Sky Blue Eliminated From NWSL Playoffs

sam kerr's shot is saved by spirit goalkeeper Didi Harcic

sky blue logoPISCATAWAY, N.J. — One by one, the Sky Blue players rushed through the mixed zone on Sunday that serves as the interview area at Rutgers University’s Yurcak Field.

They stared straight ahead; some with red eyes, some eyes filled with tears. All, however, were visibly upset when they came to the same realization: Sky Blue’s season was effectively over.

A 2-1 loss to the last-place Washington Spirit eliminated Sky Blue from the National Women’s Soccer League playoffs. The Spirit continued their hex on Sky Blue with the victory — their third this year and second straight win in which the Spirit allowed a first-half goal.

Even with a win Sunday, Sky Blue (9-11-2, 29 points) would have needed some help in the final two weeks of the season. But without the victory, even the faintest hope was gone.

“We thought we had this one,” the second-year defender Erica Skroski said. “It’s a moving table every week. This was a must win. We had a few letdowns late in the game and things didn’t go our way. But it’s very disappointing.”

United States international Mallory Pugh, a second-half sub, scored the game-winner in the 85th minute. She took a pass from Lindsey Agnew, beat a pair of defenders and struck a low shot past Kailen Sheridan.

The Spirit had to sweat out a flurry of Sky Blue shots in stoppage time. Sky Blue had three golden opportunities in the closing seconds when two shots by Kelley O’Hara and one by Daphne Corboz were stopped by Didi Harcic and a pair of defenders.

Sky Blue had the lead late in the game, thanks to a goal from Maya Hayes late in the first half. With two minutes left in the half, Sam Kerr sent in Hayes alone on Harcic.  The Spirit keeper collided with Hayes and the ball bounced to Kerr, who put a shot on goal but bounced off a Washington defender.

With Harcic still down on the ground, Hayes was able to corral the loose ball and fire it in the empty net.

That lead lasted until the 75th minute. After O’Hara forced a corner kick with a well-timed slide tackle, Shelina Zadorsky launched her kick the far post. Whitney Church was unmarked and headed it past Sheridan.

The other bit of intrigue on the night was to see if Kerr could get the goal that would make her the single-season scoring leader. She was held on 16 goals — which ties her with former Seattle Reign star Kim Little.

Kerr had plenty of room and opportunity for most of the night and was serving the ball well — mostly to Hayes.  Her best opportunity came in the 81st minute. Coroboz sent her in alone from about 30 yards out. Kerr attempted to dribble around Harcic but it hit the Spririt’s Kasey Kallman.

Having now had two games in a row without a goal, Kerr will have her next opportunity in two weeks when Sky Blue hosts the league-leading North Carolina Courage. Sky Blue will end its season at Boston on Sept. 30.