Amidst a week of turmoil in the Sky Blue locker room, Sam Kerr led the New Jersey-based club to yet another comeback win at Yurcak Field. Kerr, recently nominated for the Best FIFA Women’s Player of 2017, scored four second-half goals—the first player in NWSL history to score four in a single game and the first to score multiple hat tricks in a single season—to help Sky Blue overcome a three-goal deficit to defeat the Seattle Reign, 5-4.
Tonight’s win comes four days after head coach Christy Holly stepped down and, at kickoff, approximately 24 hours after it was announced that captain and veteran defender Christie Pearce would be missing the remainder of the season due to injuries accumulated throughout the season. That, combined with Kelley O’Hara’s absence as she continues recovering from a right adductor strain, meant that Erica Skroski, in just her second year playing professionally, was the most seasoned defender on Sky Blue’s backline. The shakiness and inexperience definitely played a factor in the club giving up three goals in the first half, giving Seattle what, in most games, would have been a comfortable lead at the half.
The first of those three Reign goals came in just the third minute when Katie Johnson, returning to the starting XI as part of squad rotation following Seattle’s midweek match (a 2-1 comeback win over the Chicago Red Stars, in which Johnson’s second-half stoppage time goal was the difference maker), finished off a through ball from Christine Nairn to put the visitors up a goal early.
Jess Fishlock doubled the Reign’s lead in the 18th minute off a set piece play. Nahomi Kawasumi sent a corner kick across the goal mouth, but Sky Blue goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan attempted to bat the cross away from danger, only to see the ball bounce off Fishlock’s stomach and into the goal. Seattle put one more goal away in the final seconds of the half when Nairn’s cross overshot her intended target but bounced to Kawasumi, whose slide by the far post sent the ball on target. Sheridan initially appeared to have made the save, but she was unable to keep a hold of it and the ball rolled across the goal line for the Reign’s third goal of the night. It was the sixth time that Sky Blue trailed by multiple goals at the start of a game.
Luckily for Sky Blue, one of Seattle’s biggest flaws is their inability to perform on the road, and that, combined with how dangerous Sam Kerr is in the second half, opened the door for a Sky Blue comeback. Rallied by their halftime pep talk, the home team came out with a new fire ignited, pressing Seattle from the second-half whistle. The team looked the liveliest and most dangerous they had all game, and it was evident it was only a matter of time before they scored. That opening Sky Blue goal came courtesy of Sam Kerr, known for her late-game heroics at Yurcak Field. After Kayla Mills sent in a cross that was ping-ponged around the box, Kerr casually toe-poked it just inside the near post for her first of the night.
Kerr nearly scored again just after the hour mark, but her high-powered strike went just wide of the target. However, she didn’t miss minutes later when Seattle was caught in transition following a corner kick, allowing Daphne Corboz to move into space and play a long ball to Kerr, whose run allowed her to gain control of the ball near the far corner of Seattle’s penalty area despite Reign defender Carson Pickett being hot on her heels. Kerr took a couple of touches before splitting Pickett and Kopmeyer with a shot perfectly placed in the bottom left corner to pull Sky Blue within one. She struck again in the 72nd minute after Sarah Killion sent a long ball to her, only this time she would blast a rocket of a shot through a sea of highlighter-yellow jerseys and into the back of the net, leveling the score for the first time all night.
Laura Harvey responded to Kerr’s hat trick by making a tactical substitution, replacing attacker Katie Johnson with defender Lauren Barnes. Although the substitution seemed like a preventative measure to keep Kerr from finishing the comeback, it looked as though that bit of strategy might have been unnecessary as Kiersten Dallstream, who entered the game earlier in the second half for Beverly Yanez, scored to give Seattle a 4-3 lead they’d take with them into stoppage time.
However, anyone who has attended a game at Yurcak Field knows that four minutes is plenty of time for magic to happen, especially when Sam Kerr and Maya Hayes are on the field together. Hayes, who came off the bench in the 72nd minute, headed in a cross by Domi Richardson to tie the game, 4-4. Sky Blue was all but handed three points on a silver platter when a Reign defender was called for a handball inside the box, awarding the home team a penalty kick. Already on a scoring tear, Kerr stepped up to the spot and blasted a hard shot towards goal, but the attempt ricocheted off the crossbar.
Unwilling to let that missed penalty kick prevent Sky Blue from pulling off the comeback, Kerr charged into a mass of bodies to head in a corner kick by Taylor Lytle. The goal was Kerr’s fourth and Sky Blue’s fifth of the night, flipping the script on the Reign, who won the teams’ last meeting 5-4 thanks to a Megan Rapinoe hat trick, completed in the 87th minute, to prevent the Sky Blue comeback.
Same score, another three-plus-game for a star forward, and another win for the home team. This time though, Sky Blue celebrated a hard-fought win and three points closer to a playoff spot. With the win, Sky Blue sits in sixth place, just three points behind fourth-place Orlando. They’ll look to get three more points next weekend when they host the Boston Breakers on Saturday, August 26 at 7 p.m. ET. Seattle returns home to Memorial Stadium, where they will take on their rivals, Portland Thorns FC. That third edition of the Cascadia Clash will kick off three hours earlier than Sky Blue’s match at 4 p.m ET.