It was a familiar scene at Yurcak Field yesterday night. The Chicago Red Stars, unbeaten against Sky Blue took a 2-1 lead into the 89th minute of the contest. Sky Blue fell behind early, Sophia Huerta scored for the Red Stars in the 4th minute. Christen Press then scored the second goal in the 26th minute to put the pressure on Sky Blue FC. However, six minutes later Maya Hayes cut the lead in half and the 2-1 score remained until the last minute of full time.
With 89:56 ticks on the clock, Sarah Killion served a beautiful ball to Sam Kerr, who headed the equalizer past Alyssa Naeher for her 10th goal of the season. Kerr tugs at her jersey and executes a no-handed back flip before being bombarded on the sideline by her team. On the broadcast, the announcers were astonished by her energy in the 90th minute. However, Kerr and her New Jersey team have scored xx goals in the 80th minute and beyond. Additionally, for the second consecutive week, Kerr herself scored in the 90th minute.
Never out, but down too often
There is no denying the fight in this Sky Blue team. However, the players will be the first to tell you that something has to give for this team to remain in the top four. “As a team, we need to play a more of a complete game, said goal scorer Maya Hayes. She continued, “it’s not a defensive issue, it’s not an offensive issue, it’s a team issue.”
The other goal scorer on the night agreed, “we’ve got to stop doing that, giving away goals early,” said Kerr. She added the team was happy to earn the point but pushed the team to score because it can – as opposed to out of desperation.
In addition to Kerr, rookie goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan has been integral for the recent success of Sky Blue FC. Last night was no different. The Canadian posted seven saves, including a point-blank save on Christen Press.
Sheridan leads all keepers in the league with 60 saves, making her a definite candidate for goalkeeper of the year – and potentially rookie of the year as well. On a night where the defensive effort was spotty, Sheridan was a key to the game. The possibility of a comeback would have been exponentially more difficult had Sheridan not had an outstanding game. “I think Sheridan was fantastic tonight, I’m frustrated that we asked so much of her,” said Holly. However, with injuries and other things, everyone on this New Jersey team has been asked to sacrifice.
With the draw yesterday, Sky Blue FC remain in third place in the NWSL standings. At the end of the regular season, the top four teams make the playoffs. For the next three months, Christy Holly hopes to continue pushing the right buttons. Injuries have forced the second year head coach to get creative with assignments on the pitch. For the second game in a row, midfielder Sarah Killion dropped back to center back to accommodate a late substitution.
Holly said such tweaks are equally out of necessity, and to continue to push his squad, “there [are] things we do in training each week to … adapt our style of play,” said Holly. The idea is to challenge the team, but not change them. He wants to maximize the confident of his players leading into the second half of the season. “It’s just a matter of finding the system that suits the players, not the players that suit the system.”
To that end, Holly hopes to integrate proven game changers like Tasha Kai and McKenzie Meehan more often. Kai returns to the club after two offseason surgeries. Sky Blue relied heavily on the Hawaiian last season, something Holly is very aware of, “last year we really did break Tash, and we overuse her. Now we can easy her in and I think she’s a game changer.” Although tempted to use Kai late in the game, Holly wanted to reward his rookie draft pick from Boston College.
Meehan has been a spark off the bench for Sky Blue but has yet to register her first professional goal. Holly is eager to create chances for her, as he is confident the first goal will quickly turn into others. “She’s a phenomenal player,” said Holly of Meehan, “when that one [goal] comes, it’s going to accelerate her.”
Meehan, Kai and company fly out to Seattle next week looking to get a favorable result against the Reign (5-3-6). The two clubs played to a 1-1 draw in the opening match of the 2017 season. Sky Blue will look to improve to 4-4-1 on the road. Seattle looks to extend a new home unbeaten streak, their last streak lasted 24 games before Sky Blue FC snapped the run with a 2-1 victory in the 2016 season opener.