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Gordon: Thoughts from Sky Blue’s win over Spirit

Kelley O'Hara made her first start of the season in an advanced position and the move paid dividends for Sky Blue FC (photo copyright EriMac Photo for The Equalizer)

Kelley O’Hara made her first start of the season in an advanced position and the move paid dividends for Sky Blue FC (photo copyright EriMac Photo for The Equalizer)

The Spirit fell for the first time at home this season, losing to Sky Blue 2-1 after a dismal first half. Meanwhile, Sky Blue used perhaps their greatest asset, speed, to earn three points for the first time since mid May with Raquel Rodriguez and Sam Kerr each providing a goal. Here’s a look at some talking point from the last game for these sides before the many internationals depart to prepare for Rio.

Will the Real Washington Spirit Please Stand Up? Unlike the game earlier in the week between Orlando and Houston, the winner of last night’s match at the Soccerplex was clearly the better team on the night. The Spirit, especially in the first half, were outdone in nearly every facade of the game. It was almost like the Spirit were playing a woman down. The lines seemed disjointed, there was no urgency and wherever the ball was on the field, Sky Blue just had numbers.

“I thought the entire team was way too flat,” Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra said, “We did not do any of the things we’d been doing together through the top of the table earlier in the year and we couldn’t find a way out of it in the first half. We were taking too many touches, standing around reacting and we weren’t organized in our press. It was just way too easy for them to break our lines in front of our back four so when that happens and once your back four is exposed and they’ve got some good attacking players putting O’Hara up front with (Natasha) Kai and (Leah) Galton, and then Sam Kerr is probably the best attacking player they have coming on as a sub, it’s a long day for defenders.”

Gabarra talked about the team not playing the way they have up until this point of the season post game, but the Spirit have performed sub-optimally for much of the last five weeks or so, aside for the last week’s game against Orlando. With Estefania Banini and Franny Ordega bagging their first NWSL goal and first goal of the 2016 campaign respectively that day, the outlook for the Spirit offense moving forward was looking up. After this week’s match, it’s not clear. While the combination play is fun to watch, the team just hasn’t put it all together offensively or at least hasn’t done so consistently.

Although people are quick to point out Crystal Dunn’s lack of goal production, she’s not the only Spirit attacking player that’s failed to find the back of the net. Christine Nairn, who’s known for set piece scoring abilities, hasn’t tallied for the Spirit since July 18, 2015. Banini, who impressed with her superb composure last week, took too many touches when she was on the ball this week and her shots were well off the mark.

The blame for last night’s loss certainly doesn’t fall on any one player, but with much of the team’s leadership core and several key attacking components departing, it will be interesting to see who steps up for the Spirit especially on the offensive side of the ball.

Student Becomes the Master? Christy Holly had a superb game plan for the Spirit on Saturday night. During postgame interviews he jokingly whispered to Leah Galton not tell the media anything about the team’s strategy. After the team’s first win in a month, especially against its “regional rival”, it’s hard to blame the first year head coach for wanting to keep it close to the vest.

Sky Blue overloaded the Spirit defense with an extravagant arsenal of speed and pace. Sky Blue seemed to get in behind the opposing backline almost at will and when the attacking players put pressure on the Spirit back four, they forced them into some nearly fatal gaffes.

Holly made some interesting moves in the mat but none was more impactful in the outcome than moving O’Hara forward. O’Hara’s ability to get up and down the flank was a significant reason it seemed as though Sky Blue was a player up. Although her name doesn’t appear on last night’s scoresheet, O’Hara was another speedy attacking threat that caused problems for the Spirit.

“We wanted as many dangerous players in the final third as possible. There’s a risk with that having taking away a world class leftie and putting her higher up the field but we had full confidence that Erin (Simon) could come in and do a fantastic job up against Crystal (Dunn) and Banini and the rest of their quality forwards and she did fantastic so it thankfully paid off.”

While Saturday was the last time Sky Blue will have O’Hara with the squad for about two months, when she’s back with the team, Holly would be wise to put her back in an attacking role. Moreover, the next two months will give her replacement on the backline, Simon, a chance to mature and settle in at the position.

Leah Galton: No player in the league has turned as many heads in the last two weeks as Galton. Finally getting a chance to start after joining the team late, the English international is certainly making the most of the opportunity in the last two weeks.

After burning Seattle’s Elli Reed several times in Sky Blue’s s 0-0 tie against the west coach side last weekend, the Sky Blue rookie played the role of table setter Saturday. The Hofstra product assisted on both of Sky Blue’s goals and showed that she’s much more than the blazing speed that initially garners attention.

“She’s a little bit different than the rest of the players within the league, well not every player but most players in the league where she’s got a little bit of x-factor and she’s hard to read,” Holly said of his rookie forward, “She can drop and receive to feet, she can get in behind and she’s got a good left foot finish as well there’s more goals in her than what we’ve seen out of her so far.”

Given her impact, especially in the last couple of matches, it will be interesting to see how she does with the Olympic players away. Despite her late arrival this spring, if Galton continues to perform at the level she is currently, she could be a late entrant into the Rookie of the Year race.

Note

Costa Rican international and reigning Hermann Trophy Winner, Raquel Rodriguez has been nominated for the ESPYs Best Female College Athlete award. The costs of attending the award ceremony falls on the players themselves and the traveling cross country can cost a pretty penny. Rodriguez’s teammate Caroline Stanley has set up a fundraising page to try to raise funds for the NWSL rookie to go. Here’s a link to the page.

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