Sky Blue FC plays hard against Thorns but fall in second half, 2-1

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  • By TOM SLATER

Optimists will say that the Sky Blue FC could have pulled off at least a draw on the road against the top-ranked team in National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). Maybe a win with a little luck.

And while it’s true, the reality is Sky Blue FC (3-4-4, 13 points) dropped a 2-1 decision on to the Portland Thorns (7-0-5).  While the loss didn’t extinguish the New Jersey side’s playoff hopes, the team sits in 7th place. The win puts Portland five points ahead of the Western New York Flash.

Portland extended its league-best unbeaten streak to 12 games while Sky Blue FC saw its own four-game unbeaten streak ended.

Using the speed and aggressiveness of Leah Galton, Sky Blue FC forced the issue early and took the lead in the 30th minute on a goal by Tasha Kai, the Hawaiian native.

Kai scored her second goal of the season in the 30th minute when Galton started the play with a blistering serve through the box. The ball went to the far post to Taylor Lytle. She served it perfectly to Kai who one-timed it to the left post.

Nadia Nadim set up the game-tying goal three minutes later with a well-placed corner kick. Nadim curved it inside to the near post where Dagny Brynjarsdottir cuts in to nod it past Sky Blue goalkeeper Caroline Stanley. Stanley was shaken up on the play and left the game, replaced by Caroline Casey.

Nadim, the former Sky Blue FC sensation who was traded to Portland the day before the college draft, scored the game-winner in the 61st minute by converting a penalty kick.

The penalty was called after Erin Simon took down Hayley Raso inside the box. Raso was sprung by a great thru ball from Mana Shin and spun inside past Simon. The Sky Blue defender, who played a strong game otherwise, took Raso down and the official pointed to the spot.

Sky Blue did pressure late as Sam Kerr came on for Kai, who was shaken up twice in the second half.  Kerr, who is working herself back into shape, had several opportunities to equalize but couldn’t solve the Thorns defense or goalkeeper Michelle Betos.

“We started very well tonight and could have gone into the locker room at halftime with an extra goal or two,” said Christy Holly, Sky Blue FC coach. “As the game wore on, we began to show signs of the flight in our legs. To the credit of our players, they pushed through it and truly left everything they had on the field. Unfortunately, we just could not get that second goal that we probably deserved.”

The three takeaways:

Nadia Nadim was on a mission: With the United States Women’s National Team players gone for the better part of two months and Canada’s Christine Sinclair gone for the same reason, much of the goal-scoring responsibilities will fall to the Danish international. She didn’t disappoint against Sky Blue FC. She set up the first goal with a perfect corner kick and clinched the win with a solid penalty kick.

Nadim has dangerous all night and could have had few more. Early in the match, Emily Menges lofted a serve over the Sky Blue defense with Nadim running onto the ball in stride. Sky Blue goalkeeper Caroline Stanley came out to challenge the striker. A slight hesitation by Nadim allowed Stanley to make a strong step to her left and stone the striker. In the second half, Nadim was in the right spot to head a corner kick but it clanged off the crossbar.

Nadim clicked all night, mostly with Hayley Raso to pressure the Sky Blue defense. Nadim and Dagny now have four goals each and look capable of caring the Thorns through the Olympics.

Sky Blue FC’s midfield is shaping up: Taylor Lytle was named the Pine Belt Auto Player of the Match. Her perfect serve to Kai led to the only goal for her team-leading fourth assist of the year.  Raquel Rodriguez looks better with ever touch and has had a few goes on goal in Portland. And we all know Galton has added octane to the offense. With Sarah Killion anchoring the midfield, it may be the strong point of the team right now.

That bodes well if Kerr can get into game-shape quickly and Australia doesn’t call her up for the Olympics.

Zimmerman looked good in her debut: Sky Blue brought up the midfielder/striker on Friday, giving her little time to get acclimated to the first team. She’s been playing with the Sky Blue reserves for most of the spring and early summer and not only got called up, she was thrown into the starting 11 against the best team in the league.

The New Jersey native and Providence College star provided lots of energy as Kai’s running mate up top. She wasn’t that technical but came back in the midfield often to get the ball, allowing the Hawaiian to stay up high.

And finally…. was there ever or will there ever be a better celebration dance than the one displayed by Rodriquez and Kai? Check it out below.

Scoring Summary:

1 2 F
Portland Thorns FC 1 1 2
Sky Blue FC 1 0 1

29 NJ Tasha Kai (Taylor Lytle)
39 POR Dagny Brynjarsdottir (Nadia Nadim)
61 POR Nadia Nadim (Penalty Kick)

Lineups:
NJ: Stanley (Casey-41); Simon, Grubka, Rampone, Skroski; Galton, Killion, Lytle, Rodriguez; Zimmerman (Hayes-73), Kai (Kerr-55)
Subs not used: Goodson, Gordon, Stanton
Head Coach: Christy Holly

POR: Betos, Weber, Reynolds, Menges, Berryhill, Brynjarsdottir, Henry, Boureille, Shim (Pratt-72), Raso (Lofton-90), Nadim (Fitzgerald-90)
Subs not used: Franch, Williamson
Head Coach: Mark Parsons

Stats Summary: POR / NJ
Shots:  13 / 11
Shots on Goal: 4 /
Saves:  2 / 2
Corner Kicks: 6 / 3
Fouls:  10 / 6
Offside: 4 / 3

Misconduct Summary:
45 NJ Rampone (Yellow)
66 POR Weber (Yellow)

Officials:
Referee: Reyna Fonseca
Assistant Referee 1: Amanda Ross
Assistant Referee 2: Nick Uranga
Fourth Official: JJ Blodgett