Saturday’s 5-4 win over Seattle Reign resembled a rollercoaster, showcasing both teams’ defensive faults and offensive prowess. Over the course of the past week, Sky Blue FC lost their head coach Christy Holly and their captain Christie Pearce. Holly exited this past Wednesday, while Pearce gave only one day’s notice prior to her departure. Both Sam Kerr and Kelley O’Hara were named co-captains in Pearce’s place. While there seemed to be disorganization in the back, but Sam Kerr’s offensive dominance helped give Sky Blue the win.
The high scoring game began in the third minute. After a low-ball cross from Christine Nairn to Rumi Utsugi at around the penalty spot, Utsugi’s shot was deflected by Katie Johnson to the back of the net. Despite desperate pleas for offside came from Kailen Sheridan, Johnson was held onside by Nikki Stanton who was covering Nairn.
Seattle doubled its score in the eighteenth minute, on Nahomi Kawasumi’s corner kick. Sheridan attempted to swat the cross away, only to deflect the ball a few feet away to the stomach of Jessica Fishlock. Fishlock started her run on the eighteen at the far side of the field, bypassing Madison Tiernan who picked Fishlock up too late to cover her.
In the final minute of stoppage time in the first half, Seattle ended as strong as it started. A cross from Nairn fell untouched at the far post where Kawasumi popped it in. While Erica Skrosksi was left clearly upset by her marking on Kawasumi, Sheridan wasn’t set for the shot and fell backward, unable to deflect the ball anywhere but behind her.
The second half marked a significant change in Sky Blue FC’s intensity. In the forty-eighth minute, Kayla Mills sent in a cross to Skroski who headed it down to the knees of Kristen McNabb. McNabb settled the ball and tried to clear it through Sam Kerr, always a bad idea. Kerr poked the ball through to the back of the net, commencing Sky Blue FC’s phenomenal comeback.
In the sixty-eighth minute, Sky Blue continued its offensive domination. After an unsuccessful corner by Seattle, the ball landed at Daphne Corboz’s feet who launched the ball perfectly to Kerr. After committing so many women forward for the corner, Kerr went one-on-two against goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer and Carson Pickett. Pickett gave Kerr acres of space, and Kerr punished that mistake.
Three minutes later, Sky Blue tied the game. Sarah Killion, still in Sky Blue’s defensive third, sent the ball long to Kerr’s chest. Despite having four defenders between her and the goal, Kerr found the back of the net easily. For the second time, Kerr punished the Reign defenders for giving her too much time and space.
Seattle reminded Sky Blue that they were still an offensive threat in the eighty-fifth minute. Ustugi caught the Sky Blue defense sleeping, getting on the end of a slotting through-ball at the eighteen and going one-on-one with Sheridan. Sheridan did well coming out but was able to block Utsugi’s shot, but the ball deflected to the feet of Kiersten Dallstream, who was recently subbed into the game. Dallstream was left wide-open, facing an empty net. Dallstream got her first goal of the season and Seattle went up 4-3.
In the first minute of stoppage time, Sky Blue kept the fight going. Taylor Lytle crossed the ball to Kerr, who took the ball away from goal, passing it to Domi Richardson. Richardson sent another cross that reached the head of Maya Hayes. Hayes popped the ball into the far post, impossible for Kopmeyer to reach. Sky Blue tied the game for the second time.
At the ninety-third minute, the Seattle Reign conceded a handball in the box. Sam Kerr stood over the ball, ready to bury her fourth goal. Instead, Kerr launched the ball at the crossbar and it was cleared — but not far enough.
Play continued and, with seconds ticking away, Sky Blue refused to give up. Seattle never regained possession after the clearance and, after a great save by Kopmeyer, Sky Blue was awarded a corner. Lytle took the corner in the ninety-fourth minute, into a crowd of green and blue. Kerr made the last touch, heading it over Seattle defenders. In the last possible seconds of the game, Sky Blue FC took the win.
Seattle Reign’s head coach Laura Harvey understood the errors of her players, “With Sam Kerr up top, she’s the best player in the world at the minute, no question about it, and you can’t give her that space, and we did. I think that […] we looked tired in the second half, […] but it’s not good enough. Ultimately, you can’t go up 3-0 at halftime and lose a game.”
Without Christy Holly, no one took the blame for Sky Blue FC’s defensive faults. Sky Blue’s President and General Manager Tony Novo looked only at the result. “What we had here tonight was fabulous. We had a lot of collaboration, we had a lot of our players fighting for each other, working for each other, and it was all in synchronicity.”
Novo explained that the lineup was a collaborative effort, but the Sky Blue’s technical staff took command of the team. After going 3-0 down in the first half, the technical staff spurred their team by reminding them of the ultimate goal, playoffs.
Novo noted Pearce’s extensive career, battle with injuries as well as her two young daughters as reasons for her exit from the team. “There’s only so much a body can take. […] Hopefully she recovers, whether it’s this year or next year, I’m not sure, but we will welcome her back.”
As for Holly, Novo explained that the lack of results over the past few games lead to a “conversation” ending with Holly’s exit. Novo said, “It was a mutual agreement and that’s all I’m going to say about that.”
The disorganization of Sky Blue’s defense in the wake of the departure of both the head coach and captain is understandable. But moving forward defense needs to be a priority if the playoffs is a realistic goal. The Sky Blue could win every game if Sam Kerr scores four goals per game, or if their offense remains as dynamic as it was this weekend. But realistically a team will score one or two goals. To stay in the playoff hunt, Sky Blue needs to stop bleeding goals and improve on their marking.
Sky Blue FC