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Match preview: Sky Blue FC visit regional rivals Washington Spirit for final time

Sky Blue leads the series 2-1, but can they take the series and maintain playoff position?

Kelsey Wys dives to prevent Tasha Kai from scoring
Robert Plummer, Once a Metro

Coming off their 1-0 win over the Washington Spirit (8-3-2, 26 points) last weekend, Sky Blue FC (6-4-4, 22 points) will once again hit the road to take on the Spirit on Saturday, July 30.

With last weekend’s win, Sky Blue improved its winning streak to three games and moved into fourth place in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), putting them in the last playoff position for the time being. Although the team is currently tied with the Chicago Red Stars in points and goal differential, its total number of goals (17, compared to the Red Stars’ 13) is enough to put it above Chicago on the table.

The top three teams—Portland Thorns FC, Washington Spirit and Western New York Flash—are pretty much locked in place for another week. However, Sky Blue essentially must win in order to remain fourth.

"We are very excited to get down to D.C. and build upon the momentum we have established in recent weeks," Sky Blue FC Head Coach Christy Holly said in a statement released by the team. "We are focused on putting forth a better performance than we did last weekend, and we are confident that we will come away with the three points if we are able to do that."

Saturday’s road match is Sky Blue’s last match before the month-long Olympic window. It is also the fourth and final time the two teams meet this season, playoffs notwithstanding, double the amount of any other opponent because of the new regional rivalry component of the 2016 NWSL season.

After three meetings, Sky Blue leads the series 2-1. In Sky Blue’s season home opener, Spirit defender Ali Krieger sent a cross shot into the upper 90 to strike first, and Diana Matheson then nutmegged goalkeeper Caroline Casey for what would be the game winner. Maya Hayes put Sky Blue on the board early in the second half, but the team failed to equalize and the Spirit left victorious.

Sky Blue traveled to the Maryland SoccerPlex for the teams’ second meeting. This time Sky Blue flipped the score as Raquel Rodriguez and Samantha Kerr both scored their first goals of 2016 (and the first of Rodriguez’s professional career) while goalkeeper Caroline Stanley only allowed one goal, a 77th-minute goal by Matheson. Leah Galton also assisted on both of Sky Blue’s goals, bringing her assist total to three for the season thus far.

Last week Sky Blue extended its winning streak to three games courtesy of Galton’s first half goal. In the 25th minute, outside back Erin Simon played a ball into space for Galton, who turned on her speed to run onto the pass. She then moved the ball into the box and fired a shot past Spirit keeper Kelsey Wys and into the back of the net.

While the Spirit have consistently been sitting at the top of the table all season, Sky Blue has steadily climbed its way to the top, and last weekend’s shutout against the Spirit was enough to finally put Sky Blue ahead of the Chicago Red Stars in fourth place.

Unlike last weekend, Sky Blue will once again have Raquel Rodriguez who missed last weekend's rivalry match after playing with the Costa Rican Women’s National Team the night before in the USWNT’s final Olympic send-off match. However, both Sarah Killion and Galton are questionable for Saturday's match as they deal with a left quad strain and a left hip strain respectively. Killion had previously played every minute this season for Sky Blue before being sidelined with the injury last weekend. Both integral parts of Sky Blue's starting XI, it will be interesting to see how much time, if any, Killion and Galton get Saturday.

Although both teams will once again be without their Olympic national team players, the Spirit will have their newest signing, Danish-international Line Sigvardsen Jensen, available for selection for the first time this season.

Sky Blue FC travels to the Maryland SoccerPlex to take on the Washington Spirit on Saturday, July 30 at 7 p.m. EST. The game will be streamed live on the NWSL Soccer YouTube channel and is available here.

SKY BLUE FC ROSTER:

GOALKEEPERS (2): Caroline Casey, Jill Loyden,

DEFENDERS (6): CoCo Goodson, Kristin Grubka, Maya Hayes, Christie Rampone (C), Erin Simon, Erica Skroski

MIDFIELDERS (7): Kelly Conheeney, Theresa Diederich, Shawna Gordon, Sarah Killion, Taylor Lytle, Domi Richardson, Nikki Stanton

FORWARDS (3): Leah Galton, Tasha Kai, Catherine Zimmerman

What: Sky Blue FC at Washington Spirit

When: Saturday, July 30, 2016 at 7 p.m. EST

Where: Maryland SoccerPlex, Boyds, Maryland, U.S.A.

Online: NWSL Soccer Channel on YouTube