Battered Sky Blue Limps Into Orlando

pearce v marta

Sky Blue logoThis is probably not the way Sky Blue wanted to come into Saturday night’s game at the Orlando Pride.

Fighting for their playoff lives in the National Women’s Soccer League , both teams are tied for fifth place with 23 points, one behind the Seattle Reign. But both are coming from different directions.

Orlando (6-6-5) is fresh and on the rise. By contrast, Sky Blue (7-8-2) is battered and bruised, physically and mentally.

On the field, Sky Blue has lost two straight and allowed nine goals in those 180 minutes. Three weeks ago, Sky Blue fell behind by 4-0 to Seattle early in the second half before an incredible rally in 20 minutes brought got them level. But Megan Rapinoe scored in the final minute to finish her hat trick and Sky Blue’s hopes.

Last week, Sky Blue flipped the script. They scored early and carried the lead into the second half before Washington scored four goals to win, 4-1.

Whether their opponents were scoring early or late, the toll has been heavy on the Sky Blue backline — one that is young and, lately, wracked by injuries. Even though they’re smack in the middle of the standings, but Sky Blue has allowed 30 goals, most in the league.

Erin Simon is out for the year with a leg fracture. Kelley O’Hara, whose work as a right back has been willing and eager to join the attack and help jump start the offense, is also out after sustaining an injury in the opening minutes of the United States women’s national team’s match against Japan last week. Erica Skroski is beat up and Mandy Freeman has not played since hurting her ankle a month ago.

On defense hat leaves Christie Pearce; the rookie Kayla Mills, whose time has been limited for a while; and Domi Richardson, who started her first game against Washington. Nikki Stanton, a midfielder, seen limited time as an outside back.

Injuries aren’t limited to the backline. Midfielder Leah Galton is out with a strained back. Sam Kerr, who is among the top female players in the world, perhaps the best, has nagging injures, according to Coach Christy Holly. She may not start.

“It is what it is,” Holly said. “Of course we would like Kerr and O’Hara and Skroski on the field, but we also have to think of their future and well-being. We’ll do what is best for the players and the team. It’s a balance.”

Orlando is coming off a 3-0 win over Washington. Now the Pride has added Alex Morgan, the U.S international, who is back from the injury list and scored in the win over the Spirit. Ashlyn Harris, another player in the national team pool, is back in goal after missing the last 11 games.

For Holly and Sky Blue, it’s but one game in a six-month schedule.

“They’re all important in some way,” Holly said. “We don’t want to put too much emphasis on one game. It’s more important to us that we get to playing and executing the way we know we can.”