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Sam Kerr hat trick lifts Sky Blue past FCKC, sets new all-time NWSL goals record

Sam Kerr scored a second-half hat trick to lift Sky Blue FC (7-6-1, 22 points) past visiting FC Kansas City (3-6-4, 13 points) on an historic night in New Jersey. With Kerr’s three goals, she overtook Jessica McDonald as the NWSL’s all-time leading goal scorer with 35 goals in her NWSL career.

It was only fitting that Kerr’s hat trick for the new record and comeback win took place during Sky Blue’s 100th NWSL regular season match. The New Jersey club is the first team in the league to hit the century mark courtesy of two midweek matches when all other clubs only had one thus far. No team in either of the previous U.S. women’s professional leagues ever reached 100 games either, as both leagues folded after only three seasons. 

Although the match ended in Sky Blue’s favor, it was a tale of two halves as all of FCKC’s goals came in the first half, while all of Sky Blue’s came in the second. As that implies, the visiting team was the more dominant side in the opening half, forcing rookie goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan to make a number of saves. In the opening 45, FCKC took 15 shots, 5 of which were on target.

They also took a two-goal lead into the half, thanks to a superb performance by the rookie Christina Gibbons, pushed into KC’s midfield for the first time this season. A half hour into the match, Sheridan punched a shot clear and Sarah Killion followed with a poor clearance, sending the ball straight to to Gibbons instead. Gibbons moved the ball to the right before laying it off with a back heel pass to Katie Bowen, who sent a laser of a shot past Sheridan to put FCKC on the board first.

Gibbons then got on the score sheet for herself in the 42nd minute. Desiree Scott played the ball off to Gibbons, who then used her speed to get around both Christie Pearce and Kayla Mills in order to get a good shot off on goal. Sheridan nearly had the kick save, but the ball deflected off her lower leg and into the side netting to double FCKC’s lead.

The game took a turn for the worse for FCKC though when, in first-half stoppage time, Shea Groom and Erica Skroski got into a bit of a squirmish while competing for a ball, and play was stopped so the referees could confer about the incident. Skroski was shown a yellow card for her foul on Groom, but then Groom was shown a red card and ejected from the match for her retaliation. FCKC would have to play the entire second half with only 10 players. It was the second consecutive game when FCKC has had to finish the game with only 10 players; Lo’eau Lobanta was ejected from last week’s loss to the Houston Dash after accumulating two yellow cards in the match.

The advantage that gave Sky Blue was immediately apparent. In just the 50th minute, Sam Kerr back-heeled the ball to Kelley O’Hara, who played it off to Hayes in the box. Hayes had a wide open net in front of her and gently tapped the ball on target, but the slow-rolling shot was cleared off the line by a sliding Becca Moros to prevent Hayes from scoring in what will undoubtedly be a save of the week contender.

Sky Blue head coach Christy Holly decided to crank up his attack’s intensity following Hayes’ almost goal, replacing defender Skroski with winger Leah Galton. With the extra attacking presence on the field, Sky Blue began peppering the KC goal with shots to test goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart. In the 74th minute, Barnhart was called on to make not one, but two saves in the same sequence when Taylor Lytle fired off a shot from close-range, but Barnhart made a sprawling kick-save to clear the ball back out into the field of play. That was soon followed by a cross deflected by KC’s defense, but Hayes was there to send in another shot that looked destined to put Sky Blue on the board, but the FCKC shot stopper again made a diving save to deny the second attempt on goal in seconds.

But that’s when Sam Kerr really ignited for Sky Blue, wreaking havoc on FCKC’s goal. In the 78th minute, Sheridan restarted a play for Sky Blue, passing it to Killion who then found O’Hara on the right flank. O’Hara sent in a perfect cross for Kerr, who ran towards goal before fully extending into the air to head in the cross, scoring Sky Blue’s opening goal of the night with a diving header.

Kerr struck again just three minutes with the assist from Daphne Corboz. Corboz chipped the ball to Raquel Rodriguez, who in turn played the ball back to her. She then played a through ball that split two FCKC defenders and found Sam Kerr, whose shot then blasted past Barnhart and into the back of the net to level the score. The goal was the 34th of Kerr’s NWSL career, putting her in the lead as the league’s all-time goal scorer.

Kerr completed her hat trick, the first of the 2017 NWSL season and first ever scored at Yurcak Field, in the 90th minute. Taylor Lytle played a ball in, which Hayes shielded off a Kansas City player to allow it to roll right to Kerr’s feet. With Becky Sauerbrunn on her back the whole time, Kerr managed to turn and beat Barnhart with another shot to give Sky Blue its first lead of the night.

With the win, Sky Blue FC remains in the top four for another week. However, they’ll face a tough test next week when they host the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday, July 15 at 7 p.m. ET. FC Kansas City continues a two-game road trip by traveling to Orlando to take on the Pride on July 15 at 7:30 p.m. ET.

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