PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Sky Blue FC opened its home slate with a 1-1 draw against the Houston Dash on Saturday at Yurcak Field, keeping both teams unbeaten through two matches this season.
Katy Freels opened the scoring for Sky Blue FC in the 14th minute, but a mis-played cross by Sky Blue goalkeeper Brittany Cameron led to a Houston equalizer in the 52nd minute. Houston could not turn a dominant start and finish to the game into a victory.
“Mixed feelings,” Dash head coach Randy Waldrum said of the game. “I thought we were unlucky not to get 3 points, especially the way we were on them at the end with so many set pieces and opportunities.”
Freels opener came in 14th minute on a clinical counterattack from the home side. After a quick restart, Nadia Nadim slipped a through ball in behind for Kelley O’Hara down the left flank. O’Hara turned the corner on Dash defender Alysha Chapman, sending a low, left-footed cross toward Freels for the one-time finish from the six-yard box.
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Jessica McDonald scored Houston’s lone goal, her first of the season. Midfielder Morgan Brian dribbled up the right side of the field and sent a lofted cross in that went over the head of Cameron. McDonald was standing at the back post for the uncontested tap-in.
“I just don’t think we had a good energy level in the second half,” Sky Blue coach Jim Gabarra said. “We lost the midfield. Carli [Lloyd] and Morgan [Brian] dominated in there.”
Freels had a good look for a second goal six minutes later. Nadim used a swim move to get around Dash defender Lauren Sesselmann down the right side and beat Sesselmann to a ball over the top. After Houston defender Niki Cross held the play up, the ball found Freels at the top of the 18-yard box, but her right-footed shot went over the bar.
Nadim was removed from the match at the start of the second half, as was Sesselmann, who played her first minutes in the NWSL since August 24, 2013 after missing the 2014 season with a torn left ACL. Sesselmann played the first 45 minutes, which Waldrum said was the plan from the start.
Gabarra said his halftime substitution of Nadim was “a mutual decision.” Nadim was suffering from groin tightness after a collision in Friday’s training session.
Houston made a late push for the winner — including a diving header by McDonald in the 86th minute — but couldn’t find one.
The match grew choppy as the second half wore on, with each team using all three substitutions. Sky Blue FC couldn’t find a rhythm with Nadim out of the match, turning to a rotation of strikers. Captain Christie Rampone — who has been nursing a sprained left MCL — exited the match in the 68th minute, causing a shakeup that sent Lindsi Cutshall to center back.
Rampone was scheduled to play 45 minutes but held up better than expected. Gabarra said it is still unclear if Rampone will play for Sky Blue on May 2 away against Chicago. U.S. players are due to report to pre-World Cup training camp on May 1, but Rampone told The Equalizer in preseason that it will be case-by-case and she needs minutes after not missing all seven U.S. games this year.
SBFC Starting XI: Cameron, Rampone (C), Grubka, Cutshall, Levin, O'Hara, Freels, Killion, Gordon, Hayes, Nadim #SBFCvHOU
— Sky Blue FC (@SkyBlueFC) April 18, 2015
Starting XI vs. @SkyBlueFC! Niki Cross captains the side tonight. #DashOn #SBFCvHOU pic.twitter.com/zBMmRhFRVo
— Houston Dash (@HoustonDash) April 18, 2015
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