Sky Blue has its back against the wall to make the NWSL playoffs

Photo: Robyn McNeil, Sky Blue FC

By TOM SLATER

All through this roller coaster of a National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) season, Sky Blue FC has always maintained that their focus — win, lose or draw. No matter what happened on or off the field, the mantra was the same: work hard and play for each other.

Those words will be put to the most extreme of tests in the next three weeks. Sky Blue FC, a team that’s been sitting on edge of the playoff picture since Memorial Day weekend, slipped a little further behind the top four teams with a disappointing loss to FC Kansas City, 2-1, at Swope Soccer Village in Kansas City Sunday.

Despite the home team dominating early play, Sky Blue scored first on a spectacular finish by Sam Kerr. Kerr took a simple square pass from Erin Simon, watched the ball go across her body and rocketed a shot in the upper right corner.

That 40th minute strike did not last long. Tiffany McCarty drew FC Kansas City level in stoppage time, slotting home a pass from close range. Yael Averbuch gave the Blues the victory — the first come-from-behind win in club history — with an amazing strike in the 85th minute. Averbuch launched a free kick from about 40 yards out that dipped and swerved over the head of Caroline Stanley for the game-winner.

Three thoughts on the match:

Where is the midfield?: This is the one area that was thought to be a strong point for Sky Blue. Raquel Rodriguez and Sarah Killion were all but invisible against FC Kansas City and their numbers weren’t called much more at home against Chicago the week before

Kerr and Galton do get their share of touches but they’ve been working hard for them on the outside flanks.

For the second straight game, Sky Blue FC had trouble getting untracked and has never found a solid rhythm that made it a dangerous team for long stretches of the match. They only got five shots on goal Sunday — one was a goal and two others were by Kerr and Tasha Kai off a long cross and a free kick.

There needs to be more an organized, thoughtful attack. Especially with weapons like Kerr and Leah Galton at their disposal.

Time and the schedule is not on Sky Blue’s side: Without finding someone with a graduate-level mathematics degree, Sky Blue FC needs to win out with Orlando in this week’s home-and-home series to have any chance. With six points separating them and Western New York Flash, the Jersey girls need all six points against the Pride.

The trouble is the Flash plays their two games against Boston — the last place team that barely showed up against Portland Sunday night. The Flash also play second-place Portland.

Seattle, the other team vying for that fourth spot, has a tougher road with a pair of games against first-place Washington and then the final game of the 2016 regular season against Houston.

Stranger things have happened but the Sky Blue will need to put together a string of strong performances that lead to victory. Nine points isn’t impossible but it is improbable. Seven points is doable but it might not be enough.

The broadcast was unwatchable: Where can we start? How about the audio, which was nearly impossible to hear. And the clock that wasn’t started on time to start the match — nearly two minutes went by before it appeared on the television screen.

I know the game announcer was a last-minute replacement and he was solo until the second half when they apparently pulled a guy out of the stadium to provide color commentary, but there has to be standards. The call on Kerr’s goal was really bad (“Kerr shoots and the ball goes……in the net”) and isn’t that what soccer announcers live for?

But what made it worse was the rambling comments that included an involved explanation of a supposed obstruction call, the soup of the day, the New Jersey flag in the stands and the insults about the smog in the Garden State.

The game wasn’t the most entertaining one in the history of soccer but it’s the job of an announcer to bring it to those who are watching at home. That wasn’t done at all and it made the game seem amateurish at best.

A final thought: One advantage of the announcer not filling dead air was you were able to hear the combined chants of the two supporter groups — Cloud 9 and the Blue Crew. Early in the game they chanted together “Lauren Holiday” for several minutes.

The cheer was in recognition of the former FC Kansas City and United States Women’s National Team midfielder who recently retired from club and country to start a family. Over the weekend, it was revealed that Holiday will undergo brain surgery soon after her baby is born to remove a benign tumor.

A nice touch of class from the Cloud 9 squad.