After neglecting to earn three points in their first two games, Sky Blue FC looked to improve their luck for the first home game of the season. Last year, SBFC posted a 3-4-3 record at home, something head coach Christy Holly is eager to change. Two New Jersey Girls, Madison Tiernan and Daphne Corboz made their home debut and helped Sky Blue get the first win of the season.
Missing from action
Looking to spoil the homecoming was FC Kansas City (1-1-0). Kansas City entered Sunday with an all-time 3-0-2 record in New Jersey. Both teams had key pieces from their starting eleven missing. Christie Pearce was unavailable for the club due to a concussion suffered last week. Additionally, striker Sam Kerr returned to Australia for the Dolan Warren Awards (Spoiler: she won). Leah Galton also sustained an injury in Boston last week, but was available off the bench.
For the visitors, two main elements of the attack were absent from the lineup. After coming back from maternity leave for a second time in her career, Amy Rodriguez unfortunately suffered an ACL tear in the first game of the season. Shea Groom was also sidelined on Sunday as she nursed a broken rib. Nevertheless, FC Kansas City head coach Vlatko Andonovski and his crew were eager to continue their streak at Yurcak Field.
The team did a better job using the width and length of the pitch to create opportunities, and earned four corner kicks, while conceding none. FC Kansas City had better looks on goal, but Kailen Sheridan was up to the challenge. At the close of the half, Holly encouraged his team to stick to the game plan, “what we were trying to do was working,” Holly told his midfielders Raquel Rodriguez and Sarah Killion. The game plan included using the youth of the team to gain an edge, “we wanted to use our youth use our athleticism and use our naivety at times, to our advantage.”
Impact from the bench
To that end, Holly deployed youth fresh talent at the 66th minute mark. Over the next 15 minutes, Holly made all three of his allotted substitutions. Leah Galton (22), McKenzie Meehan (22), and Tiernan (21) were all on the pitch by the 80th minute. By the 83rd minute, Raquel Rodriguez scored the game winning goal.
Holly was pleased with the performance of his substitutes, “with Madison Tiernan coming off the bench and putting [Yael] Averbuch and [Becky] Sauerbrunn under pressure, and McKenzie going in and playing like she owed the field – those are the things we expect from our young players, and it was good to see.” Holly went on to praise Meehan for winning the corner kick that lead to the late goal.
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Kelley O’Hara offered a service far post that rookie defender Mandy Freeman directed to the center of the box. Rodriguez lunged her left foot forward to beat keeper Nicole Barnhart for the lone goal of the contest.
Sky Blue FC defeated FC Kansas City for the first time at home, and earned a much needed three points. “I was not happy with our home record last year,” said Holly. Getting the first win of the home season was important for the players, and also the crowd, “it’s exciting to try and do something for the fans as well.” Corboz and Tiernan agreed, especially since the crowd hosted several familiar faces for them both.
A happy homecoming
“I grew up being a Sky Blue Fan,” said Corboz after her first start, and first professional appearance at Yurcak Field. “It was a little surreal when I got onto the field today and I wasn’t next to my parents in the stands [laughs].” Her French-born parents, Michel and Christine, were in the stands for her New Jersey debut. “[Spending] two years in England, it was hard for them to see me play [with Manchester City]. It’s part of the reason … I chose to play for Sky Blue and I’m really excited for that.”
Tiernan also considers herself a family person. It’s been less than two years since she played in New Jersey. Tiernan has called Yurcak home for her entire college career with the Rutgers Women’s Soccer program. Nevertheless, her home debut still brought some jitters. “[I]t’s definitely comforting being back here,” said Tiernan, “it was a little nerve-wrecking but I got it under my belt and I’m really happy to be back.”
The New Jersey natives were part of the first roster to beat FC Kansas City at Yurcak, and they hope to offer a solid home record as the season continues. “I mean, it’s always nice to be a part of history,” laughed Corboz when made aware of the now-ruptured unbeaten streak for Kansas. “It’s obviously important for fans here to get a win. And, I think it sets us up good for the rest of the [season] because we’ve been waiting to get that [first] win.”
Tiernan hopes the camaraderie cultivated will translate to the road, “We don’t want the level to drop, we want to raise the level.” She added, “getting points of the road is difficult, but if we stick together – we’re a really talented group – I’m excited to see how we do.”
Sky Blue travel to Maryland to take on the Washington Spirit Saturday, May 6th, then will travel to Houston May 13th for the first game of the home-and-home series.