Sam Kerr digs Sky Blue out of another early hole in Sky Blue draw with Chicago Red Stars

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PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Sky Blue FC had a chance to take a spot at the podium of the National Women’s Soccer League Standings at home Saturday night, with an opportunity at revenge mixed in.

The Jersey Girls would leave Yurcak Field with a mixed bag.

The Chicago Red Stars, who defeated Sky Blue 2-1 when the two faced at Toyota Park a pair of weeks prior, would come to Piscataway and take a point, nearly stealing all three had it not been for another edition of late-game heroics from NWSL leading goalscorer Sam Kerr.

After her 12-minute hat-trick reversed a 2-0 deficit in a 3-2 win over Kansas City last weekend, Kerr would steal a point for Sky Blue at the death, heading in a goal in the 90th minute to turn another 2-0 deficit into a 2-2 draw, one that didn’t seem likely for most of the match.

“We gotta stop giving away goals early and having to come back,” Kerr said. “We can win games like that if we can score in the 90th minute. … we’re happy to take the point rather than the loss … I’ve said it a million times this year, we normally wouldn’t come back from that in the previous years, so really proud.”

Christen Press, the Red Stars’ top goalscorer and the fourth best in the NWSL, wreaked havoc on the Sky Blue backline early, putting pressure in the final third and forcing a number of turnovers.

Less than two minutes into the game, she forced Nicole Stanton to foul her at the edge of the area for a yellow card after stealing it off her feet with clever pressure. A couple of minutes later, her pressure would result in the Red Stars’ opening goal. Press would beat experienced centerback Christie Pearce to a loose pass only to look up and find a wide-open Sofia Huerta making a run into the box. The forward laid off the pass to her teammate, leaving Huerta to tuck in a shot underneath Kailen Sheridan to give Chicago a 1-0 lead within five minutes.

The match would continue to be Chicago’s for much of the first half, with Julie Ertz dictating the pace in midfield, swallowing up any attempts from Sky Blue to create. The USWNT regular was everywhere, recovering possession whenever the ball came anywhere near her.

On the other end, Chicago struggled to threaten again until the 26th minute. The Red Stars took full advantage of a world class pass from Vanessa DiBernardo to Christen Press, beating every defender with a looping ball into acres of space to make Press’ job as easy as she made it look.

At the half-hour mark, Sky Blue was down two goals and despite a couple of chances minutes after conceding the second, a repeat of last week’s historic comeback looked, at best, unlikely.

That was until Maya Hayes made up for her difficulties in front of goal last week against Kansas City in the 32nd minute, taking her first chance of the day against Chicago to reduce the deficit. Hayes was at the right place at the right time to take advantage of a spill from Alyssa Naeher and knock in Sky Blue’s first goal.

NWSL leading scorer Sam Kerr came close to equalizing at the stroke of halftime, taking advantage of confusion in the penalty area to fire a shot which was saved by Naeher. Coming off her second ever hat trick, Kerr’s first involvement in the match was a negative — she received a yellow card for a tackle on Ertz in the Red Stars’ defensive third.

Kerr came close to the equalizer again in the 45th, this time assisting Stanton as she rocked a shot off the crossbar.

Chicago came out of the break as the aggressor, forcing Sheridan into her best save of the day in the 56th minute. Press made another smartly timed run at the hour mark, only this time Sheridan came off her line in time to deny her. The Canadian goalkeeper would be put to work again seconds later, diving to her left to block a good attempt from Alyssa Mautz.

Opportunities to tie up the match came and went for Sky Blue, most notably to substitute McKenzie Meehan in the 86th minute, but her first-time shot was weak, dribbling slowly to Naeher before it was collected.

Hope was all but lost when Sarah Killion whipped in an inch perfect cross onto Kerr’s head, allowing her to put it past Naeher to fix the final result at 2-2.

With the result, Sky Blue remains three points behind the second-place Red Stars, though Chicago still has a game in hand. 

“The biggest focus is really on performance,” said Sky Blue head coach Christy Holly. “We rode our luck and Kailen (Sheridan) made a couple of cracking saves … what we said right after the game is we need to continue to get better. The results will take care of themselves if we play up to our potential.”

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Scoring Summary:

4’ — Sky Blue 0-1 Chicago: Sofia Huerta (assist: Christen Press)

26’ — Sky Blue 0-2 Chicago: Christen Press (assist: Vanessa DiBernardo)

32’ — Sky Blue 1-2 Chicago: Maya Hayes

90′ — Sky Blue 2-2 Chicago: Sam Kerr (assist: Sarah Killion)

Starting Line-Ups:

Sky Blue: Kailen Sheridan, Kayla Mills (Leah Galton, 69’), Erica Skroski, Christie Pearce, Kelley O’Hara, Nikki Stanton (Raquel Rodriguez, 54’), Sarah Killion, Daphne Corboz, Taylor Lyttle, Sam Kerr, Maya Hayes (McKenzie Meehan, 78’).

Chicago Red Stars: Alyssa Naeher, Casey Short, Samantha Johnson (Taylor Comeau, 46’), Kathleen Naughton, Arin Gilliland, Sofia Huerta, Julie Ertz, Alyssa Mautz, Vanessa DiBernardo, Christen Press, Danielle Calaprico.

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Follow Brian Fonseca on Twitter @briannnnf for updates. Email him at brianfilipefonseca@gmail.com with questions, concerns, tips or story ideas.

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