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Kansas City stay alive with 4-1 win over Sky Blue

FC Kansas City defeated the visiting Sky Blue FC, 4-1, to stay alive in this season’s playoff hunt for at least another week. Anything but a win would eliminate the Blues for the second consecutive season, but a strong offensive showing led by Shea Groom saw the home team earn an essential three points. The result also clinched a playoff berth for the Portland Thorns, making the 2016 Shield winners the second team to earn a spot in the 2017 postseason.

Nicole Barnhart started in goal for her 100th regular season NWSL appearance for Kansas City, the first goalkeeper in the league to hit the century mark. Although she likely would have preferred to earn another clean sheet on the occasion, second-half sub Madison Tiernan had other plans, heading in a Taylor Lytle corner kick to put Sky Blue on the board late in the game.

In a bit of deja vu from the teams’ last meeting, a July 8 match-up at Yurcak Field, FC Kansas City once again took a two-nil lead into halftime. However, in that game they dropped to 10 players just before the half after Shea Groom was shown a red card, and Sam Kerr went on to score a hat trick in the final 12 minutes of that game to reclaim all three points for the home team. This time, however, the outcome was very different, and Sam Kerr’s lack of finishing kept her from joining Tiernan on the score sheet for the New Jersey side. 

The Australian international’s best chance of the first half came in the 38th minute when center back Domi Richardson sent a long pass through traffic to Kerr, who fired off a hard shot from close-range. Barnhart parried the shot away, resulting in a Sky Blue corner kick that was collected by the Kansas City keeper. She played the ball in to Leroux, who headed it to Shea Groom. Groom made a run on goal to go one-v-one with Sky Blue keeper Kailen Sheridan, but instead of taking the shot, which she looked certain to do, she sent a low ball across the goal mouth for Lo’eau LaBonta, who was making a run towards goal. LaBonta only had to tap the ball in to open up scoring for the Blues.

Groom followed her assist with a brace of her own, scoring a goal in each half to secure the win for FCKC. Her first goal came in the final minute of first-half regulation time when LaBonta sent a no-look ball overhead, allowing Groom to slip through the Sky Blue backline and onto the ball. Sheridan stayed rooted to her line, allowing Groom to get a good look on goal, angling her shot out of Sheridan’s reach and into the far side netting. She then struck again in the 64th minute when Desiree Scott sent a low ball in front of goal, which Groom got on the end of. Her first shot was blocked by Sheridan, but Groom was able to knock the rebound home to increase FCKC’s lead. 

Leroux set Groom up for a third goal later on, but her pass seemed to catch everyone, including Groom, unaware, and nothing came of the opportunity. Leroux, who had created several other opportunities on goal on the night, finally got one of her own deep into second-half stoppage time. Maegan Kelly was fouled and took a quick free kick to Leroux, who used her speed to beat the Sky Blue defense along the left flank before cutting inside and slotting a ball past Sheridan. The goal was the fourth of the night for FC Kansas City and the sixth of the season for Leroux.

FC Kansas City will next host the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday, September 9 at 3:30 p.m. ET for the Lifetime Game of the Week. Sky Blue returns home to Yurcak Field where they will close out their 2017 season against the tenth-ranked Washington Spirit on Sunday, September 10 at 6 p.m. ET. The Spirit lead that series 2-0-0 and has scored four goals in each of the teams’ previous two meetings.

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