Three takeaways from Sky Blue FC’s 1-0 win over Washington

zimmerman vs spirit

By TOM SLATER

These are now typical games for the Sky Blue FC. It almost doesn’t matter who is available or who is sitting out. Coach Christy Holly just sends 11 of them out there and they somehow get it done.

Saturday night’s 1-0 victory over the Washington Spirit was the latest grind-it-out, hold-your-breath victory that has the Sky Blue in a dead heat for fourth-place and the final playoff spot in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). With the victory, Sky Blue (6-4-4) has built a three-game winning streak, the longest in nearly two years, and is now 4-1-3 in its last eight matches.  Washington suffered just its third defeat of the 2016 season, with two of those losses being dealt to them by Sky Blue FC.

Yes, there’s plenty of season left — six matches wrapped around a nearly three-week break for the Olympics. But to count the New Jersey side out seems very foolish.

Last night’s victory was a microcosm of the 2016 season. It wasn’t about who wasn’t there. It was about who was there and what they could contribute.

They got a goal by the rookie sensation from Hofstra, Leah Galton, in the 24th minute. They defended like champs the rest of the way with total team effort. Was it pretty? Not even close. Does it matter? Not a bit.

“We are obviously delighted with the outcome of the game,” said Holly. “We asked some players to work in different positions tonight, and every single player who stepped onto this field gave us a top class performance. It truly speaks volumes about the amount of respect and belief that every player has in one another, as well as their hunger to push through and do whatever it takes to get another win in front of a fantastic group of fans.”

Here’s three take aways from Saturday’s victory:

Stanton and Gordon did their jobs: Sky Blue FC knew they were going to be without Raquel Rodriguez. She was with her Costa Rican national team in Kansas City Friday night, facing the United States in their final sendoff game. Nobody was expecting Sarah Killion to miss the match. But the second-year center midfielder was out with a foot injury, leaving the middle of the defense wide open. Nikki Stanton hadn’t started since before Memorial Day. Shawna Gordon hadn’t been in the first 11 since June. The two were spectacularly in their simplicity of play and consistency. Nothing outrageous but a solid, blue-collar effort.

Caroline Casey made the saves when she had to: Not much has been said about her work this year. Too bad. She had a tremendous day against Washington coming up big when she needed it. Casey started the year as the starting keeper, lost it to Caroline Stanley and was eventually released. She was resigned and came in last month when Stanley hurt her shoulder in a collision. Saturday, she was stellar. In the first half, Christine Nairn drilled a low corner kick that was flicked on the net quickly by Estelle Johnson. Casey made a quick kick save to clear the ball. Later that half, she came up steady and sure-handed on two solid strikes from Washington. Casey now has two shutouts in back-to-back home games.

Leah Galton — again: Galton hasn’t been the entire Sky Blue offense this year, but she makes them a different team with her technical speed and guile. The English international was dangerous for the first 45 minutes and, of course, scoring her third goal of the year for the game-winner. She literally owned Whitney Church in that first half. On the goal itself, Galton got at least five yards behind the Spirit defender when she received a great pass from Erin Simon. She dominated so much that Washington coach Jim Gabarra first moved Church to the other side of the field and then moved Megan Oyster from her central defender spot out on the flank to try and deal with the rookie’s speed.

The two teams will play again Saturday at 7 p.m. at the SoccerPlex in Maryland. Following next weekend’s games the NWSL will take nearly a month-long break. Chicago will come to town August 27 in an interesting match between the two teams currently tied for fourth place.

Scoring Summary:
WAS: 0 0 – 0
NJ: 1 0 – 1

24 NJ L. Galton (E.Simon)

Lineups:
NJ: Casey; Simon, Grubka, Rampone, Skroski; Galton (Conheeney-83), Stanton, Gordon (Richardson-70, Lytle; Zimmerman (Hayes-67), Kai
Subs not used: Loyden, Goodson, Diederich
Head Coach: Christy Holly

WAS: Wys, Dyadasco, Johnson, Oyster, Church (Kleiner-59), Nairn, Huster, Lohman, Banini, Ordega (Stengel-45), Williams (Farquharson-80)
Subs not used: Haracic, Murphy
Head Coach: Jim Gabarra

Stats Summary: NJ / WAS
Shots:  9 / 17
Shots on Goal: 3 / 7
Saves:  7 / 2
Corner Kicks: 5 / 5
Fouls:  5 / 8
Offside:  4 / 3

Misconduct Summary:
N/A

Officials:
Referee: Matthew Kreitzer
Assistant Referee 1: Adrienne McDonald
Assistant Referee 2: Abigail Van Note
Fourth Official: Artur Sibiga