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Sky Blue FC falls out of playoff position with 1-3 loss to Spirit

The regional rivalry concluded with the Spirit tying the series 2-2.

Nicole Gamard, ISI Photos

On Sunday, July 31, Sky Blue FC (6-5-4, 22 points) fell on the road 1-3 to the Washington Spirit (9-3-2, 29 points) on Sunday, July 31, in their last match before the month-long Olympic window. It was the team’s last meeting with regional rival Spirit, and the series ended tied 2-2.

With Sky Blue’s loss and the Chicago Red Stars’ win on Saturday night, Chicago has now replaced Sky Blue in the top four of the National Women’s Soccer League standings, knocking Sky Blue out of a playoff position as the league enters its month-long Olympic break.

"We are obviously disappointed with the result and our overall performance," said Sky Blue FC Head Coach Christy Holly. "Both individually and collectively, we know that we can play much better. However, one setback is not enough to lose sight of what we have achieved so far this season, nor will we lose sight of what we want to achieve throughout the remainder of the year."

The Sky Blue-Spirit match, originally scheduled for Saturday evening, was postponed until Sunday morning because of severe weather in the area for most of the night. The postponement of the game seemed to be a factor in that the early afternoon game time saw increased temperatures requiring cooling breaks, and both teams’ performances as it was clear from the start that players were not used to playing so early.

It seemed as though the Spirit woke up first in the match while Sky Blue, who pressured the Spirit early in the two teams’ previous meeting, did not seem to wake up at all. While the Spirit had a fire in them avenge their previous two losses to Sky Blue, Sky Blue did not seem to be able to build much momentum at all during the match.

The Spirit had a first chance on goal off a Christine Nairn corner kick. She sent a hard ball to the near post for Estelle Johnson to flick towards goalkeeper Caroline Casey, who dove to punch the ball out. Katie Stengel and Tasha Kai went up to try to head Casey’s deflection, but Stengel beat Kai to it for a second attempt on goal on the set piece. However, Casey was already back on her feet and immediately punched the ball back out before it was eventually cleared from danger by center back Kristin Grubka.

Leah Galton nearly had her first assist in the 9th minute when she ran along the left flank and sent a ball in for Catherine Zimmerman. Zimmerman was unable to get to the ball as Spirit keeper Kelsey Wys came out to collect the ball, and the two players collided. Wys stayed down for some time as backup keeper DiDi Haracic began warming up, but Wys was cleared to continue playing and stayed on the field.

Washington nearly scored again on yet another Nairn corner kick when the ball was sent to the far post and to the head of Joanna Lohman. Lohman’s header was off the mark and the ball was headed around before landing at the feet of Cheyna Williams. Williams took aim and fired, but her shot was block by Tasha Kai’s foot. The ball was deflected back into play and once again fell to Williams’ feet, but her shot was knocked out of bounds to end the Spirit’s chances on goal.

However, the Spirit was finally able to capitalize on a chance on goal when, in the 27th minute, Katie Stengel moved the ball down the left flank before passing the ball to Lohman. Lohman then put the ball into space for Estafania Banini, who made a run onto the ball and easily placed the ball to the back near post for the Spirit’s opening goal of the match.

Despite having to use an earlier substitution so Maya Hayes could come in for an injured Catherine Zimmerman in the 29th minute which also brought on the first half cooling break, Sky Blue didn’t waste any time in tying up the score, though. To restart play after the water break, Joanna Lohman passed the back to Casey who booted it to midfield. Leah Galton headed a bouncing ball near Tasha Kai and Megan Oyster, who got her head on the ball but sent it towards goal. Kai got to the ball before Wys did and easily volleyed it past Wys and into goal from just outside the box.

However, the score would not stay tied long, because in just the 39th minute, Caprice Dydasco sent a cross in to Cheyna Williams, who managed to collect the ball despite having a pair of Sky Blue players marking her. Williams turned and shot from just outside the six, easily putting the ball into the back of net.

Sky Blue went into halftime trailing the Spirit 1-2, and they would continue trailing for the remainder of the game. Both Leah Galton and Raquel Rodriguez seemed less effective for Sky Blue all day, either from the early start or the Spirit learning how to effectively shut down the two rookies.

Tasha Kai was the only real life of the Sky Blue attack, as she scored in the lone goal in the first half and nearly scored a number other times in the second. However, both of Kai’s attempts on goals in the second half were stopped by Wys, and she would leave the game in the 78th minute with only one goal for the day.

Despite Christy Holly pulling out all of the stops to try to equalize in second half stoppage time, switching to a three-back and moving Christie Rampone forward to play in her college position of central forward, Sky Blue was not able to generate another look on goal.

The Spirit, though, was able to capitalize on Rampone being off the back line to put the final nail in the coffin in stoppage time. Cali Farquharson’s attempt at a goal was deflected right to Alyssa Kleiner, who rocketed a shot from the corner of the box and past Casey for the seal the win for the Spirit, 3-1.

Overall, the Spirit was the better all-around team Sunday morning. Sky Blue never seemed to generate much of an attack, and their defense was shaky at best. Rampone was solid on defense as always, but outside backs Erica Skroski and Erin Simon often got beat on the flanks. The match was one of the worst showings from Sky Blue this season and by far their worst performance in recent weeks.

Sky Blue fans can only hope that the time off during the Rio break will be enough for the team to bounce back before their next match. Sky Blue returns home and from the Olympic break on August 27 to take on the Chicago Red Stars.

Match Summary

Scoring Summary 1st 2nd FT
Washington Spirit 2 1 3
Sky Blue FC 1 0 1

WAS - Estafania Banini (Joanna Lohman), 28’

NJ - Tasha Kai, 33’

WAS - Cheyna Williams (Caprice Dydasco), 39’

WAS - Alyssa Kleiner, 90+’

Sky Blue Lineup: Caroline Casey; Erica Skroski, Christie Rampone (C), Kristin Grubka, Erin Simon; Taylor Lytle, Raquel Rodriguez, Nikki Stanton (Domi Richardson, 56’), Catherine Zimmerman (Maya Hayes, 30’); Tasha Kai (Kelly Conheeney, 78’), Leah Galton

Subs Not Used: Jill Loyden, CoCo Goodson, Sarah Killion

Head Coach: Christy Holly

Washington Spirit Lineup: Kelsey Wys; Caprice Dydasco, Megan Oyster, Estelle Johnson, Whitney Church; Joanna Lohman, Tori Huster, Christine Nairn (C; Alyssa Kleiner, 89’); Cheyna Williams (Cali Farquharson, 66’), Katie Stengel (Francisca Ordega, 80’), Estefania Banini

Subs Not Used: DiDi Haracic, Alli Murphy, Line Sigvardsen Jensen

Head Coach: Jim Gabarra

Officials

Referee: Victor Rivas

Asst. Referee 1: Sean Regan

Asst. Referee 2: Charles Carson

Fourth Official: Michael D’Angelo