Utah Royals FC and Sky Blue FC are both back at it Wednesday night for away matches, four days after their 2-2 draw at Yurcak Field in New Jersey left a bitter taste in pretty much everyone’s mouth. For the Royals, fighting for their season, they did well to stage a late rally and snag a draw, but really needed the full three points. For Sky Blue, a season of frustration came to a head when, on the verge of their first win, they conceded in stoppage time.
When the final whistle blew, Sky Blue coach Denise Reddy unleashed a torrent of fury at the fourth official, because Amy Rodriguez hit the equalizer at 93:35 after the signal had been for a minimum of three minutes stoppage time. In a poignant scene, as many Sky Blue players crumbled to the ground in despair, Royals head coach Laura Harvey pulled Reddy away from the officials in a futile attempt to calm her. Reddy was having none of it, the agony of a 19th straight match without a win lowering itself on the entire squad.
“It was just one more thing to get put down on us; it just feels like everything is against us,” Sky Blue goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan said. “You add on time to extra time — why are you going against us still? It was something we believed throughout that entire game that we had this win. We felt it, we knew it. When things just keep getting pushed down and you get your knees taken out from you again, it’s breathtaking. Every girl out there put their heart on that field. They put everything they could, and to get your knees kicked out in the 94th minute, it hurts. It’s painful.”
Stoppage time is of course subjective, and the placard indicating the number of minutes only represents the minimum number of minutes. It is also, in the context of the history of the game, a relatively new concept. As recently as the mid-1990s, players, coaches, and fans were entirely in the dark about the length of stoppage time until the whistle went. That alone would have been justification for the extra stoppage time. But both Reddy and Sheridan say the referee blamed the additional minute added on Sheridan stalling.
“Verbatim, I caused added time to be added on to the game when I took just as much time as the other goalkeeper. And that’s verbatim so I’m not going to get in trouble,” Sheridan said, though when asked again to confirm, her answer varied slightly.
“They’re saying that (it’s) because of the goalkeeper,” Reddy said. “But in my world, if you’re holding the ball too long then it’s a free kick, then if you roll the ball down then it’s your discrepancy whether you kick it or not. So wasting time that you add 45 seconds on, it’s not good enough. Sorry.”
There are several angles to take here. One is that from the Sky Blue end, if you defend the play, you win the match. Stoppage time extends well beyond the minimum amount all the time, and either way, the number displayed on the board is hardly official.
“I remember being here the year before and me losing my sh*t about the refs.” – Laura Harvey
Sheridan said she “couldn’t see sh*t” on the shot in from Rodriguez due to the number of players in the box. Reddy conceded she was asking the fourth why the whistle was not blown, and did not see the play but said when the opposition throws everyone forward, “someone is always going to be open.”
Neither of those comments explain why Rodriguez and Christen Press — the two most dangerous players on the Royals — were left open inside the 18. From those open positions, Press tapped the ball to Rodriguez, who had free rein to unleash a blast right where she wanted it.
On the other side is the idea that Sheridan was the cause of the extra minute being added. That argument holds no water, since Sheridan did not take a single touch of any kind during the entirety of stoppage time. Plus, Reddy is correct in that if Sheridan was wasting too much time, she should have been shown a card, or the Royals awarded a free kick.
(Note: the assembled media elected not to ask the official about the amount of stoppage time via pool reporter; by the time Reddy and Sheridan spoke, changing the circumstances surrounding questioning the referees, it was too late to send questions.)
Harvey was both sympathetic and empathetic toward Reddy and Sky Blue’s plight. For one, Sky Blue’s 19-game winless streak pushed Harvey’s 2013 Seattle Reign FC out of the record books for the longest to start a season. “I’ve been there,” said the coach who nearly walked off the job midway through that trying debut season in Seattle.
Harvey has also been on the wrong end of what she viewed as poor officiating. In fact, it happened last season at Yurcak — a day short of a year to the day — when she thought one of Sky Blue’s goals should have been called back for offside.
“Well, I remember being here the year before and me losing my sh*t about the refs,” a calm Harvey said on Saturday. “I feel for Denise and the players and everybody. I’ve been there when the refs don’t get it. I’m not going to change my opinion about that because I got it my way.”
The Royals are the only team to defeat the North Carolina Courage this season and nearly became the only one to lose to Sky Blue. They were rarely a threat going forward in the first half and then went down 2-0 early in the second half. A lightning delay in the 55th minute helped stabilize things for Harvey’s squad.
“Honestly, when they scored the second goal if the game had just continued I’m not sure we would have had that bite to get back into it — although our subs made a difference” she said. “It sort of took the wind out of us a little bit, so the lightning break just came at a very good time.”
Back in the locker room, less than 10 minutes after restarting for the second half, Harvey and her staff gave the players a brutal reality — they have 35 minutes to save their season. Whether they did that remains to be seen, but the point is a boon in any event. The draw leaves the Royals on 29 points with two matches to play. They could win them both and still fall short of the playoffs.
“We believed that we needed three (points) and needed nine,” Harvey said, “but it’s the NWSL. Who knows? No one can tell me right now we’re out of it. Until mathematically we’re out of it, we’re not. That’s juts how crazy this league is. And that’s why we all love it—and loathe it.”
— Refereeing was also part of the story in Portland where the Chicago Red Stars were none too pleased with a few calls that were not made. Chicago goalkeeper coach Jordi King was sent off for dissent following the Thorns first goal when Alyssa Naeher and Lindsay Horan came together, leaving Naeher unable to deal with Tobin Heath’s rebound. And the Red Stars remained perturbed by the second goal sequence, which began when a Julie Ertz clearance appeared to be knocked down by Heath’s hand. Personally, I think they have a case in both instances, but I ultimately thought Naeher put herself in a bad spot going out for her initial challenge and that even if the handball should have been called on Heath, there was a lot more to that play, starting with Ertz looking for a call instead of tracking back right away.
— Sky Blue agreed to a 6:30 p.m. kickoff on Saturday, in part to accommodate Royals’ television. And then the Royals went and scrapped their final three broadcasts of the season. That’s a bad look by the way, and best as I can tell, the first example where management did not treat the women’s team in the same manner as the men.
— The Courage in a nutshell: Debinha sends a long ball to Lynn Williams, who gets caught up in an epic 1-v-1 battle on the end line against Ali Krieger. The ball eventually pops free and a Courage player is there to take it and finish. That player? Debinha. And that, as much as talent or tactics, is why the Courage are 16-1-5 and long ago wrapped up the Shield.
— Laura Harvey on the evolution of the Amy Rodriguez/Christen Press partnership: “Literally, this week was the first time we’ve had training sessions with all of them together. It’s just been game prep-games, just with Christen’s schedule and national team stuff and our schedule. So it’s been nice to work together for the first time. It’s going to take time for them. Getting the right balance of when they play up together–if Christen plays off Amy, if she plays wider than Amy. I felt in the first half we got Christen in some good positions and Amy made some good runs to create space for Christen. But it’s going to be a work in progress. We’ve got to get them on the field together and train and that’s probably not going to happen now until next year.”
— If you missed the announcement, the Courage semifinal will be Sunday, Sept. 16 at 3 p.m. EDT.
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