A Record Caps a Week of Upheaval for Sky Blue

kerr is amazing

sky blue logoWinning can cover up a lot, and that was the case Saturday night when Sam Kerr did her thing — scoring goals at a ridiculous pace late in the game — to lead Sky Blue to a head-scratching, 5-4, win over Seattle at Yurcak Field in Piscataway, N.J.

The victory had several record-breaking performances: Kerr’s four is a National Women’s Soccer League record for goals in a game; the win is the first time a team erased a three-goal deficit to win; and the 18 goals allowed by Sky Blue over four games may not be a record, but it certainly stands out.

The crowd went wild when Kerr headed home Taylor Lytle’s corner kick in stoppage time, setting off a wild celebration. The victory kept Sky Blue (8-9-2, 26 points) in the playoff race. Sky Blue is a point behind fifth-place Seattle (7-6-6, 27) and and three points back of Orlando (8-6-5, 29).

But the euphoria from a stunning win can’t undo the tumult of the previous four days. Christy Holly departed as the coach, by mutual decision according to Tony Novo, the team president and general manager. Holly had been instrumental in building the squad with strategic draft picks, free agents and veteran internationals.

On Friday, Christie Pearce, the team’s field and emotional leader, and the club’s veteran presence, announced that she would not play again this year because of “accumulative injuries.” Both moves were announced 24 hours after they happened via news release and with little further comment or explanation..

Novo met with the media after the game to explain events. He said that Holly’s departure was by mutual agreement after a long midweek meeting.

“That Holly was a management call,” Novo said, which seems more it’s more like Holly was dismissed. “We sat down and discussed with him what some options are. He’s been fabulous the last two years and I give him a lot of credit for that. Over the last couple of games, we’ve had some challenges. Sometimes you have to look toward your leader and say can we make a change. We wish Christy a lot of luck.”

Four assistants — Jill Loyden, Dave Hodgson, Paul Grieg and Maria Dorris — are coaching by committee for the time being. Hodgson received credit from Novo for the win and the decision not to start Sarah Killion and Kelley O’Hara. Killion came on in the 12th minute when Raquel Rodriguez limped off with a strained hamstring.

“We won,” Novo said. “Everyone agreed on the lineup; everyone agreed on the substitutions. It’s unorthodox, we know. But let’s put it this way. We won and the team had a lot of energy and a lot of support for each other.”

The Pearce move was a stunner, especially because it came only 24 hours before the Seattle game and only days after Holly’s departure. Were they related? No one is saying. In many quarters Pearce seemed ticketed to be the club’s coach after taking the team to a title in 2009 when Sky Blue played in Women’s Professional Soccer, an earlier league. Pearce, the team captain, did not attend the match.

“They were two totally separate things,” Novo said. “We’ve been talking to Christie Pearce the last few weeks. The fact is, she’s been through a lot over 42 years and over the last two years, and she has played through a lot of pain. Concussions, knees, back, ribs, you name it. It takes a wear and tear on the body.  She’s been a leader all her career. There was a lot of emotion going on. She has put her heart and soul into this game and into this team. We give her a lot of credit. She’s been a leader all her life and she’s passed the torch on to other people. It was her choice to how she wanted to handle this. And whether it’s this year or next year, when she comes back, we will welcome her back.”

Sky Blue hosts the Boston Breakers on Saturday.