Sky Blue FC falls to Spirit in home opener

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by TOM SLATER

Against a well-balanced Washington Spirit team, Sky Blue FC bent for most of the game but broke in a couple of key moments in a 2-1 loss before 2,571 energetic fans at Yurcak Field in Piscataway Sunday.

The Spirit had many weapons but it was a pair of United States National Team player that had a lot to do with the outcome. Ali Kreiger scored a bad angle goal in the 49th minute before the electric Crystal Dunn set up Canadian international Diana Matheson with the eventual game-winner in the second half.

Maya Hayes brought the hosts back within a goal in the 65th minute but despite some close calls at the end, Sky Blue would get no closer.

Washington stayed unbeaten at 2-0 and Sky Blue FC fell to 1-1.

“We just didn’t have the quality on the ball tonight,” said Sky Blue head coach Christy Holly. “We made too many unforced errors on the ball. Our decision making — we made too many wrong decisions or just not quick enough. We knew they were going to challenge us and they did.”

Washington had a wide edge in both possession and dangerous possessions for most of the game. The Spirit used the width at Yurcak Field to its advantage by attacking down both flanks.

Alyssa Kleiner and Diane Matheson were owning the left side for most of the half while Dunn and Kreiger attacked on the right. Katie Stengel became the predictable target player.

The Sky Blue defense did a credible job for most of the opening half with Kelly O’Hara marking Dunn on the flank and Christie Rampone and Erica Skroski manning the middle.

Kreiger broke the stalemate when she ran down the right side in the 40th minute and took a pass from Tori Huster. Kreiger launched a bad angle shot that found the upper far corner that had Sky Blue goalkeeper Caroline Casey battling the sun.

Washington nearly scored again right before half when it earned a corner kick and Christine Nairn served into the center of the goal area. Huster nodded the cross over Casey’s head but Taylor Lytle headed it off the line and Rampone cleared.

In the 56th minute, Dunn took the ball just past the midfield stripe, freewheeled into Sky Blue territory and threaded a pass between defenders Erin Simon and Rampone to Diana Matheson. The Princeton University product had Casey one on one and hit a hard but harmless looking shot at the goalkeeper. The ball went through Casey’s legs, doubling the lead.

Sky Blue cut the lead back to one in the 65th minute. Casey hit a strong goal kick that was received by Raquel Rodriguez just beyond the midfield stripe. She connect with Taylor Lytle on her left and the midfield sent in speedy Maya Hayes. Hayes had goalkeeper Stephanie Lebbe at her mercy and slotted one down the middle.

Sky Blue started sending numbers up and defender Erin Simon’s right side run and shot from 35 yards out with a bad angle clanked off the post in the 72nd minute.

In 83rd, O’Hara played a short free kick in the right corner to Rodriguez, who hit a bullet but right at Lebbe.

In stoppage time, a long ball to Tasha Kai led to a corner kick. On the ensuring play, Kai got her head on serve from O’Hara but it again went to Lebbe.

“It took us too long to get our feet and make good early decisions on the ball and it ultimately cost us the game,” said Holly.

  • I was at the game and thought that Rodriguez was, head and shoulders, the best player on the pitch for Sky Blue. Yes, she seemed a bit tentative early on, but, my goodness, her composure with the ball and her ability to create for others seemed obvious. That seems to be Sky Blue’s challenge. Who can Rodriguez play off of, who can she create FOR?