Three takeaways from Sky Blue’s victory over Washington Spirit

Celebration-62516-1100

By TOM SLATER

After spending the last three weeks settling for one point, Sky Blue fought every inch of the way to get three points Saturday night on the road against the Washington Spirit. And with Raquel Rodriguez and Sam Kerr connecting for their first goals of the year, Sky Blue hung tough against a late Spirit onslaught to take the 2-1 victory in the week 10 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) match at the Soccerplex in Maryland.

Subbed in the 63rd minute, Kerr’s goal was her first touch of the match,volleying home a serve from Leah Galton less than a minute later. The goal was a laser strike as the Aussie international had the ball go over her right should before one-timing the shot past Spirit goalkeeper Stephane Lebbe. The goal gave Sky Blue a 2-0 lead and the margin of victory. Diana Matheson cut the lead in half in the 77th minute before the Spirit threw everything at the Sky Blue defense. Goalkeeper Caroline Stanley made several late saves and the Sky Blue defensive corps stayed just organized enough to take their second road victory of the season.

The three points were crucial for the visiting team, evening their record at 3-3-4 for 13 points and vaulted them over Seattle for sixth play.  Sky Blue are now unbeaten in their last four matches (1-0-3) while the Spirit dropped its first home match of the year and are 5-2-2 for 17 points.

“We are delighted with the result, although our performance was a little bit patchy at times,” said Christy Holly, Sky Blue FC head coach. “We got to see two sides of the team tonight. First of all, we showed our ability and decisions on the ball, and we were also able to have more moments where we really dominated possession. In the last 15-20 minutes of the game, it was fantastic to see our team work together as a unit and fight it out until the final whistle.”

Rodriguez’s goal in the 8th minute gave Sky Blue a lead they would never relinquish. After playing nearly half the NWSL searching for her first professional goal, the Penn State grad made it a beauty. Rodriquez found the net after Sky Blue FC had been pressing early. After keeping possession in their own end, Sarah Killion launched a perfect ball about 60 yards to a streaking Leah Galton who tracked it down in the left corner. The English international cut the ball back to Rodriguez, who touched it once and then launched a bullet to the upper far corner. Rodriguez, who had an assist earlier, celebrated deservedly as Sky Blue kept up the pressure for the rest of the half.

Here’s what we learned after Saturday’s big win:

Holly made a key substitution before the game: The original lineup had Kelly Conheeney up top with O’Hara at right back. But a late switch — which was unexplained — sent Cohenney to the bench and Erin Simon to the backline. Kelley O’Hara went up top with Tasha Kai. While Simon filled in wonderfully on the backline, O’Hara gave the Sky Blue added offensive firepower — something that Sky Blue has been sorely in need of. With her running on the wing and making dangerous serves as Kai’s running mate, the New Jersey team looked like a different team in the first half.

Galton continues to make her mark: The English international has impressed from the minute she stepped on the pitch in Rochester a few months ago. She now has a goal and three assists — including both against the Spirit. Her combination of speed and aggressiveness has triggered the four-game unbeaten streak. She got a great goal against Chicago for that tie and helped Sky Blue get behind the Washington defense for most of the first half. She’s doing it as an outside midfield and although she has some defensive responsibilities to learn, her presence on the field has put Sky Blue in a position to make the run.

The defense bent but never broke: The backline has been very consistent for Sky Blue all season despite some minor tweaks. Last night, Kristin Grubka and Christie Rampone threw caution and their bodies to the wind in keeping the Spirit off the scoreboard for most of the game. Grubka especially was stellar, blocking three shots by literally throwing her body in front of shots. Rampone was doing the same thing — a day after her 41st birthday. Simon and rookie Erika Skroski also played well as the unit stymied the usually high-flying Spirit offense. And behind them, Caroline Stanley did what she had to do.

Next up: The Sky Blue FC travel across the country to meet Portland Thorns FC, who are at the top of the NWSL table. However, the Thorns will be without United States Women’s National Team members Meghan Klingenberg, Tobin Heath, Emily Sonnett, Lindsey Horan and Allie Long.  O’Hara will be away for the Sky Blue.

It wouldn’t be impossible to get three points on the road but a draw in this case would be acceptable.

Scoring Summary:

1 2 F
Washington Spirit 0 1 1
Sky Blue FC 1 1 2

8 Raquel Rodriguez (Leah Galton)
64 Sam Kerr (Leah Galton)
77 Diana Matheson (Estefania Banini)

Lineups:
NJ: Stanley; O’Hara, Grubka, Rampone, Skroski; Rodriguez, Killion, Galton, Simon (Stanton-78), Lytle, Kai (Kerr-64)
Subs not used: Casey, Goodson, DeCesare, Gordon
Head Coach: Christy Holly

WAS: Labbe, Kleiner (Farquharson-78), Zadorsky, Oyster, Krieger, Nairn (Lohman-66), Huster, Matheson, Dunn, Ordega (Stengel-46), Banini
Subs not used: Wys, Dydasco, Church, Williams
Head Coach: Jim Gabarra

Stats Summary: WAS / NJ
Shots:  7 / 5
Shots on Goal: 5 / 4
Saves:  3 / 2
Corner Kicks: 9 / 2
Fouls:  5 / 6
Offside:  1 / 4

Misconduct Summary:
N/A

Officials:
Referee: Leszek Stalmach
Assistant Referee 1: Sean Regan
Assistant Referee 2: Maggie Short
Fourth Official: Corson Fidler