PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Seattle Reign FC was a minute and change away from its first road win of the season on Saturday against Sky Blue FC – and then chaos broke out.
Reign FC midfielder Jess Fishlock was eventually ruled to have handled the ball on the line while trying to protect a 1-0 lead. Fishlock was sent off for the offense and Nadia Nadim ended her miniature scoring drought, finishing the penalty kick in second-half stoppage time to earn Sky Blue a 1-1 draw at Yurcak Field. It was Reign FC’s first road pointsince August 2, 2014.
The result was fortuitous for Sky Blue – who was outshot 11-4 – but exactly what happened in that melee in the box in the 89th minute remains unclear.
“She blocked it with her hand,” Nadim said about Fishlock. “The ball was going in the goal and she blocked it with her hand, so definite penalty.”
Fishlock was not made available for comment. Reign FC coach Laura Harvey said that Fishlock told her that the ball hit her head, not her hand; Harvey implied that Seattle will appeal the red card. Harvey, who was calm in the press scrum after a few moments of animated discussion with the referees following the match, said she was “disappointed in a lot of things” surrounding the game, but she opted not to expand.
A scrum in the box following a Sky Blue FC corner kick led to a series of shots before the ball eventually found the net for the would-be equalizer. But referee Matthew Kreitzer blew his whistle and, after consulting with his assistant referee, Kreitzer awarded a penalty kick to Sky Blue (watch the full incident here). After further delay, Kreitzer showed Fishlock a red card. Confusion was the trend for the several-minute ordeal.
“We all saw Jess put her head in front of somebody’s foot, which is crazy,” Reign midfielder Keelin Winters said. “But I will say that if there was any hint of a handball, I think every Sky Blue player would have raised their hand, would have been freaking out asking for a handball.”
Fishlock had a chance to end the match two minutes earlier, glancing an open header just wide of the far post from six yards out after Kim Little maneuvered enough space on the flank to send in a cross.
Little and Fishlock were both involved in Seattle’s 76th minute goal. Little took a corner kick and played the ball to Fishlock at the top of the 18-yard box. Sky Blue defender Meg Morris challenged Fishlock and the ball skipped to defender Lauren Barnes, who hammered a left-footed shot low past Sky Blue goalkeeper Brittany Cameron. The ball appeared to skip on the slightly dewy grass right as it reached Cameron.
Fishlock also had the best opportunities of the first half, forcing Cameron into diving saves in the 8th minute and 30th minute, when Cameron made a save 1-v-1 after Sky Blue turned the ball over close to its own goal.
Cameron came up big in the 52nd minute, too, making a double-save on Merritt Mathias and Winters. Reign FC also felt they were denied a penalty of their own in second-half stoppage time, when Little was brought down in the box after making a full-field run.
Nadim was often left alone up top in Sky Blue’s system, but she had the best opportunities of the night for the home team, having a would-be goal called back on an offside call in the 15th minute and just missing a sliding, tap-in opportunity in the 67th minute.
Eventually, though, Nadim’s first goal in 421 minutes proved costly for the defending Shield-winning Reign, who lost both their previous matches on the road this year.
“Goals change games and as long as the score is at 1(-0), the other team has got a chance,” Harvey said. “Whatever, people will say that we dominated and whatever, but goals change games. We learned it the cruelest way possible last year and so far on the road, we’ve learned it the same way.”
Reign substitute Danielle Foxhoven also had a goal called back on an offside call five minutes after checking into the match.
Seattle doesn’t play again until a May 30 home game against league-leaders Chicago. Reign players will get six days off before a May 22 friendly match in Seattle against China’s national team, which is preparing for the World Cup that kicks off on June 6.
Sky Blue, still winless since a season-opening victory over the defending champions FC Kansas City, travel to face the Washington Spirit next week.
Seattle Reign XI: Kopmeyer; Barnes, Fletcher, Reed, Cox; Little, Fishlock, Winters; Dallstream, Yanez, Mathias. #NWSL
— The Equalizer (@EqualizerSoccer) May 9, 2015
Sky Blue FC XI: Cameron; Grubka, Cutshall, Haagsma, Levin; Gordon, Lytle, Freels, Killion, Morris; Nadim #NWSL
— The Equalizer (@EqualizerSoccer) May 9, 2015
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