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Top-ranked Thorns prove too much for Sky Blue FC

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Sky Blue’s unbeaten streak is snapped as the Thorns extend theirs with a 2-1 win

Craig Mitchelldyer (ISI Photos)

Despite striking first in Portland, Sky Blue FC (3-4-4, 13 points) could not hold on and fell 2-1 to the top-ranked, unbeaten Portland Thorns FC (7-0-5, 26 points)

Both teams were without their U.S. and Canadian women’s national team players, so the Thorns were down six starters compared to Sky Blue’s one. In Kelley O’Hara’s absence, Erin Simon started in her place at left back, just as she did in last weekend’s 2-1 win over the Washington Spirit.

Newcomer Catherine Zimmerman, who just signed with Sky Blue on Friday, got the start up top alongside Tasha Kai as the rest of the lineup looked pretty much untouched.

Even without their national teamers, the Thorns still managed to walk away with the three points. Portland’s win was much the result of a strong showing by former Sky Blue forward Nadia Nadim, who converted a second-half penalty kick to lift the Thorns over Sky Blue.

In the first half, both teams were poised to strike. Portland came out early, moving the ball into Sky Blue’s defensive third in the opening seconds as former Sky Blue player Nadia Nadim attempted to get a look on goal. She was taken down in the box by defender Kristin Grubka and obviously was looking for a foul to be called, but the referee let play continue.

Momentum started to swing in Sky Blue’s favor when in the third minute, newly-signed forward Catherine Zimmerman sent a ball in from the right corner and into a cluster of players, but after some confusion in front of goal in which there was a small collision with Thorns keeper Michelle Betos, Sky Blue’s efforts went into the side of the net.

Caroline Stanley denied the Thorns an early lead when, in the 16th minute, Nadia Nadim made a break towards goal. She ended up being in a 1v1 situation with Stanley, but the keeper didn’t hesitate to come off her line and jump on the ball, preventing Nadim from getting off a shot.

Leah Galton once again wreaked havoc on the left flank, using her speed to break free of her mark and send crosses in front of goal for Sky Blue. She had a number of near assists in the first half, creating multiple opportunities for Tasha Kai in the first half.

In the 30th minute, Sky Blue FC struck first on a play started by Galton. Galton sent a cross in front of goal, but a sliding Catherine Zimmerman could not collect with the ball. The ball bounced to the feet of Taylor Lytle, who settled it before sending it back in front of goal where Tasha Kai was able to get a foot on it to put it into the bottom corner of the goal.

There was some quality back and forth between the two teams in the minutes after Kai’s goal, and the Hayley Raso-Nadim connection seemed especially potent for the Portland attack. Nadim had multiple looks at goal for the Thorns, but defender Kristin Grubka seemed to constantly be there to deny her or her shots sailed high of goal.

Sky Blue would only enjoy a one-goal lead for about 10 minutes, though, when the Thorns earned a corner kick in the 39th minute. Nadim perfectly placed the ball on the head of Icelandic-international Dagny Brynjarsdottir, who flicked the ball past Caroline Stanley to score the equalizer.

Stanley was injured on the play, though, and was subbed off as Caroline Casey came back in for Sky Blue. Casey played in Sky Blue’s first two matches this season, but she has not seen any minutes between the posts for Sky Blue since losing her starting spot to Stanley in week three.

The second half played out much like the first, with some quality possession and attempts on goal by both teams. In the 50th minute Sarah Killion took a corner kick for Sky Blue, but Betos was able to punch it away from goal. Taylor Lytle tried to one-touch the ball into the back of the net, but her shot sailed high of the goal.

Sky Blue had to make its second substitution of the night when Tasha Kai went down with what appeared to be a head injury in the 51st minute. Kai went up for a header and collided with a Portland player, and she stayed down holding her face for some time before eventually walking off to the sidelines. She was almost immediately let back onto the field, but just minutes later went back down and was eventually helped off the field as Samantha Kerr came on in her place.

As the time on the game clock increased, so did the frustration on the field, and with it, the physicality. In the 61st minute, Erin Simon fouled Hayley Raso in the box, earning Portland a penalty kick. Nadim took the penalty for the Thorns, sending the ball past a diving Casey and into the net, giving the Thorns a 2-1 that they would carry with them to the final whistle.

"We started very well tonight and could have gone into the locker room at halftime with an extra goal or two," Head Coach Christy Holly said in a statement. "As the game wore on, we began to show signs of the flight in our legs. To the credit of our players, they pushed through it and truly left everything they had on the field. Unfortunately, we just could not get that second goal that we probably deserved."

Sky Blue FC will next look to earn three points when they take on the Houston Dash on Saturday, July 9 at 7 p.m. EST.

Scoring Summary 1 2 FT
Portland Thorns FC 1 1 2
Sky Blue FC 1 0 1

NJ: Tasha Kai (Taylor Lytle), 29'

POR: Dagny Brynjarsdottir (Nadia Nadim), 39'

POR: Nadia Nadim (penalty kick)

Sky Blue FC Lineup: Caroline Stanley (Caroline Casey, 41’); Erin Simon, Kristin Grubka, Christie Rampone (C), Erica Skroski; Raquel Rodriguez, Taylor Lytle, Sarah Killion, Leah Galton; Catherine Zimmerman (Maya Hayes, 73’), Tasha Kai (Sam Kerr, 55’)

Subs Not Used: CoCo Goodson, Shawna Gordon, Nikki Stanton

Head Coach: Christy Holly

Portland Thorns FC Lineup: Michelle Betos; Mallory Weber, Katherine Reynolds, Emily Menges (C), McKenzie Berryhill; Dagny Brynjarsdottir, Amandine Henry, Celeste Boureille; Mana Shim (Shade Pratt, 72’), Hayley Raso (Sam Lofton, 90+’), Nadia Nadim (Maureen Fitzgerald, 90’+)

Subs Not Used: Adrianna Franch, Kat Williamson

Head Coach: Mark Parsons

Misconduct Summary

NJ: Christie Rampone (caution), 45'

POR: Mallory Weber (caution), 66'