Three thoughts on Sky Blue’s loss to Washington

kelly and chrity

By TOM SLATER

After a thrilling road victory against one of the top teams in National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) – capped by the league’s best feel-good story with Kelly Conheeney’s return to the field  –  to open the season, Sky Blue FC had so much riding in their favor Sunday night when the Washington Spirit came to town.

  • Coming home to face their former coach, Jim Gabarra.
  • The beginning of a four-game “league rival” series with Washington.
  • A loud and energetic crowd – bigger than most for Sky Blue – at Yurcak Field.

But Sky Blue fell behind right before halftime. Although they tried to overcome a two-goal lead in the final 25 minutes with Maya Hayes getting her first goal of the year, it was too little, too late. The Spirit won their second straight, 2-1, and sent Sky Blue to 1-1 on the young season.

Here are three takeaways from Sunday night’s match

Christy Holly knows there is better play from his team: The affable Irishman didn’t mince words. He thought his team made poor and late decisions and took way too long to get involved in the game.

“I wasn’t happy with our overall performance but I wasn’t going to let anyone get out of her with three points for free,” he said. “(In the second half), we got the response what we wanted. There’s a lot of fight in this team. There’s a lot more ability in this team than we showed tonight. But we’re going to get better each time out.”

Crystal Dunn vs. Kelley O’Hara: That was the marquee matchup. Two national team players whose stock is continually on the rise going 1 v 1.

O’Hara was plugged in a lot of positions for the Sky Blue FC last year and has been noted for her ability to forward for both club and country. So far this year, O’Hara has been used as a shutdown outside defender who will take strategic runs down the flank. Dunn has a million moves — what Holly calls the “X” factor — and combines speed and power for the Spirit as the reigning league Most Valuable Player.

So who won Sunday’s matchup?

“You can tell me.,” Holly said. “How many times did Dunn get in and get a shot off on goal? I think Kelly did fantastic. We know what we’re getting with Kell. And we play to our strengths not to theirs. Kelly’s one of our attacking players and we make Dunn defend against us. Kelly got forward a number of times. Maybe our execution wasn’t always what we wanted. But for me, Kelly did fantastic.”

Dunn did get loose a few times but nothing of major significance in the opening half. She moved to the left wide for a while to try her luck against rookie Erin Simon before returning to the right side.

And Dunn had help defending O’Hara. United States international Ali Kreiger, who had a bad angle goal and is currently vying for a starting job with O’Hara, backed her teammate up and tracked well when O’Hara was on the move.

Growing pains for Rocky?  She may be 2015’s collegiate player of the year, but that doesn’t mean there’s no learning curve in the NWSL.

Raquel “Rocky” Rodriguez is taking little steps in her game and after a fairly quiet first half, she looked much more comfortable in the second half. She became a little more daring in the last 45 minutes, replacing simple passes with more penetrating attempts into the attacking third.

Her combination play with 2nd year midfielder Sarah Killion became more dangerous and comfortable as the game wore on and she had a laser shot off a direct kick late in the game but it went right to goalkeeper Stephanie Lebbe.

Holly thinks it’s only the beginning.

“There’s more to come,” the coach said. “There’s better from Raquel.   She’s only finding her feet with the team. She’s only been her two or three weeks.  We knew what we were getting with Raquel. Players want to connect with her and understand what speed she wants to play at. And don’t forget we got Sarah Killion in the middle too.”

Next up: It’s a short week for Sky Blue with a Friday night match versus the Houston Dash in Texas.