lytle, Nikki Stanton, Shawna Gordon (Domi Richardson, 70’), Leah Galton (Kelly Conheeney, 83’); Tasha Kai, Catherine Zimmerman (Maya Hayes, 67’)

Subs Not Used: Jill Loyden, CoCo Goodson, Theresa Diederich

Head Coach: Christy Holly

Washington Spirit Lineup: Kelsey Wys; Whitney Church (Alyssa Kleiner, 59’), Megan Oyster, Estelle Johnson, Caprice Dydasco; Joanna Lohman, Tori Huster, Christine Nairn (C); Cheyna Williams (Cali Farquharson, 80’), Francisca Ordega (Katie Stengel, 45+’), Estafania Banini

Subs Not Used: DiDi Haracic, Alli Murphy

Head Coach: Jim Gabarra