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Preseason roundup: O’Hara scores Sky Blue game winner

In the second weekend of preseason, all but two NWSL clubs played in preseason matches. Boston played in a closed-door match against Boston College, while Sky Blue, Orlando, North Carolina and Washington all faced collegiate teams in matches open to the public. The second annual Thorns Spring Invitational tournament kicked off in Portland on Sunday and featured competitions between the host team, Chicago Red Stars, Houston Dash and the U.S. U-23 women’s national team. Here’s a recap of all the weekend’s preseason action.

Sky Blue FC 3, St. John’s University 1

Maya Hayes opened up scoring in Sky Blue FC's 3-1 preseason win over St. John's University. (photo by Dennis Schneidler, DBJ Sports)

Maya Hayes opened up scoring in Sky Blue FC’s 3-1 preseason win over St. John’s University. (photo by Dennis Schneidler, DBJ Sports)

Sky Blue FC opened their preseason competition with a rousing 3-1 win over St. John’s University. All of the scoring from both sides took place in the opening 45 minutes as Christy Holly came out with a first-half starting XI similar to what fans will likely see once the regular season begins.

The lineup unsurprisingly consisted of a mix of last season’s starters and four vital off-season acquisitions. Canadian-allocated goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan, taken in the third round of the 2017 NWSL College draft, started between the pipes while first-round draft picks and NCAA national champions Mandy Freeman and Kayla Mills were on a back line anchored by captain Christie Rampone. Former Manchester City midfielder and New Jersey native Daphne Corboz, whose signing was the biggest news to come out of Sky Blue this offseason, also got the starting nod. USWNT defender Kelley O’Hara, who played on Sky Blue’s back line for all but three matches last season, started up top for the club.

St. John’s University opened the scoring in just the 6th minute when forward Christina Bellero saw Sheridan playing well off her line and chipped the rookie keeper to put the collegiate team on the board first. However, forward Maya Hayes would score the equalizer just minutes later after Corboz found her on a run to the far post, and Hayes one-timed Corboz’s pass in for Sky Blue’s opening goal.

Just two minutes later Sky Blue took the lead after Mills drove the ball up the right flank and sent a perfectly-placed cross in front of the mouth of the goal were Kelley O’Hara was waiting. Embracing her role as attacker, O’Hara knocked the ball in for the eventual game winner.

Sarah Killion, now a veteran in her third year with Sky Blue, scored the insurance goal in the final minutes of the first half after a bad clearance by St. John’s landed near her. Killion chest-trapped the ball before sending a blistering right-footed strike towards goal that curled over the keeper and into the net.

The second half was much less eventful than the first as Holly rotated in his B-squad. After 45 minutes of back-and-forth between the two sides, the final whistle blew and Sky Blue won, 3-1. Sky Blue next takes on NCAA powerhouse University of North Carolina on Saturday, April 1 at Georgian Court University.

First-Half Lineup: Kailen Sheridan; Kayla Mills, Christie Rampone, Mandy Freeman, Erica Skroski; Sarah Killion, Raquel Rodriguez, Daphne Corboz; Kelley O’Hara, Leah Galton, Maya Hayes

Second-Half Lineup: Caroline Casey, Taylor Lytle, Nikki Stanton, Erin Simon, Domi Richardson, Danielle Schulmann, Kelly Conheeney, Kim DeCesare, Madison Tiernan, Catrina Atanda, Cassidy Benintente

Orlando Pride 2, University of South Florida 1

Highlight video courtesy of Orlando Pride.

The Orlando Pride improved its preseason record to 2-0-0 after defeating USF, 2-1. The win was courtesy of two of the club’s newcomers, offseason acquisition Chioma Ubogagu and trialist Carol Rodrigues.

Head coach Tom Sermanni implemented a 3-4-3 lineup that saw Ubogagu in a front-three alongside Jasmyne Spencer and Sarah Hagen. The former Houston Dash forward opened up the match’s scoring in the 11th minute when she intercepted a slow back pass to USF’s goalkeeper and easily slotted the ball in to give the Pride the early lead. The goal is Ubogagu’s second consecutive goal in as many matches with her new club.

The Pride maintained their lead well into the second half despite several dangerous shots on target that saw goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe, who subbed in the second half for Ashlyn Harris, come up with two big saves early in the half. However, she was unable to preserve the clean sheet after USF freshman forward Evelyne Viens scored on a counter attack in the 69th minute.

Bledsoe continued to be tested but was able to prevent USF from taking the lead, and in the final minute of the contest, Rodrigues secured the win for the Pride. Nickolette Driesse, one of the Pride’s two 2017 draft picks, sent a lofted ball into the box for Rodrigues. Rodrigues collected the cross, made a move around USF’s goalkeeper and sent a rocket into the net to allow the Pride to secure the win just seconds before the final whistle.

Orlando Pride next travels to Gainesville to take on the University of Florida in a closed-door match on Wednesday, March 29.

First-Half Lineup: Ashlyn Harris; Laura Alleway, Ali Krieger, Toni Pressley; Jamia Fields, Kristen Edmonds, Dani Weatherholt, Camila; Chioma Ubogagu, Sarah Hagen, Jasmyne Spencer

Second-Half Lineup: Aubrey Bledsoe; Cami Levin, Alanna Kennedy, Ali Krieger (Nickolette Driesse 61’); Maddy Evans, Monica, Kristen Edmonds (Christina Burkenroad 61’), Camila (Jordan O’Brien 61’); Chioma Ubogagu (Danica Evans 61’), Jasmyne Spencer (Carol Rodrigues 61’), Rachel Hill

Boston Breakers 5, Boston College 1

The Breakers took on Boston College in the only closed-door match of the weekend. The Breakers defeated the Eagles, 5-1, led by a hat trick by offseason acquisition Adriana Leon.

Leon’s first goal came in just the second minute after receiving a Rose Lavelle cross near the far post and easily knocking it past BC’s goalkeeper. Leon nearly scored again just 10 minutes later, but that time she was denied. The Eagles’  keeper continued making big saves, as she then stopped Natasha Dowie, who led the Breakers in scoring last season, and Lavelle, the No. 1 overall draft pick, from also getting on the scoresheet.

Boston College scored the equalizer in the 31st minute after an Eagles player went 1v1 with Breakers netminder Abby Smith, rounded her and slotted the ball home. Despite two good chances from Emilie Haavi, playing for the first time since a leg injury in November, and Lavelle, the match was level at the half.

The Breakers came into the second half looking for the go-ahead goal, which they got in the 68th minute after rookie Ifeoma Onumonu assisted on Leon’s second goal of the match. Leon then completed her hat trick in the 86th minute after putting a pass from Angela Salem into the net.

With the momentum in their favor, the Breakers added two more goals in the last 10 minutes of the match. In the 18th minute, former Boston College forward Hayley Dowd, who subbed in for Dowie, set New Zealand international Rosie White up in front of the goal for the Breakers’ fourth goal. Just moments before the final whistle, Canadian international Allysha Chapman, who was traded by the Houston Dash back in November, passed to Onumonu, and Onumonu put the ball home for the final goal of the match.

The Breakers return to action on Tuesday , March 28 in a match against the New England Futbol Club U-15 boys team at Forekicks in Taunton, Mass.

Boston Lineup: Abby Smith (Sammy Jo Prudhomme 46’); Christen Westphal, Megan Oyster, Kylie Strom, Brooke Elby (Allysha Chapman 62’); Angela Salem, Rosie White, Rose Lavelle (Margaret Purce 46’; Natasha Dowie (Hayley Dowd 75’), Emilie Haavi (Ifeoma Onumonu 46’), Adriana Leon

North Carolina Courage 3, University of Tennessee 0

The reigning NWSL Champions defeated the Tennessee Volunteers, 3-0, in their preseason opener. Jessica McDonald finished the day with a brace, and 2016 NWSL MVP and Golden Boot winner Lynn Williams found her way onto the scoresheet as well. All three goals were scored in the first half.

The Courage return to WakeMed Soccer Park to take on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons on Saturday, April 1.

Washington Spirit 5, University of North Carolina 0

A four-goal second half spurred Washington past the visiting North Carolina Tar Heels 5-0, as five different Spirit players ended up on the score sheet.

Washington once again utilized a 3-5-2 formation and the team started the game with almost the same lineup as last week’s preseason match. The only change was in net with Stephanie Labbe, who joined the team last week, getting the nod.

Estelle Johnson, left, and Cameron Castleberry defend against North Carolina in the Spirit's preseason match (photo copyright EriMac Photo for The Equalizer)

Estelle Johnson, left, and Cameron Castleberry defend against North Carolina in the Spirit’s preseason match (photo copyright EriMac Photo for The Equalizer)

While the team did use a three back system for the second week in a row, perhaps it is a bit premature to read much into its use. Head coach Jim Gabarra explained that player availability was a determining factor in the team’s use of the system now while he has his Canadian contingent available.

“Last year that was the system we went to at the end and we need to continually work on it before we go back to our primary or other system that we used most of the season last year,” he explained. “Shelina (Zadorsky) and Steph(anie) (Labbe) are only here for a couple of weeks. We felt like it was important to work on that system first.”

For much of the first half, the Spirit controlled but failed to generate many dangerous opportunities. The few chances the Spirit managed to produce before the break were facilitated by Katie Stengel but her teammates were unable to capitalize.

The Tar Heels inexperience on the defensive side of the ball was clearly visible especially in the game’s first tally. In the 35th minute, Line Sigvardsen Jensen caught Tar Heel keeper Samantha Leshnak well outsider her area with a chip from about 40 yards out. It was the Dane’s first goal in a Spirit jersey.

Four minutes into the second half, the Spirit added an assurance goal when Stengel aimed a corner kick directly a goal. Leshnak was unable to corral the ball, which was redirected off her arm and into the net.

Just three minutes later, Washington struck again to more distance between themselves and the Tar Heels as Cheyna Williams sped down the right side of the field and slotted the ball far post for the score.

Gabarra went to his bench soon after the third strike with  Lindsay Agnew, Kristie Mewis, Arielle Ship and  Meggie Dougherty-Howard entering the match. Mewis and Agnew both played a role in the game’s remaining two goals.

In the 81st minute, Agnew got taken down by a North Carolina defender just outside the box. Mewis struck the ensuing free kick with authority, and the ball easily found the back of net. The goal was the former Boston Breaker’s third of the preseason.

In the 89th minute, Agnew converted an open goal opportunity, after she slyly got around Leshnak. Mewis provided the assist.

Intriguingly, despite having scoring nearly half of the team’s preseason goals, Gabarra isn’t ready to put Mewis is the starting lineup.

“It’s still going to take some time for her learning and adjusting to how we want to play and she’s made a lot of strides in two weeks but she still hasn’t done enough to where we are going to throw her out there in the beginning of the game because there’s other players in the middle of the park that have been with us and playing the way we want to play. “

Overall the Spirit looked much more dynamic and dangerous in the attack with Mewis and rookies Agnew and Arielle Ship on the field. Although Ship didn’t end up on the scoresheet, her movement helped generate a couple of opportunities for Washington.

The Spirit will take the field next Saturday at 2 pm ET against Duke.

Washington Spirit Lineup: 1- Stephanie Labbé, 4- Shelina Zadorsky, 5 – Whitney Church, 6-Kassey Kallman (9-Havana Solaun 67′), 7 – Line Sigvardsen Jensen (38-Marion Crowder 73′), 12 – Katie Stengel (2- Arielle Ship 54′), 15-Joanna Lohman (19- Kristie Mewis 54′), 16 – Cameron Castleberry (37- Crystal Thomas 73′), 20 – Cheyna Williams (8- Lindsay Agnew, 54′), 23 – Tori Huster (29- Meggie Dougherty Howard 54′), 24 – Estelle Johnson (32-Lauren Lazo 67′)

Note: Per Gabarra, defender Caprice Dydasco who suffered an ACL injury in the NWSL final, is “well ahead of schedule” and could be ready to play in 6-8 weeks.

Houston Dash 2, U.S. U-23 Women’s National Team 1

Houston scored one goal in the last two minutes of regular time and another in the last play of stoppage time to pull out a 2-1 victory over the U-23 US Women’s National Team. The game started in a deadlock and remained so for nearly 75 minutes as Houston pressed the attack. Kealia Ohai, Rachel Daly, Amber Brooks, Janine Beckie and Denise O’Sullivan all kept netminder Casey Murphy busy, but the Rutgers product was equal to the task, coming up with several big saves.

On the other end of the pitch, Bianca Henninger wasn’t troubled too much for the Dash until Savannah McCaskill collected her own rebound in the 74th minute. Shortly thereafter, Henninger remained down after a collision and was replaced by rookie Jane Campbell. At first, it appeared to be a familiar story for Dash fans – unable to convert chances before giving up a late goal. However, Brooks took matters into her own hands.

In the 88th minute, the midfielder launched a 40-yard pass to Brazilian center back and new acquisition Bruna Benites to tie up the game. Six minutes later, Brooks herself found the back of the net after receiving a corner kick from Stephanie Ochs.

Houston Lineup: Bianca Henninger (Jane Campbell 78’); Poliana, Bruna Benites, Janine Van Wyk, Cari Roccaro (Claire Falknor 72’); Amber Brooks; Andressa (Caty Heap 46’), Denise O’Sullivan; Kealia Ohai (Nichelle Prince 61’), Rachel Daly (Melissa Henderson 61’), Janine Beckie (Stephanie Ochs 76′)

U.S. U-23 WNTL: Casey Murphy; Taylor Isom, Tegan McGrady, Kaleigh Riehl, Ellie Jean; Jaelin Howell, Brianna Pinto, Sandra Yu; Ashley Sanchez, Savannah McCaskill, Mallory Eubanks

Portland Thorns 1, Chicago Red Stars 0

The Portland Thorns opened their preseason competition with a 1-0 win over the Chicago Red Stars in the second match of today’s Thorns Spring Invitational double-header.

Neither team fielded a starting XI that looked like a regular season starting lineup since both teams were without several key players. USWNT and Red Stars defender Julie Johnston’s wedding was today, and several of her teammates, including Alyssa Naeher and Christen Press, missed tonight’s match for the occasion. Portland was seemingly without Tobin Heath and Lindsey Horan, although both Meghan Klingenberg and Nadia Nadim made their returns after spending much of the NWSL off-season recovering from injuries.

The Red Stars started out the match with good momentum, although they would not maintain it for long. In just the 9th minute, Courtney Raetzman took a shot from distance, but Adrianna Franch was able to get her fingertips on the ball and cause it to deflect off the crossbar to prevent Chicago from getting on the board.

Portland got on the board in the 26th minute after being awarded a penalty following Allie Long being taken down in the box. Nadia Nadim stepped up to the spot to take the kick and put her shot into the upper 90 for the game’s opening goal. Michele Dalton got a hand on the ball, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Nadim from scoring.

It was all Thorns after Nadim’s goal, but the Red Stars came to life and nearly leveled the score in the 37th minute. Casey Short moved the ball down the left side and just outside the box before sending a cross over to the far post. Alyssa Mautz out-jumped Klingenberg to get the header, but her shot sailed over the crossbar.

Long had three good opportunities to score in the second half, but came up short each times. The first chance came in the 67th minute when Emily Sonnett headed the ball to Long, who easily headed it past Dalton and into the back of the net. However, the line judge ruled Long offside and the goal was erased. Long’s second chance came just a minute later after Christine Sinclair sent a ball to her right in front of the goal, but the ball deflected awkwardly off of Long’s knee. Long fell to the turf as she stretched in attempts of salvaging the shot, but Dalton was there to scoop up the loose ball. In the 77th minute Long fought off two defenders to maintain possession before turning and making a move on goal, but her shot went right to Dalton for an easy stop.

With less than two minutes left in regulation, Chicago nearly found the equalizer, but Franch was able to knock Mary Luba’s shot off target. With only one minute of stoppage time, the Red Stars didn’t have enough time to capitalize on the momentum gained from Luba’s shot, and the game ended with Nadim’s penalty being the lone goal of the match.

Both teams again play on Wednesday, March 29 in the second round of the preseason tournament. Portland will take on the U.S. U-23 team, and Chicago will take on the Houston Dash.

Chicago Lineup: Michele Dalton; Arin Gilliland, Katie Naughton, Sarah Gorden, Casey Short (Taylor Comeau 46′); Alyssa Mautz, Vanessa DiBernardo (Mary Luba 46′), Danielle Colaprico (Morgan Proffitt 46′), Courtney Raetzman (Lauren Kaskie 60′); Stephanie McCaffrey (Summer Green 60′), Cara Walls (Simone Kolander 60′)

Portland Lineup: Adrianna Franch; Celeste Boureille (Meghan Cox 75′), Emily Sonnett, Emily Menges, Meghan Klingenberg (Kendall Johnson 58′); Allie Long, Mana Shim (Ashley Herndon 67′), Amandine Henry; Nadia Nadim (Hayley Raso 38′; Caroline Flynn 75′), Christine Sinclair, Mallory Weber (Kelli Hubly 75′)

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