Three takeaways from Sky Blue FC’s road draw vs. Chicago Red Stars

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by TOM SLATER

The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) season is surely a marathon and one game is simply a small snapshot of the six-month plus season.

But Sky Blue FC and its faithful can bring home a lot of positives from the 1-1 draw with the league-leading Chicago Red Stars at home.

First, the Sky Blue came from behind for the first time all season to gain a well-earned point. Yes, Chicago was without three United States National Team players. But Sky Blue was also missing its best player in Kelley O’Hara. And after a a 5-2 loss to Western New York last week, the effort Sunday night was a big improvement over the week before.

“Overall, I am happy with the performance,” said Christy Holly, Sky Blue FC head coach. “Our team bounced back from last week’s result and showed tremendous character, resolve and desire. They gave a very accurate representation of how well they can play in this match. We were able to dominate for large parts of the game, and this result is a testament to every single player on our team because Chicago is a very difficult place to leave with anything. These players truly deserve all of the credit tonight.”

Sky Blue FC made a seamless adjustment to O’Hara’s adjustment. Second-year defender Kristin Grubka made her second appearance and first start of the year, playing in the central defense. Erika Skroski moved to outside back and not only did fine on defense, but made some impressive runs into the offense, especially in the second half.

Beside the effort, here are three takeaways from Sunday’s draw:

Rodriguez is finding her sea legs. The adjustment from college to pro takes some time, even if you are the reigining College Player of the Year. And slowly but surely Raquel Rodriguez is becoming a factor and making the Sky Blue FC offense dangerous. Against the NWSL’s top-ranked team, Rodriguez turned in her best effort of the season.  Her simple touches were there as always but unlike other matches, Rodriguez became a scoring threat. Three times, she had clean looks at the goal and just missed.

Her most dangerous shot was a free kick from about 25 yards out in the waning minute of the contest. The Penn State grad eyed up the opportunity and blasted a shot on frame but the attempt went over the crossbar.

Galton should start. For two straight weeks, Hofstra grad Leah Galton has come off the bench and immediately made a difference. Against Western New York, she gave the listless Sky Blue some momentum and got her first assist as a pro. Sunday, she made a difference on the scoreboard again, but this time it was her first professional goal. The British international was on the end of a perfect serve from Taylor Lytle in the 70th minute and made no mistake on bringing Sky Blue level.

Coming off the bench was good for two games but it’s clear she needs to go for 90 minutes. Assuming she’s fit, it would be great to see her creativity and high-energy play for an entire match.

Are Kai’s injuries serious? Against Western New York, Tasha Kai played with her hand heavily wrapped. Against Chicago, she didn’t start for the first time and came off the bench in the 64th minute but left 25 minutes later when she pulled up lame and had to be subbed out in the 89th minute, barely able to walk off the pitch. Kai has been asked to start and play about 65 minutes a game before last night’s match. She would be perfect to swap roles with Galton and come on late in the game to supply energy and leadership. But only if she’s healthy. The two week break for international play can only help the Hawaiian get healthier and establish that role.

Next up:  FC Kansas City comes into Rutgers University’ Yurcak Field on June 11. The defending NWSL champions have struggled out of the gate but got its first win with a 2-0 victory over Orlando Saturday night. Jersey girls Heather O’Reilly and Yael Averbuch will probably have plenty of fans in Piscataway.

Scoring Summary:
NJ:   0 1 – 1
CHI: 1 0 – 1

CHI 34 Sofia Huerta (Danielle Colaprico)
NJ 72 Leah Galton (Taylor Lytle)

Lineups:
NJ: Stanley; Simon, Skroski, Rampone (C), Grubka; Lytle, Conheeney, Rodriguez, Killion, Gordon (Galton-54); DeCesare (Kai-64, Stanton-89)
Subs not used: Casey, Goodson, Diederich
Head Coach: Christy Holly

CHI: Dalton, Gilliland, Naughton, Johnson, Short, Colaprico (Raetzman-88), DiBernardo, Mautz (Walls-72), DaCosta (Comeau-64), Hoy, Huerta
Subs not used: Gorden, Luba, Flaws, Smallidge
Head Coach: Rory Dames

Stats Summary: NJ / CHI
Shots: 8 / 7
Shots on Goal: 3 / 3
Saves: 2 / 2
Corner Kicks: 3 / 4
Fouls: 6 / 7
Offside: 3 / 2

Misconduct Summary:
N/A

Officials:
Referee: Matthew Franz
Assistant Referee 1: Maggie Short
Assistant Referee 2: Becky Pagan
Fourth Official: Alex Beehler

Pine Belt of Lakewood Player of the Match: Leah Galton