Galton’s play sparks Sky Blue’s comeback vs. Boston Breakers

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If Sky Blue FC continue its winning ways and makes the National Women’s Soccer League playoffs, they can thank Leah Galton.

You can literally trace the rise of the New Jersey team to the moment when the English international traded in her cap and gown from Hofstra University and laced up her boots for Sky Blue. Since she came on in the second half of a 5-2 loss to Western New York in Rochester (where she got her first assist), Sky Blue has lost just once in seven matches (3-1-3). And it’s not a coincidence.

Far from it.

The latest piece of evidence was submitted Sunday. Galton’s presence was absolutely felt when she jump-started Sky Blue FC to a 3-2 win over the Boston Breakers. The victory marked the first back-to-back wins for Sky Blue this season and vaulted them into the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) playoff conversation. Sky Blue (5-4-4, 19 points) moved into sole possession of fifth place, just two points behind Chicago and a point ahead of Orlando.

But for a while, it looked like Boston was going to carry the day. They came out more aggressive and stormed the flanks, resulting in a goal in the fourth minute. The Breakers (1-11-1, 4 points) scored when Stephanie McCaffrey served from the left side and Sky Blue couldn’t clear. The ball came to Angela Salem to slot home for her first goal of the year.

Sky Blue slowly began to put some pressure on the Breakers defense, resulting in the a few corner kicks but nothing serious. Until Galton got involved. Raquel Rodriguez found Galton with room in the 27th minute. And this time it was her quickness and first step that set up the tying goal. The English striker was able to turn and face Boston defender Christen Westphal. Galton quickly moved from left to right and cut inside. Westphal was helpless to do anything but foul. Sarah Killion converted easily on the ensuring penalty kick.

Galton then scored the go-ahead goal 10 minutes later by chasing down a Tasha Kai serve. Rodriguez again started the play, although it was her errant pass that began the sequence. But the Costa Rican midfielder won the ball back before the Breakers could take advantage of her error. Rodriguez turned up field and found Kai on the right wing in stride. Kai’s served went far post and Galton was there to leave no doubt and knock it home.

Late in the game, however, a sequence personified Galton’s style of play. Kristin Grubka lobbed a pass over the midfield and Galton caught up with it on the bounce, headed it past one defender and then did the same to another defender. All at top speed. She was able to corral the ball – still at full speed — at the touchline and crossed toward the penalty spot. Boston deflected it for a corner kick but her speed and aggressiveness turned an ordinary clearance into a dangerous opportunity.

Here’s 3 more takeaways:

It could have been more: Three goals are the most scored by Sky Blue this season. But it easily could have been more. Boston goalkeeper Jami Kranich kept the Breakers in the game until the very end. Kranich made at least four saves from point blank range to give her team a puncher’s chance until the very end.

With Sky Blue leading, 2-1, Kranich deflected a hard shot by Galton coming down the left wing. The rebound came to Rodriguez, who blasted one on net but the Boston keeper was able to handle it.

Her best work came late in the game with Sky Blue holding a one-goal lead. She stopped Maya Hayes and Galton on consecutive shots, parrying both of them. On the second rebound, she hustled to corral a bouncing ball before Hayes could get to it.

Sky Blue eventually went ahead 3-1 on Erica Skroski’s first goal as a pro. The rookie from Rutgers completed a four-pass play off a corner kick, heading in Kristin Grubka’s head ball pass. The goal was critical when Boston scored late on Julie King’s header.

Set pieces still need work: Julie King’s late goal for Boston — the one that caused Sky Blue fans to hold their collective breath – came off a free kick. Set pieces have plagued Sky Blue at times this season. And with Washington coming to town Saturday, that doesn’t bode well. The Spirit beat FC Kansas City this weekend, 3-2, with all three goals coming off set pieces. Christine Nairn started all three plays with either a free kick or corner kick.

For Sky Blue to continue on their path toward the playoffs, weakness in defending set pieces may be a red flag. It’s easily fixable but he New Jersey team better mark better. The Sky Blue backline is comprised of uberveteran Christie Rampone, free agent Erin Simon, rookie  Skroski and second-year defender Grubka. But defending set pieces is a team effort. Kai is often back on those and many times gets her head on a serve. And Sky Blue needs to take care of business on set pieces

Rookies of the Year?: Back in January, Sky Blue maneuvered to get the second overall pick in the college draft. They used it to draft Rodriguez, the NCAA Player of the Year. She moved right in to a central midfield role, teaming with Killion. The Costa Rican international has been everything she was said to be. But the other three have been instrumental in the team success. Skroski scored her first pro goal yesterday but has been solid both in the center of the defense and outside back. Caroline Casey started in goal in April, was cut for Erin Nayler (remember her?) and brought back a few weeks later. With Caroline Stanley injuring her shoulder, Casey stepped up. And Galton’s contributions are well documented.

Whether the 2016 draft by Sky Blue is or will be the best overall draft by a NWSL team will play out in the future. But the quartet is making their presence felt this summer.