Some positives out of Sky Blue 3-1 loss to Chicago

kai against chicago

by TOM SLATER

There’s no question the road to the playoffs got tougher after Saturday’s 3-1 loss to Chicago Red Stars at Yurcak Field.

The Red Stars not only put some distance between them and Sky Blue for the fourth and final playoff spot, but Seattle — even without Hope Solo in goal — jumped over the New Jersey squad and into fifth place in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) standings.

Chicago is now 8-4-4 with 28 points while Sky Blue is 6-6-4 and holds at 22 points. Seattle (6-5-5, 23 points) moved ahead of Sky Blue with a 3-1 win over Portland Thorns FC.

The Red Stars scored on a bad-angle goal from recently acquired Stephanie McCaffrey in the first half when she lofted a twisting serve from deep in the right corner that went over goalkeeper Caroline Stanley’s head, off the far post and bounced into the net. After several golden opportunities by Sky Blue — including one where they had three chances within the six-yard box –  Chicago iced the game on goals from Christen Press and Sofia Huerta in the 73rd and 80th minute. Sam Kerr, fresh back from the Rio Olympics, converted a pass from Leah Galton in extra time to finish out the scoring.

The road back won’t be easy. Sky Blue plays FC Kansas City on the road next Sunday before a Wednesday/Saturday home-and-home series against Orlando. Those three matches will be the key to their playoff hopes.

“Obviously, we are disappointed with the result,” said Christy Holly, Sky Blue FC coach. “When we look back at some of tonight’s defining moments, we will see that we did not win them, and that ultimately cost us the outcome of the game. Now, we will dig into the film to find the positives and make sure this result does not define our season.”

But back to Chicago. Here’s our three takeaways:

Holly saw some good things — as usual: Holly may be the most optimistic guy in the NWSL — or all of professional soccer. Despite the bad result, the big Irishman saw positive things.

“Not playing competitively for four weeks certainly had something to do with it,” he said. “Up until the (first) goal, we had a lot of back and forth, in fact I thought we created more dangerous opportunities.

“We chased it after in the second half and created opportunities. The 3-1 scoreline I don’t think is a real definition of the game.  If you look at how the goals were created, what happened and what didn’t happen and the opportunities in front of the goal, gives you a better reflection of the game.”

Kelley O’Hara might be lost for a while:  The United States international — who played nearly every minute in the four Olympic matches — came on to start the second half before being taken down from behind by Alyssa Mautz in the game’s final minutes. Mautz appeared to have cleated O’Hara on the right ankle as she was making a run toward goal. Mautz was given a yellow card on the play.

Meanwhile, O’Hara left Yurcak field with her foot in the boot and on crutches. Sky Blue FC officials had no further information on the injury as of Sunday night.

“I’m hoping she’s not lost for the rest of the season given that shocking tackle,” said Holly. “I haven’t spoken to her yet but I’m quite concerned about that tackle.”

Losing O’Hara would make Sky Blue’s chances of making the playoffs that much difficult but more important, it’ the second injury on right ankle. She needed surgery three years ago when she suffered an injury in her rookie year with Sky Blue FC.

She tweeted her fans about how happy she was to return and hopes to be back on the pitch quickly.

The scrum in front of the goal was worthy of goal line technology: No, the NWSL doesn’t have this. And it probably won’t anytime soon. But there were three shots, four saves and a crucial non-call and one offside call that prevented Sky Blue from becoming level.

Chicago goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher had two saves as did defender Arin Gilliland, including a bicycle kick that appeared to cross the line but was not signaled a goal. Kerr finally blasted a shot for an apparent goal but Sarah Killion — who had two of the shots — was ruled offside and the goal disallowed.

The television replays made it impossible to tell if the ball went in and the camera angle also didn’t help to show Killion being offside.

“I could get in trouble for my answer,” Holly said with a smile. “I have to sit and watch it again. But from what I saw, the ball crossed the line and Killion wasn’t off.”

It’s always hard to say what would have happened if Kerr’s goal was allowed to stand. The flow of the game could easily change and momentum shifted.