Kerr’s Hat Trick Sparks Sky Blue Comeback

kerr celebration

By TOM SLATER

sky blue logoPISCATAWAY, N.J. — The milestones were nice but the victory was even sweeter for Sky Blue on Saturday night.

Playing in their record 100th National Women’s Soccer League game, Sky Blue spotted FC Kansas City a two-goal lead after a half before scoring three goals in the final 12 minutes to take a heart-thumping 3-2 victory at Rutgers University’s Yurcak Field.

And who else but Sam Kerr would score all three goals. Kerr’s natural hat trick (three goals in a row) in the final 12 minutes was the margin of victory. And she kept the milestones going.

She is only the second Sky Blue player to score a hat trick (Nadia Nadim had the other in 2013) and the first player to do it at Yurcak Field. Her three goals give her 35 and makes her the NWSL’s career-leading scorer, surpassing North Carolina’s Jess McDonald. And her nine goals this season tied Megan Rapinoe of Seattle for the top goal-scorer this season.

More important, the win moved Sky Blue (7-6-1, 22 points) into third place with a second straight win for only the second time this season.

Kerr began her scoring spree in the 78th minute with a diving header to convert a long, diagonal Kelley O’Hara serve. Kerr hung back toward penalty area before laying out and heading the cross into the near corner.

“Diving headers, those are my favorite types of goals,” said Kerr, who was unaware of her milestones. “Kelley has heaps of time and was whipping some good balls in all day and I just floated back and dove.”

Three minutes later, Kerr got Sky Blue level with a quick strike from 15-yards out. Daphne Corboz controlled a ball that pinged around the penalty box and sent a ball to Kerr. The Australian international one-timed a shot inside the far post.

With the match entering extra time, Kerr scored one more.  Corboz chipped a ball outside the box to Taylor Lytle, who came on in the second half and was key in controlling the midfield. Lytle sent a quick touch to Kerr who was racing in. Kerr right-footed the shot from in close.

“She’s [Kerr] worth three times the price of admission,” Sky Blue Coach Christy Holly said. “I would pay to watch her train. She’s having so much fun and it’s paying off. But tonight, I think is the first time I’ve seen her look like an out-and-out goal scorer. A striker. The header to get us started and the third goal, it was just first class. Her touch and awareness in the box is the reason we put a lot of faith in her.”

Faith is what was needed for Sky Blue. Falling behind, 2-0, after a half Sky Blue seemingly got a break when Shea Groom was red-carded right before halftime. Groom tangled with Sky Blue defender Erika Skroski. Skroski pulled Groom’s jersey and Groom responded with an elbow to the face. After three minutes of deliberation by Referee Amber O’Connor, Skroski was given a yellow card while Groom was ejected.

Up until that point, FC Kansas City (3-6-4, 13) looked in control. An injury to Sky Blue defender Mandy Freeman led to some disarray midway through the first half and led to a pair of goals by Katie Bowen and the rookie Christina Gibbons, who scored her first goal in the 42nd minute.

With FC Kansas City forced to play with 10 for the second half, a win wasn’t out of the question for Sky Blue. With the numerical advantage, Sky Blue owned time of possession but was frustrated time and again. In the 50th minute, Kerr back heeled a pass to O’Hara who found Maya Hayes alone in front of the goal. Hayes didn’t hit it hard enough allowing Rebecca Moros to clear the ball off the line with a slide.

Ten minutes later, FC Kansas City goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart deflected a shot from O’Hara after Kerr sprung her with a tremendous lead pass.

Barnhart also kick-saved a shot in close from Lytle and then saved a hard shot from Hayes when the ball wasn’t fully cleared.

“We’ve had a few of those nights when the ball wasn’t going in the net,” Kerr said. “Tonight, we had so many chances and would have scored 10 if it wasn’t for Barny [Barnhart]. This is only my second hat trick ever in my whole career. I know that might surprise people. But I’m happy to score anytime but when you score three it’s great and most importantly especially when you score after being down.”

Sky Blue became the first team to play 100 games in the league and has a combined record of 38-36-26, 20-17-12 at home.