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Sky Blue FC v Orlando Pride: Three Things

Sam Kerr tallied one goal and one assist in Sky Blue's 2-1 win over the Orlando Pride. (photo copyright Katie Cahalin for The Equalizer)

Sam Kerr tallied one goal and one assist in Sky Blue’s 2-1 win over the Orlando Pride. (photo copyright Katie Cahalin for The Equalizer)

Sky Blue FC’s (4-3-1, 13 points) third game at Yurcak Field saw yet another late game winner for the home crowd on Saturday night as the New Jersey side defeated the Orlando Pride (2-3-2, 8 points), 2-1, off an 82nd-minute finish from forward Maya Hayes.

The Pride opened the scoring in the 18th minute when Marta was able to draw multiple defenders towards her before laying a pass back to teammate Camila, who was just outside the penalty area. Camila took two touches to her left before sending a pass up the middle towards a wide-open Jasmyne Spencer. Spencer took one touch to turn, then placed a low shot past SBFC goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan for the 1-0 advantage.

Sky Blue FC equalized in the 43rd minute off a quick transition play. Midfielder Raquel Rodriguez was able to dispossess Kristen Edmonds in the attacking third and redirect the ball towards Daphne Corboz. Corboz turned with the ball and penetrated forward towards goal. After drawing in two defenders, Corboz dished a pass to Sam Kerr. Kerr then ripped a shot past Orlando netminder Aubrey Bledsoe for Kerr’s second goal of the 2017 campaign.

The New Jersey squad converted the game winner in the 82nd minute of the contest off a play that started with a goal kick. Sheridan kicked the ball up the middle past the midline towards Kerr. Kerr was able to perfectly head the ball up the field towards a racing Hayes, who used her body to get in front of Pride defender Alanna Kennedy and into the path of Kerr’s flick. Hayes took a touch to her right, and then slotted the ball past Bledsoe into the lower left corner of the net to secure three points for her club.

With Sky Blue FC’s win, the club currently sits in third place in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) standings. Here are three takeaways from the match.

Home Sweet Home

The win marked Sky Blue FC’s third consecutive home victory of the season, the best start at Yurack Field in franchise history.  As mentioned previously, the last time Sky Blue FC had a winning record at home was the NWSL’s inaugural season in 2013. It’s also the only year SBFC has seen the NWSL playoffs so far.

For 2017, all three contests at Yurcak Field featured game-winners within the last ten minutes of the match. In the previous two matches, Rodriguez was the home-field hero, but this time around, it was Hayes who came to the rescue. Although the team continues to earn points, the performance on the field still needs work.

“We still have a long way to go,” said Sky Blue FC head coach Christy Holly. “We still have a lot of growing to do and a lot of improvement to do, but you can see that we are trying to do things. This was probably the hardest seven days they will get the whole season.”

The seven-day stretch started on May 20 when Sky Blue FC hosted the Houston Dash and earned a 2-1 win. The New Jersey club then hit the road to face the North Carolina Courage (a 2-0 loss Wednesday night) before returning back home for the Saturday night showdown against the Orlando Pride. For Holly, he said he has nothing but pure admiration for his players as the team was able to earn six out of a potential nine points in the week.

However, Sky Blue FC did not start the game well as Orlando had the majority of the possession and the momentum for the first 20 minutes of the match. SBFC started to have its moments offensively as the game progressed, and eventually was able to take advantage of Orlando’s mistakes to earn the comeback win.

“It’s just unfortunate because I felt we were the better team,” said Pride captain Ali Krieger. “We just have to produce in the final third and we’ve got to stop giving the ball away in silly spots on the field because we are so much better than that.”

{NWSL: Week 7 Monday Morning Wakeup}

Despite being down early once again, Sky Blue FC did not lose its composure and improved as the game went on. In years past, the results were not as positive when the performance on the pitch wasn’t strong, but the attitude and culture Holly has been able to establish with this team has been the driving force for the club’s success at home this season.

“The belief that they have regardless of how we’re playing – good, bad or indifferent – we will get opportunities and we’ve got the players that will take them,” said Holly. “We are still looking for that game that we dominate and shut someone down but as we go through this process, we want to take care of our performances and let the goals take care of themselves.”

Sky Blue FC returns to Yurcak Field on Saturday, June 3 when the club hosts Portland Thorns FC. This should prove to be a great test for Sky Blue FC as the squad still strives for its first strong showing of 2017 in New Jersey.

The Australian Sensation

Kerr’s ability to impact the game has continued to be impressive with each match she competes in since returning from Australia to accept the Julie Dolan Medal – the most valuable player award for the 2016-17 Westfield W-League season. Her hard work against the Pride resulted in another one-goal, one-assist performance (her second in four games).

It was evident Kerr was missed during the Wednesday night contest when Sky Blue FC faced the first-place North Carolina Courage at WakeMed Soccer Park. SBFC was unable to get much going offensively in the match or apply pressure in the Courage’s defensive third until Kerr was subbed on in the 55th minute.

With Kelley O’Hara unavailable against the Pride due to a left gluteus medius strain, Kerr was needed more than ever to cause havoc for the Orlando backline.

Kerr was seen rotating throughout the game between wide midfielder and forward to help assist in SBFC’s defensive scheme. Even as a forward, Kerr was making tackles and disrupting several Orlando attempts to play out of the back. Offensively, she has the field awareness to move into space and create supporting options for her teammates when in possession to be a constant threat.

“I wouldn’t want to play against her,” said Holly. “She never stops, and she’s got quality as well, so that’s something that’s special for us.”

Kerr is now tied with former SBFC player Nadia Nadim for the all-time club record at 13 goals. Now that Kerr and the rest of the team will have an opportunity to rest before the next match, will Kerr be able to continue her momentum and break the record against the Thorns at home? It’s possible, but the last time Kerr has scored against Portland in a Sky Blue uniform was at Yurcak Field on July 11, 2015.

Erica Skroski

The backline has the potential to be a formidable force for opponents, but still has a long way to go before getting to that level. Rookie goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan has already proven to be a reliable starter for the club and continues to make big saves when she’s called upon. However, if defender Erica Skroski is ruled out with an injury for an extended period of time, the defensive line could be in trouble.

Skroski went down within the first minute of the second half when she attempted to pivot towards Spencer to defend her.  Skroski got up and attempted to walk, but it was obvious she was limping and unable to fully support her weight on her left leg. After being checked out by the medical staff, she was taken into the locker room and did not return for the rest of the game.

Holly said that he was unsure of her status but that she will be assessed over the next few days. On the other hand, Skroski was seen on the field after the game talking to Sky Blue FC management staff and walking on her own, which could mean the injury is not as bad as initially feared.

If Skroski is ruled out, the defensive four would most likely consist of Erin Simon, Mandy Freeman, Christy Pearce and Kayla Mills (if all are healthy as well). This combination was exposed numerous times against the Pride during the second half, and Sky Blue FC was fortunate that the Florida club were unable to get more shots on frame or had players hold onto the ball too long at times rather than taking shots.

It should be noted that at the start of the match, Marta was lined up on the left side to face off against Skroski. Marta then switched over to the right side of the field to take on Simon instead and was not seen rotating as much towards the left flank until after Skroski left the game.

On a positive note, Sky Blue FC did do a better job of executing its defensive strategy–especially compared to the match against the Courage–as the club managed to have at least two players around Marta whenever she was in possession. The five-time FIFA World Player of Year is still one of the most technically talented players in the women’s game, and although she will not show on the score sheet, she was a big contributor to the Pride’s lone goal of the match.

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