Kerr blast lifts Sky Blue past Thorns as teams honor World Cup winners

USWNT Players Kelley O'Hara, Christie Rampone, Tobin Heath, and Alex Morgan honored before their clubs face off on July 12, 2015. (MC Bousquette/Empire of Soccer)

By MC Bousquette
Staff Writer

As two clubs boasting fifteen 2015 World Cup players faced off, Sky Blue FC persevered against Portland Thorns FC, finally picking up a vital win.

Although the Thorns put up an aggressive front, a goal from Samantha Kerr, playing her first match ever with Sky Blue FC, ultimately lifted her new team to victory in front of 3,014 fans at Yurcack Field — and some familiar faces from the U.S. Women’s World Cup winning side.

“I just wanted to come in here and make an impact for our team,” Kerr said after the win. “I thought we played really well the whole game, and we controlled the flow of the game. We had more chances, and I feel I was a bit unlucky to not score that second goal at the end. As a team, we look to build off this win and continue the momentum into next week.”

After a ceremony honoring attendees Kelley O’Hara, Christie Rampone, Tobin Heath, and Alex Morgan, Sky Blue and the Thorns began their encounter. The match’s first, most meaningful effort at goal came on a ball in from Thorns’ Ayo Anonma to Allie Long in the 8th minute, but the attempt was saved by Sky Blue keeper Brittany Cameron. The rebuttal from Sky Blue came moments later as Nadia Nadim received a through ball into the box, but was called offside.

The back and forth continued with another on-target shot from Ayo in the 17th minute as Cameron notched another save. In a recurring theme, Nadim attempted to put Sky Blue on the scoreboard, but a sequence in the box resulted in a high strike from Kerr. Long then sent a cross to Sinead Farrelly, but she missed the opportunity to finish. With the last dangerous move of the half, Kerr was back downfield again as she sent a ball in that was grabbed from mid-air by Thorns goalkeeper Michelle Betos.

The first half ended 0-0, with neither side playing a clearly dominant game.

The beginning of the second began far more aggressively than did the first. A minute in, Ayo sent a high shot above the net, while a few minutes later Kerr set up a play that Sky Blue couldn’t finish.

But Kerr wasn’t finished. A ball in from Maya Hayes found Kerr’s forehead perfectly on frame, as Sky Blue took the lead 1-0 in the 52nd minute.

Sky Blue’s offensive determination continued as Taylor Lytle tried a long-range strike, but Betos made the save to prevent further damage. As Sky Blue continued to hold the Thorns back, midfielder Sarah Killion was granted relief by Shawna Gordon in the 60th minute. A couple of minutes later, Thorns midfielder Mana Shim made her way deep into Sky Blue’s box, but her shot missed low and left of goal. Kerr pushed right back downfield, but her cross in the box was intercepted by Betos. A Farrelly shot point-blank at goal was denied by Cameron

In the 68th minute, Portland’s Hanna Terry replaced Rachel van Hollebeke as the Thorns assaulted the Sky Blue box. Ayo and Long persisted downfield, trying multiple times to break down the Sky Blue defense, to no avail. Ayo came flying in towards Cameron in the 89th minute, but Cameron made a dynamic diving save to thwart the effort at an equalizer. Kerr was back yet again with a breakaway at the beginning of stoppage time, barely missing left of goal. The Thorns retorted again, as Cameron was forced into two heroic saves shortly before the whistle blew.

Sky Blue FC finally attained their long-awaited, much-needed victory as they hope to begin their ascension from the NWSL cellar.

“This was a great atmosphere tonight, and the team really fed off the energy of the crowd,” said Jim Gabarra, Sky Blue FC Technical Director & Head Coach. “We still have a pathway ahead to get us where we want to be, which is obviously in the playoffs.

“It won’t be easy, but our destiny remains in our own hands.”

Sky Blue FC vs. Portland Thorns FC 
July 11, 2015 – Yurcak Field
Piscataway, New Jersey

Scoring Summary
SBFC: 0-1-1
PTFC: 0-0-0

SBFC 52 S.Kerr (M.Hayes)

Lineups:
SBFC – Cameron, Foord, Grubka, Cutshall, Hayes, Stanton, Lytle (Filigno-88), Freels, Killion (Gordon-60), Nadim, Kerr
Substitutes Not Used: Bledsoe, Haagsma, Goodson, Diederich

PTFC: Betos, Menges, Williamson, Shim (Haycook-92), Farrelly, Ayo, Long, Kyle, Johnson (Comeau-89), Van Hollebeke (Terry-68), Kleiner
Substitutes Not Used: Kruger

Misconduct Summary:
None