Sky Blue FC (0-5-2, 2 points) fell to the visiting Portland Thorns FC (3-1-2, 11 points) Saturday night at Yurcak Field, 1-0.
Portland was missing nine of its players, many of whom are starters, to international duty in preparation for next month’s World Cup, but second-half substitute Midge Purce revitalized their attack, resulting in the game-winning goal and a hearty three points for the visiting Thorns.
That lone goal of the match came in the 69th minute when Portland rookie Simone Charley saw her initial shot deflect off a Sky Blue defender. The deflection landed at Purce’s feet, and the midfielder sent her shot through the Sky Blue back line and past the outstretched leg of goalkeeper DiDi Haracic to put the visiting Thorns on the board.
To open up the match, Sky Blue went head-to-head with Portland throughout the entire first half, splitting possession evenly and limiting their number of opportunities on goal.
Thorns defender Meghan Klingenberg created a couple of opportunities in the first half for Portland, but Haracic was equal to the task, easily catching a lofted attempt by Klingenberg in the fourth minute before later denying Tyler Lussi off what would have been an Klingenberg assist in the 11th.
Imani Dorsey has been a driving force in Sky Blue’s attack, although she herself has yet to find the back of the net this season. She helped a dangerous opportunity for Sky Blue in first-half stoppage time, using her speed to move the ball down the far side before cutting towards goal. Without a good look on goal for herself, Dorsey opted to pass back for rookie Paige Monaghan, pushed high off the Sky Blue backline, but Monaghan’s first touch got away from her and the Portland was out of danger.
“I’m really pleased that, [although] the first half things didn’t go our way, there weren’t really dangerous situations for them. We fought, we stayed organized. No one got frustrated and we stayed in it,” Sky Blue FC Head Coach Denise Reddy told media following the match.
“I think we started really well on the front foot in the second half. But a total second half performance? We’re better than that. They feel that, and they’re not happy with that, to be fair.”
Sky Blue entered the second half with motivation to score on a play originating with Monaghan on the back line. Monaghan passed to Dorsey on the near sideline, who kept the ball in bounds before sending a quick pass to Jen Hoy, who subbed into the midfield at the start of the second half. Hoy quickly used the outside of her right foot to quickly pass to McCaskill, who raced diagonally toward goal. She had to battle Portland defender Katherine Reynolds once she got to the top of the box, and used her footwork to try to turn around Reynolds, only to have the veteran defender block the resulting shot attempt.
The first close attempt of the second half for the Thorns came in the 58th minute when rookie Simone Charley, signed as a supplemental player on May 8, got on the end of an Elizabeth Ball cross, but sent her header off the far post. Teammate Tyler Lussi was there to try to clean it up, but her attempt at knocking in the rebound was denied by Haracic.
One highlight of the match for Sky Blue fans was defender Gina Lewandowski’s first start in her first appearance for the New Jersey-based club. Lewandowski, a Pennsylvania native, recently returned to playing in the U.S. after 12 years playing abroad for Bayern Munich. In the wake of outside back Caprice Dydasco’s ankle injury, Paige Monaghan shifted over to left back, paving the way for Lewandowski to start at right back.
“It was exciting,” Lewandowski said after her NWSL debut. “Of course, it’s a little nerve-wracking when you join a new team. But it was good good to get back into the game after a couple of weeks off from my last season. With every day, every training, every game, it’ll get even better.”
Of the overall team performance, Lewandowski said, “I think we had a good performance at certain phases of the game. We got dangerous going forward a couple of times, but we just need to get more consistency going forward. We had phases where we were actually the better team, but we just have to be able to do that over a longer period of time.”
Sky Blue next takes the field on Saturday, June 15 when they take on the Utah Royals FC at Rio Tinto Stadium for the first time this season. Sky Blue returns home on June 22 when they host the Orlando Pride.
Full match highlights are below.