Sky Blue FC picked up their first goals and first win of the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup last night, downing the Houston Dash 2-0.
The scoring opened with a goal from Paige Monaghan, who slotted home Sky Blue’s first goal of the tournament at 17’ after latching on to an inch perfect through ball by Ifeoma Onumonu and rounding Dash goalie Jane Campbell. Nahomi Kawasumi provided some insurance with a spectacular goal at 34’, controlling a misfired pass from Campbell and firing the ball into an empty net from over 40 yards out.
Though Sky Blue’s midfield combination of Jennifer Cudjoe, Sarah Woldmoe, and McCall Zerboni didn’t appear on the scoresheet, their play was crucial to the result. The trio, perhaps for the first time this tournament, consistently seemed to all be on the same page and were connecting passes all over the park. In addition to controlling tempo and linking the offense and defense, all three continually were reliable in putting in hard challenges, unafraid and relentless in seizing any and all opportunities the Dash gave them to stop or intercept play.
The possession style of play the Coombe has instilled seemed to really shine last night, as the Dash played a high line that allowed ample opportunists for quick passing and discovery of space. The change in the execution of this possession-oriented style was noticeable. In the first two matches against the Reign and the Royals, Sky Blue’s new methodical build-up looked at best uninspired, and at worst clumsy. Against the Dash, however, creativity seemed to abound, and the team finally looked confident in holding the ball for long periods of time, slowly advancing forward.
Midge Purce showed why U.S. national team manager Vlatko Andonovski and Sky Blue coach Freya Coombe are so adamant in developing her as a fullback, rather than her natural home as a forward, putting in an excellent shift on the right flank. In addition to being a strong outlet on the front foot, interchanging passes and providing good runs down the wing, the Olney, Maryland native coupled this attacking output with a stellar defensive performance as well. She put up 6 tackles, 2 interceptions, 5 clearances, and 7 recoveries, playing a crucial role in keeping an explosive Houston offense quiet all game. In the first two matches, the decision to play Purce had been criticized as providing an unneeded addition to a defense that is quickly establishing itself as among the league’s best. Tonight, Purce wasn’t an accessory to such a defense, she was an asset.
Last night’s win, which brought Sky Blue up to second place in the current logjam of first round standings, was monumental for multiple reasons. In addition to being Freya Coombe’s first win as the club’s full head coach, it was the first match in over three years that Sky Blue won by more than a single goal. In arguably the first match in years that Sky Blue thoroughly dominated, fans got a first good look at a team that had been struggling to break through rust and timidness in its first two games. A team that isn’t just content with escaping the cellar of the standings, but one looking to assert itself as a title contender.