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Sky Blue FC drop last road game, 5-0, to Chicago

The Red Stars advance to the playoffs for fourth consecutive year with the win.

Tom Salus

Sky Blue FC (0-17-6, 6 points) lost to the Chicago Red Stars (9-4-10, 37 points) on Tuesday night in the New Jersey side’s last road game of the season. Alyssa Mautz scored a brace in the game, while Sam Kerr, Rosie White, and Michele Vasconcelos rounded out scoring on the night for the Red Stars.

Mautz opened up scoring in the 18th minute, out-jumping defender Amanda Frisbie to get her head on the end of a long, high cross from defender Arin Gilliland. Mautz’s lofted header looked to have chipped goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan, who was unable to get her fingers on the shot to prevent the opening goal.

Although Mautz’s 18th-minute strike was the lone goal of the first half, the Chicago midfielder was quick to strike in the second half, completing her brace in the 46th minute in a play almost carbon copy of the goal-scoring one from the first half. Again, Gilliland sent in a cross from the flank, which Mautz was able to get on the end of for the goal, but this time she redirected the ball with a sliding half-volley into the back of the net.

Sam Kerr then scored for Chicago in the 64th minute to give the home side the 3-0 lead. The goal was Kerr’s 15th of the season, putting her further ahead in the league’s Golden Boot race. If she earns that accolade, she’ll become the first player in NWSL history to win the Golden Boot in multiple seasons and consecutive seasons.

Second-half sub Rosie White then got on the scoresheet, scoring just a minute into her shift with her first touch of the match. Once again Gilliland served in a cross from the near flank, and Kerr, who looked to be wide open in front of goal, headed the ball down for White instead of shooting it herself. That set White up for the easy finish and her first goal of the season.

Michele Vasconcelos, who also entered for the Red Stars in the second half, scored their fifth and final goal of the night deep into garbage time. A nice sequence of possession resulted in White playing a through ball for Vasconcelos, who used her fresh legs to beat the Sky Blue defender Erica Skroski to the ball. With Skroski heavily pressuring her and Sheridan racing off her line, Vasconcelos slotted a perfectly angled ball past the two of them for her first professional goal.

For Sky Blue, the loss was a devastating one, but the odds were against them from the very beginning. For one, history was not on their side, as they have never won against the Red Stars (0-6-8 in 14 meetings).

Tuesday’s night’s match was a rescheduled one from when flight cancellations prevented the team from arriving in Chicago with another rest and preparation time ahead of their July 28 match.

Although the originally scheduled match fell during an international break, just like Tuesday night’s match did, more of Sky Blue’s best attacking players were unavailable Tuesday because of international duty. Carli Lloyd (USA) and Katie Johnson (Mexico) would have been unavailable on July 28, but the two of them plus Imani Dorsey and Savannah McCaskill (U.S. U-23s) were unavailable Tuesday night. Those four players have combined to score 14 of Sky Blue’s 20 goals this season, leaving the Sky Blue attack much weaker.

In comparison, the Red Stars also had the service of Sam Kerr, who was away with Australia on the game’s original date. On Tuesday night, Kerr terrorized the Sky Blue defense with eight shots on the night resulting in a goal and an assist for her efforts.

On Saturday, lightning in the area of the Maryland SoccerPlex caused Sky Blue’s clash against the Washington Spirit, to be postponed until 10 a.m. Sunday morning. That left Sky Blue with less than 48 hours off for rest, recovery, and travel to Chicago before Tuesday night’s match.

Some of the contributing factors were Sky Blue’s fault, and some were out of their control, but as a result, Sky Blue FC was noticeably fatigued. They struggled all night to keep up with the pace and energy of the Red Stars, who outshot the visitors 25-5 (11-1 SOG) in their push to make the postseason.

Kailen Sheridan was credited with five saves on the night, and center back Mandy Freeman in front of her did an exceptional job preventing an even bigger onslaught of Chicago goals despite being visibly shaken up on two different occasions. It was probably not a coincidence that the last two Red Star goals came after Freeman was subbed out in the 78th minute.

With the win, Chicago punched their ticket to the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year, ending the Utah Royals FC’s hopes of advancing to the postseason in their inaugural season.

Depending on the league’s final standings following next week’s regular season conclusion, the Red Stars will either take on either the North Carolina Courage or the Seattle Reign in the semifinals.

Sky Blue return home to Yurcak Field on Saturday, September 8 to play their season finale against the Orlando Pride. That match kicks off at 12 noon ET.