Saturday night's game was one that had plenty at stake. For Sky Blue FC (6-6-4, 22 points), it was a deciding factor on whether they would have a shot at the playoffs or not. With the crushing loss to the Chicago Red Stars (8-4-4, 28 points), it appears that they may just have fallen short.
The match was also the first match back after the nearly month-long break built into the National Women's Soccer League schedule because of the Olympics. All of Sky Blue's and Chicago's Olympians were back for Saturday's match, and Alyssa Naeher, Julie Johnston and Christen Press were in the starting XI for the Red Stars, while Sam Kerr started and Kelley O'Hara subbed in for Sky Blue.
"Obviously, we are disappointed with the result," Coach Holly said after the game. "When we look back at some of tonight’s defining moments, we will see that we did not win them, and that ultimately cost us the outcome of the game. Now, we will dig into the film to find the positives and make sure this result does not define our season."
After some good back and forth from both teams in the opening minutes of the game, Stephanie McCaffrey, in just her third match with Chicago, attempted a shot, but Sky Blue goalkeeper Caroline Stanley was there to collect. In the 14th minute, Sam Kerr, back from Olympic duty with the Australian women's national team, attempted a shot on goal from a pass from Taylor Lytle, but the shot was off the mark. Sky Blue FC had some wonderful chances, but fell short on the follow through.
Erica Skroski ran the ball in the 16th minute almost getting a clear shot to the goal, but her kick wasn’t powerful enough to make it past Alyssa Naeher. Christen Press passed to Cara Walls who made an attempt, but the shot went high over the crossbar, earning Chicago another corner kick. Sky Blue then earned a corner in the 21st minute, and Leah Galton took it, but Naeher easily collected.
In the 30th minute Tasha Kai had an attempt on goal, but Naeher collected the shot and sent it down field to McCaffrey. McCaffrey moved to the right side of the box and fired off a cross, and the shot bounced off the far post and into the goal to put Chicago on the board.
Chaos ensued in the 39th minute when Sky Blue had a number of opportunities on goal, but Naeher and her back line were always there to deny Sky Blue. Sarah Killion had a shot that appeared to go over the line before being cleared, but the ref allowed play to continue. After the ball bobbled around the box a little bit longer, Kerr finally put the ball into the back of the net, but Killion was called off sides and the goal was called back. The play was the second time this season that Sky Blue was denied a goal that, upon replay, seemed clear to have been a goal. Sky Blue went into halftime down a goal, 1-0, to the Red Stars.
USWNT and Sky Blue FC defender Kelley O’Hara came in at the 47th minute and replaced Erin Simon at left back. Many fans were eager to see if Head Coach Christy Holly would move O'Hara up top now that the Olympics are over, but he seemed content, at least for now, to keep her on Sky Blue's back line.
In the 51st minute, Tasha Kai had a nice look on goal when she headed a ball from Leah Galton, but Naeher once again collected, keeping the score at 1-0 for Chicago. However, Chicago suffered a minor setback in the 65th minute when Steph McCaffrey went down during a play, seemingly without contact, and trainers were called out to examine her. She eventually limped off the field on her own accord, but Alyssa Mautz would sub in for her anyway.
Chicago struck again in the 73rd minute when Christen Press scored off the foot of Vanessa DiBernardo, making the score 2-0. In the 80th minute DiBernardo took a corner which Arin Gilliand passed to Sofia Huerta. Huerta's shot rocketed past Caroline Stanley for the Red Stars' third goal of the night and Huerta's fourth of the season.
Two minutes of stoppage time were added to the second half, and it was a roller coaster for Sky Blue. In the 92nd minute, Mautz slid into Kelley O’Hara with a bad tackle, earning a yellow card for Mautz and trainers being called onto the field for O'Hara. O'Hara looked to me in a lot of pain, and she was carried off the field favoring her right ankle, the same ankle she had surgery on back in 2013. O'Hara was seen leaving the stadium after the game on crutches and wearing a boot, but no word regarding the extent of her injury has been given yet.
Not long after play resumed following O'Hara's exit from the field, Sam Kerr found the back of the net, finally putting Sky Blue FC on the board. Moments later the final whistle blew, and Chicago's 3-1 win was more than enough for them to take home three points.
Sky Blue FC will next play three matches in six days, starting with FC Kansas City on Sunday, September 4.
NJ v CHI Match Summary
CHI - Stephanie McCaffrey, 31'
CHI - Christen Press (Vanessa DiBernardo), 73'
CHI - Sofia Huerta (Arin Gilliland), 80'
NJ - Sam Kerr (Leah Galton), 90+'
Sky Blue FC Lineup: Caroline Stanley; Erica Skroski, Christie Rampone (C), Kristin Grubka, Erin Simon (Kelley O’Hara, 47’); Raquel Rodriguez, Taylor Lytle (Kelly Conheeney, 89’), Sarah Killion, Sam Kerr; Tasha Kai (Maya Hayes 67’), Leah Galton
Subs Not Used: Caroline Casey, CoCo Goodson, Nikki Stanton, Shawna Gordon
Head Coach: Christy Holly
Chicago Red Stars Lineup: Alyssa Naeher; Arin Gilliand, Julie Johnston, Samantha Johnson, Casey Short; Danielle Colaprico, Vanessa DiBernardo (Katie Naughton, 82’) ; Sophia Huerta, Cara Walls (Amanda Da Costa, 83’), Christen Press (C), Stephanie McCaffrey (Alyssa Mautz, 68’)
Subs Not Used: Michele Dalton, Sarah Gorden, Courtney Raetzman, Mary Luba
Head Coach: Jim Gabarra
CHI - Alyssa Mautz (caution), 90+'