Sky Blue FC (0-6-2, 2 points) returned from the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) World Cup break with a 1-0 loss to the Utah Royals FC (5-2-1, 16 points) in Salt Lake City Saturday night.
The loss is Sky Blue’s fourth consecutive loss and extends the club’s winless streak to eight matches on the year. Head Coach Denise Reddy, hired as head coach ahead of the 2018 season, now has only one win in 32 matches (1-12-19) with the club.
The game-winning goal was an early, gutsy strike by former U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) striker Amy Rodriguez on a play originating off a Royals throw-in. Katie Stengel threw the ball in for Rodriguez, who one-touched it to Icelandic international Gunny Jónsdóttir. As Jónsdóttir battled Sky Blue defender Caprice Dydasco for possession, Jónsdóttir got just enough of a tap on the ball to hit Rodriguez in stride, and Rodriguez used her speed to beat two Sky Blue players to make a diagonal run into the center of the field.
With three Sky Blue defenders and goalkeeper DiDi Haracic between her and the goal, Rodriguez saw her opportunity and blasted a shot from more than 25 yards out. Haracic attempted to make the save, but she couldn’t get a hand on Rodriguez’s shot, giving up what would turn out to be the game winner. The goal is Rodriguez’s fifth on the year, putting her one goal behind the Chicago Red Stars’ Sam Kerr for the league’s most goals.
What a strike— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 16, 2019
Sky Blue created their first solid chance to equalize in the 27th minute when forward Savannah McCaskill chipped the ball toward goal but just missed connecting with Paige Monaghan as she collided with Utah goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart, coming off her line in attempts of collecting McCaskill’s pass, inside the box. Although the collision caused the ball to spray out, the play was called dead as the referee checked on Monaghan, who stayed down briefly before getting up and returning to play.
Sky Blue FC center back Erica Skroski was called into action in the 36th minute when Royals midfielder Erika Tymrak gained possession near midfield and drove the ball into Utah’s final third before sending a diagonal pass over to Rodriguez. Rodriguez pushed into the 18 and got ready to fire off another shot, but Skroski perfectly timed her slide tackle to dispossess Rodriguez and prevent her another opportunity on goal.
The visitors had one more opportunity on goal in the opening half after Monaghan earned a free kick just outside of the area during first-half stoppage time. Raquel Rodriguez took the set piece ball, sending a curling shot on target, only to have the diving Barnhart punch her shot away to prevent the equalizer.
Sky Blue had three solid opportunities in the second half, but the Royals defense and the woodwork combined efforts to preserve the clean sheet.
In the 49th minute, rookie defender Sabrina Flores, making her NWSL debut, sent the ball up the right flank for Monaghan. Monaghan went to the end line before cutting her pass back to McCaskill, who had run into space inside the Royals 18. McCaskill’s took a heavy first touch though, and in the time it took her to get back onto the ball, the Royals defense was onto her. When she finally was able to take her shot, Royals defender Gaby Vincent blocked her shot with a clean slide tackle inside the six.
Minutes later, Sky Blue’s Rodriguez used her footwork and tenacity to dribble through the Royals defense before firing off a low shot that Barnhart deflected with her hand. Nahomi Kawasumi attempted to body the ball into the goal, but she was unable to control the angle of the ball and sent it off the far post.
The woodwork once again denied Sky Blue a minute later when McCaskill attempted to chip Barnhart from distance, only to have her shot deflect off the crossbar.
As the scoreline suggests, the game was a relatively evenly-matched performance. Sky Blue just edged out the Royals in possession (51.8 percent) and outshot them 17-11. However, the Royals put more shots on target, forcing Haracic to make six saves on the night.
Two recent signings for Sky Blue also made their debuts in the match. As previously mentioned, Flores, who was selected by the New Jersey-based club in the 2019 NWSL College Draft before being signed as a National Team Replacement player on May 10, made her professional debut. Midfielder Elizabeth Eddy, traded to Sky Blue from the Courage earlier this week, subbed into the match in the 78th minute for McCaskill to make her club debut.
Sky Blue FC next returns home to Yurcak Field on Saturday, June 22, when they host the Orlando Pride for their annual Pride Night. That match kicks off at 7 p.m. ET.