Sky Blue Hosts Washington in Need of a Win

Samantha Kerr, Raquel Rodriguez

sky blue logoTime is growing short for Sky Blue if it expects to finish 2017 with a National Women’s Soccer League playoff berth.

With only three games left and six out of the third and fourth playoff spots, Sky Blue needs to pick up all nine points for a realistic chance at postseason play. And they’ll need a little help because they don’t play any of the three teams ahead of them.

It starts with a Sunday night (Yurcak Field, 6 p.m.) against the Washington Spirit.

On paper, that might seem one of the easier matchups of the year. The Spirit is in last place with only four wins in 21 matches. But half of them have come against Sky Blue (9-10-2, 29 points). That includes a 4-1 win at Yurcak less than a month ago. The Spirit also won a 4-3 match at the Soccerplex in Maryland in April. The Spirit has not won since that game, however, bringing a six-game winless streak.

“We are going into Sunday with the expectation of getting three points,” said David Hodgson, Sky Blue  assistant coach who has been the coach of record since Christy Holly departed three weeks ago. “We know the playoffs are still very much a possibility, so that is where we are focused. At the same time, we approach this game by giving Washington a lot of respect. They have beaten us twice this year, so we are looking to avenge that a bit. We had a good week of training, and our goal now is to come away with the three points on Sunday.”

One of the steadier players during the roller-coaster season has been Sarah Killion.

Killion has been a rock in the midfield the last three years. But unlike the last three years, the UCLA grad has been partnered with different players for long stretches. Raquel Rodriguez, Kelley O’Hara and Nikki Stanton have all been in the center of the park with her for periods of time but never for long. Injuries, international commitments and, last week, a yellow card accumulation by Stanton, has forced Killion to adjust to a new face with different styles.

“A huge thing in the midfield is playing together getting used to each other and each other’s style of play,” Killion said. “The midfield rotation is key to flow both on offense and defense.  It’s been tough in one sense because of new players coming in but it’s been easier in the other sense because I’ve played with these players the last two years.”

Killion started the season among the leading scorers in the NWSL with five goals, including four on penalty kicks, in the early going. Like everyone else, though, she’s been surpassed by Sam Kerr. The Australian international has 16 goals and the next one will set an NWSL single-season scoring record. Kerr has not just scored a ton of goals, many have been timely at the end of games, giving Sky Blue important points.

“She [Kerr] is so special,” Killion said. “She is the type of forward who is so dangerous because movement is top notch. She is so early and so sneaky with her runs, it’s hard to predict what she’s going to do. And that makes it so hard for defenses and has made her one of the best players in the world. You know that you don’t have to be perfect in serves to her and you can take risks. She’ll get there and turn it into a scoring chance.  And she’s still growing. She hasn’t reach her peak.”