BOYDS, Md. — Sky Blue beat Washington Spirit 1-0 to keep their slim playoff hopes alive only to be eliminated later in the evening when the Red Stars drew with the Flash. Monica Ocampo scored the game’s only goal in the 27th minute. The Spirit had their clinching party put on hold but the Red Stars’ result was enough to get them into the playoffs a year after pulling up the rear.
Both teams came into the game without their best offensive threats due to international call ups. Nadia Nadim (Denmark) scored seven goals in her last six appearances for Sky Blue and Jodie Taylor leads the Spirit with 11 goals. The question going into the game was who would step up for her respective team with a trip to the playoffs on the line for either side.
New Jersey dominated much of the game as the Spirit got off a slow start and never really found a rhythm. In the 11th minute, Kelley O’Hara nearly got Sky Blue on the board. O’Hara was left unmarked in the box on a free kick. She got her head on the ball, but her attempt went over the crossbar.
Sky Blue had two close opportunities in the 24th minute, one by O’Hara and one by Maya Hayes but both were unable to convert.
A few minutes late, Ocampo scored the game’s lone goal. O’Hara sent the ball into the box. Toni Pressley attempted to clear the ball but her clearance attempt fell right to Ocampo. Ocampo easily finished past Chantel Jones.
Tori Huster had an opportunity to even the score in the 34th minute. She made a fantastic run to get by the Sky Blue defense and attempted to chip Jill Loyden. Loyden blocked Huster’s initial attempt and caught the second. Diana Matheson made a run to Huster’s left and the Canadian might have had the easier chance.
Sky Blue nearly doubled the lead early in the second half. Maya Hayes picked off a pass Ali Krieger’s pass and sent the ball across to O’Hara, who was just outside the box. Huster was able to get enough of the ball to thwart O’Hara’s shot attempt. Christine Nairn had one the best opportunities of the game for the Spirit in the 61st minute. Kerstin Garefrekes sent a ball into the box from the endline to a waiting Nairn. Nairn took a shot from just outside the six yard box but put too much on it and the ball went well over the crossbar.
Washington Spirit head coach Mark Parsons made interesting tactical decisions in the last third of the match in search of an equalizer. The Spirit subbed Niki Cross and Robyn Gayle into the game in the 74th minute and 84th minute respectively. Krieger and Crystal Dunn meanwhile were moved into more attacking positions.
“The thought was, I need our best player where she can impact the game and that was in midfield, Parsons said about the changes. “(We) needed to get her higher up because she would have won balls that we probably weren’t winning at that point and she might have had that quality of calming us down and keeping possession…Crystal, she looked dangerous every time she got the ball going forward and it was, let’s just have that closer to goal.”
Despite the tactical changes the Spirit were unable to find an equalizer. The team did have a bevy of chances in stoppage. Early on in stoppage, Krieger took a shot that ricocheted of a Sky Blue defender. Further in stoppage Lisa De Vanna stole a ball from a Sky Blue player and headed towards goal. She attempted to pass the ball to Matheson, but it went just beyond the midfielder’s reach.
After a less than stellar start to the season, Sky Blue rebounded to give themselves a slim chance of the playoffs until late Saturday night. Sky Blue will finish out their season Wednesday in a makeup game against the Houston Dash.
“We got all kinds of bad breaks, all kinds of bad results, a couple penalties made here and there and we’re battling for a home playoff spot instead of playing into a 1% chance to make playoffs., Sky Blue head coach Jim Gabarra said about his team’s season, “The players never quit and we had our break and really settled in and came up with a really good game plan that everyone really bought into and they’ve just been executing to perfection.”
The Spirit meanwhile clenched a playoff spot due the result in the Chicago vs. Western New York game and will play in the NWSL semifinals next weekend away to either Kansas City or Seattle.
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