Conheeney’s late goal give Sky Blue, Holly 2-1 opening night victory

conheeney

by TOM SLATER

Kelly Conheeney was one of the six Sky Blue FC players who logged their first National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) minutes when Sky Blue FC faced Seattle Reign in the league openers for both teams at Memorial Stadium.

But she was probably the happiest when it was over. And perhaps the most unlikely one as well.

The midfielder out of Ridgewood, New Jersey, scored her first goal in the 62nd minute to give Sky Blue a 2-1 opening night win — and an impressive one that. The victory was the Reign’s first-ever loss at Memorial Stadium and it came against a youthful but gritty Sky Blue side.

Conheeney converted the game-winner when she side-heeled a ball from Taylor Lytle that caromed off the crossbar and behind Seattle goalkeeper Hope Solo. The play was started when Solo had a weak distribution after a save and the ball worked its way to Lytle in the right corner as the Reign defense was momentarily caught napping.

Conheeeney, the former Virginia Tech star who battled injuries in her collegiate career, not only won a roster spot but a starting position after coming to open tryouts two months ago following several years away from the game. The goal gave rookie coach Christy Holly his first victory as head coach as the team used a youth-heavy lineup that was very organized, especially in the backline where Christie Rampone directed her defenders for an entire 90 minutes.

Natasha Kai gave New Jersey a 1-0 lead in the 13th minute. Kelley O’Hara, the American international star, overlapped down the left wing and sent a great serve to Kai on the far post. The Hawaiian native was wide open and able to head the ball back across the goal.

Sky Blue had a chance to double its lead in the 37th minute when O’Hara was taken down in the box. Holding midfielder Sarah Killion stepped up and sent a low shot to Solo’s right and she was able to smother the shot.

The lead held up until the 52nd minute. Kim Little won a ball outside the box and found Jess Fishlock on the right side. Fishlock tight roped the end line and lofted a serve to the far post for Merritt Mathias to head home.

Sky Blue FC, who was the quietest NWSL team in the off-season, started the game with five players logging their initial league minutes: Conheeney, Kai, midfielder Raquel Rodriguez, goalkeeper Caroline Casey, Erin Simon and Erica Skroski.  Despite their inexperience, Sky Blue had a smart game plan in place — play hard and disrupt the Reign in midfield.

In her NWSL debut, Rodriguez had moments of solid play before being subbed out in the 74th minute.

Casey was especially solid, making three point blank saves that kept Sky Blue FC in the match.

Sky Blue FC hosts Washington Spirit next Sunday at Rutgers University’s Yurcak Field in their home opener.