Sky Blue FC (7-7-5, 26 points) closed out its home-and-home series against the Orlando Pride (6-12-1, 19 points) with a 2-1 win on the road.
After being eliminated from this year’s playoff race on Wednesday night, Sky Blue was able to relax and just play soccer. That lack of pressure combined with the return of Kelley O’Hara—and in an attacking position no less—resulted in some of the best soccer Sky Blue has played all season. Although the first half started off a bit sluggish for the team, once they found their rhythm, they were hard to slow down.
It was not an easy fight for the New Jersey side, though, as the first half was dominated by the Orlando Pride. That was largely thanks to Lisa De Vanna, who was making her first start for her new NWSL club. De Vanna was a force to be reckoned with, hassling Sky Blue’s defense all over the field.
In the opening minutes of the match, De Vanna moved the ball into the box, looking as though she was going to put a shot on goal, but there were too many Sky Blue defenders between her and the target. Instead, she laid the ball of to her right, where Jasmyne Spencer was waiting. Spencer took a shot, but it was well over the crossbar.
In comparison to the life in Orlando’s attack, Sky Blue’s sluggishness looked reminiscent of Wednesday night. While Orlando was connecting passes and creating options on the run, Sky Blue players seemed much more stagnant. Several time Sky Blue players had to stop with the ball to look around or wait for options to present themselves.
Despite that initial sluggishness, Sky Blue’s attack seemed to liven up about 25 minutes in. That new energy was first really noticed when Sam Kerr nearly put Sky Blue on the board after receiving the ball at the left corner of the box. She used her footwork to outmaneuver the defender and get a look on goal, just ripping off a shot just past a sliding Kaylyn Kyle. However, Kerr’s shot was just wide of the near post, but even if it was on the mark, Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris was in position to likely make the save.
Kelley O’Hara, making her first start since returning from the Olympic break and from being out with a right ankle sprain, made a noticeable difference in Sky Blue’s attack tonight. O’Hara provided service to Maya Hayes, who moved the ball down the left flank before crossing it in front of goal, where both Sam Kerr and Erica Skroski were making moves. However, Cami Levin was there to block the shot, but her deflection was collected by Sky Blue. After some give-and-go from Tasha Kai and Sam Kerr, O’Hara attempted to put her first touch into the goal, but it was a bad touch and the shot was well off the mark.
Josée Bélanger went down on the play, but it appeared it was a non-contact injury suffered when chasing after Hayes on her initial breakaway. Bélanger was helped off the field, and Toni Pressley subbed in for her. It was later announced during the game broadcast that the Canadian international had suffered a hamstring strain.
Not surprisingly, it was Alex Morgan whose play would lead to the Pride’s first goal of the night. Morgan went head to head with Erin Simon, getting slightly tangled up and going down, drawing a foul and free kick for Orlando. Kristen Edmonds took the free kick and rocketed the shot over the five-player wall and into the upper 90, just out of Caroline Casey’s reach. It would be the only goal of the first half, and Orlando would go into halftime with a one-goal lead against Sky Blue for the second time this week.
The second half saw a much stronger Sky Blue come out. Tasha Kai got the second half underway, receiving a bouncing pass from Sam Kerr and moving it to the left side of the box before putting a shot on goal in the . She had to do the work herself, though, as there were none of her teammates there to help and several purple jerseys between her and Ashlyn Harris. Her shot was a weak shot and went right to a waiting Harris.
Sam Kerr struck first for the New Jersey side just moments later when she received the ball from Tasha Kai in the middle of the field. Kerr broke through several Pride defenders and outran Alex Morgan’s defensive efforts to go 1v1 with Harris. Kerr faked Harris out, causing her to dive to the right while Kerr shot to the left and into the back of the net. The goal was Kerr’s fifth of the season and her fourth in consecutive matches.
The score would remain even for only about five minutes when, in the 54th minute, Maya Hayes capitalized on a goalkeeping error by Harris. As Harris came off her line, Hayes nutmegged the keeper, regained possession and sent an easy shot into a wide open goal to give Sky Blue their second goal and first lead of the night.
Hayes, who only recently came back from an MCL sprain suffered back in May, was taken down in the 70th minute though, when a sliding Toni Pressley connected with Hayes’s knee when attempting to turn over the ball. The foul earned Pressley a yellow card and, after several minutes being attended to on the field, Hayes came off and Shawna Gordon subbed on in her place.
Sky Blue used its second substitution the 82nd minute when CoCo Goodson made her first appearance for Sky Blue this season, subbing in for Tasha Kai. With the substitution Sky Blue switched to a five-back formation, clearly intent on maintaining their one-goal lead.
That game plan worked, as no Pride player was able to get a look on goal with all of the sky blue jerseys between them and their target. When the final whistle blew after four minutes of stoppage time, Sky Blue had earned their seventh win of the season, 2-1.
Sky Blue has next week off in observation of another FIFA window built into the season. During that time, Kelley O’Hara will report back to the USWNT for a pair of friendlies against Thailand and the Netherlands. The team’s next game is their final game of the season, a September 25 match home match against the Portland Thorns FC.
|Sky Blue FC||0||2||2|
ORL - Kristin Edmonds (Alex Morgan), 44'
NJ - Sam Kerr, 49'
NJ - Maya Hayes, 54'
Sky Blue FC Lineup: Caroline Casey; Erica Skroski, Kirstin Grubka, Christie Rampone (C), Erin Simon; Sam Kerr, Sarah Killion, Raquel Rodriguez, Maya Hayes (Shawna Gordon, 74’); Kelley O’Hara, Tasha Kai (CoCo Goodson, 82’)
Subs Not Used: Caroline Stanley, Kim DeCesare, Kelly Conheeney, Danielle Schulmann
Head Coach: Christy Holly
Orlando Lineup: Ashlyn Harris; Josée Bélanger (Toni Pressley, 38’), Monica Hickmann Alves, Kaylyn Kyle, Cami Levin; Lisa De Vanna (Jamia Fields, 61’), Kristen Edmonds, Dani Weatherholt (Laura Alleway, 78’), Jasmyne Spencer; Sarah Hagen, Alex Morgan (C)
Subs Not Used: Katie Savage, Maddy Evans, Samantha Witteman, Christina Burkenroad
Head Coach: Tom Sermanni
NJ - Kristin Grubka (caution), 51'
ORL - Toni Pressley (caution), 71'
NJ - Erin Simon (caution), 86'